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History of Vegetarianism… how did it all start?

Posted by: jennchen115 | September 15, 2011 | No Comment |

For an introduction to my theme, I’ve decided to do a bit of research on how, where, and when, vegetarians first originated in history.  Considering I’m a vegetarian almost all my life, I’m ashamed I’ve never done this research earlier since there were so much I’ve never knew till this day.

The practice of Vegetarians has been dated back thousands of years ago since Ancient India, Greece, and Southern Italy. It is usually promoted through religious beliefs and philosophers but mostly carried out due to the support of anti-animal cruelty.

Speaking of famous philosophers…Did you know Plato was a vegetarian? I found that extremely funny. Not just Plato, but Pythagoras, Buddha, and even Plutarch were all vegetarians. They were all great minds of history so for them to go vegetarian, it must mean something. I am now proud to be eating the same food as Plato!

Anyway, the practice decreased dramatically in Europe after the “Christianization of the Roman Empire.”  It wasn’t until the 19th to 20th century did the practice begun to resurface again. In 1847, England founded the Vegetarian Society that had around 800 members. The members believe that the term vegetarian, came from the Latin word Vegetus which means whole, sound, fresh and lively. However, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term came from the word vegetable.

So how did a vegetarian diet start in my family? Well, my parents are Buddhist.  There are many philosophical teachings in Buddhism but the core of them surrounds the idea that one must not harm another living thing. Of course there are many critics who challenge such belief since after all; every life is considered a “living thing.”  Plants, flowers, animals, and etc. Then how did vegetarians drew the line between what can be eaten and what not? I remember asking my mom this very same question when I was an early teen.

“Mom, how come we can eat plants but not animals? Isn’t plants part of life too? Some even say water is part of life. Aren’t we killing the plant’s life when we eat them?”

“My dearest, yes plants are part of life. But it does not contain a soul. And we Buddhist do not harm nor consume anything… that has a soul.”

Souls? I’m guessing a lot of you are a bit confused by what she meant. Buddhism believes in the reincarnation of souls. I’m not exactly a Buddhist expert *shh, don’t let my parents know*, but I believe it goes somewhat like this. Our bodies are disposable, it will eventually decay. But what do last forever are the souls within our bodies. Once a lifetime is over, our souls goes “somewhere” for judgment and depending on our sins, our souls may be reincarnated into animals. Right, you heard me, animals. Of course not every soul reincarnates into animals, some reincarnates into another human being (that’s where the idea of past lives comes from) and others, I guess they go to heaven. However, Buddhists believes that by killing an animal, you may be killing a mother, a father, or a brother and sister in your past life. Buddhists are also heavy believers of karma. By torturing and killing an animal, you may be reincarnated into an animal in your next life to be killed by others. “Then do insects have souls too?” Yes, Buddhists say that insects are reincarnated by those with extreme heavy sins. “So each insect has a soul?” Yes, but not a complete soul. A soul can be shattered into millions of pieces and those pieces become insects.

Now, do I believe in this? Somewhat, but that’s another story. I don’t see anything wrong with it though. It kept me away from harming animals or even flowers. Yes, flowers too. I remember at the age of 7 or 8, I went around the garden picking out colorful flowers. “Look mommy, aren’t they pretty?” “Yes, baby, they are. But why do you pick them out from their roots? By picking them, you are ending its life. It will die faster and other people who pass the same garden you passed won’t be able to share such wonderful joy in its beauty like you did.” – Wow, deep. You go mom. Yes, that’s the life of a Buddhist.

Although there are many vegetarians that are Buddhist, but that doesn’t mean all Buddhists are vegetarians. Some believe in nonviolence of animals but still eat meat. They just follow the three rules that Buddhism teachings provide. 1) One must not eat what they killed. 2) One must not eat what was killed for them. (For example, back in the days, when a family has friends or important visitors over for dinner, they would often kill a cow or a chicken as an offering for their guests) 3) One must not eat what they saw or heard killed. (My older sisters who are a decade apart from me, although they were raised as a vegetarian ever since I was born, they eventually grew to love meat. However they are heavy followers of these three rules. It’s kind of funny in a way. I remember my 2nd elder sister would make her bf go into another room to kill a lobster. “His eye must not see mine” she says.

There are also other religions that practice a vegetarian diet, such as Hinduism. According to Wikipedia, “Indian vegetarians, primarily lacto-vegetarians, are estimated to make up more than 70 percent of the world’s vegetarians. They make up 20–42 percent of the population in India, while less than 30 percent are regular meat-eaters.”

There are also many Jewish and Christian believers who follow a vegetarian diet as well. They believe that the “original diet of the Bible was vegetarian.”

“Then God said, “Look! I have given you every seed-bearing plant throughout the earth and all the fruit trees for your food.” Genesis 1:29 “You may freely eat the fruit of every tree in the garden” Genesis 2:16 “…you will eat of its {the earth’s} grains.” Genesis 3:18

Of course not all vegetarians are associated with a religion. Although back in the early days, it usually was. Now, there are many vegetarians or vegans who are just simple believers of nonviolence towards animals. As for me, I’m just a huge animal lover, with the exception of insects.  I usually just scream and have my dad come in and take care of them. What we do, is we wrap them up in a tissue and throw them out the window. -Insane aren’t we? Since they can just crawl back in anyway. But hey, what I can’t see won’t hurt me.




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