VEGETARIANISM, a comparatively modern word, which came into use about the year 1847, as applied to the practice of living upon foods from which fish, flesh and fowl are excluded. There have from time to time been various sects or schools of thought that have advocated narrower views. Some of these have excluded all animal products such as milk and eggs and cheese. Some have excluded all cooked foods, and have preached the virtues of fruits and nuts and grains in their natural ripe state. Some have abstained from all underground-grown roots and tubers, and have claimed special benefits from using only those fruits and vegetables that are grown in the sunlight. Some have given up all grain and pulse foods, and have declared that old age can be best resisted by living entirely upon fruits, salads, nuts, soft water and milk products. Some have added fish to their dietary; but, speaking generally, all who are called vegetarians will be found to abstain from the use of flesh and fowl and almost invariably also from fish as food.
The fact, however, must not be overlooked that while vegetarian societies claim as " vegetarians " all who abstain from flesh* foods, there is a large and growing number of people who repudiate the name of " vegetarian " because of its associations, but who none the less, for some of the reasons detailed below, abstain from eating anything that has been killed. The Order of the Golden Age, for example, with its headquarters at Barcombe Hall, Paignton, South Devon, adopted the words " Fruitarian ". and " Fruitarianism " to denote the dietary of its members. The rule laid down by the Order is abstinence so far as possible from all foods which are obtained by the cruel infliction of pain, and the minimum that is set is complete " abstinence from flesh and fowl," while net-caught fish may be used by associate members.
The reasons that are advanced for the practice of fruitarianism or vegetarianism are very comprehensive, but the principal ones may be considered to be the following :
1. Health. (o) On the ground that animals are affected by diseases which are communicable, and are actually communicated, to man by the ingestion of their flesh, e.g. parasites, tuberculosis; (/3) on the ground that the flesh of artificially fed animals is full of excretory substances, and that, therefore, under modern conditions, flesh-eating is injurious, and may be a cause of excretory substance and uric acid deposits or rapid tissue-destroying diseases in man; e.g. gout, cancer.
2. Economy.- -On the ground that the assimilable nutriment from a given weight of selected fruit and grain and nut and vegetable foods will cost less than the same nutriment obtained from flesh foods.
3. Social Economy. On the ground that an acre of cultivable land under fruit and vegetable cultivation will produce from two to twenty times as much food as if the same land were utilized for feeding cattle.
4. Racial Improvement. On the ground that the aim of every prosperous community should be to have a large proportion of hardy country yeomen, and that horticulture and agriculture demand such a high ratio of labour, as compared with feeding and breeding cattle, that the country population would be greatly increased by the substitution of a fruit and vegetable for an animal dietary.
5. Character Improvement. On the ground that after the virtues of courage and valour and fearlessness have been taught in the lower stages of evolution, the virtue of gentle humaneness and extended sympathy for all that can suffer should be taught in the higher cycles of the evolutionary spiral. Flesh-eating entailing necessarily an immense volume of pain upon the sentient animal creation should be abstained from by the " higher classes " in the evolutionary scale.
Organizations have been established to advocate this method of living under the name of " Vegetarian Societies " in many countries chiefly the United Kingdom, America, Germany, France, Austria, Holland and Australia. Propagandism is carried on by lectures, literature, cookery demonstrations and restaurants. In England, the oldest and one of the most important societies is " The Vegetarian Society," of which the headquarters are at Oxford Street, Manchester. There are also several small London societies, and an active London Association. A few provincial towns, too, have small societies. An attempt has been made to organize the various vegetarian societies of the world under the title of " The Vegetarian Federal Union." The headquarters of the London societies and of the " Union " are at Memorial Hall, Farringdon Street, E.C.
There are nominally about 35 organized societies in existence, but the extent to which public opinion and practice in the matter of dietary has been affected by vegetarianism is not to be gauged by the membership of such organizations. There are in England a number of vegetarian restaurants and boardinghouses, one hospital and one or two sanatoria. In Germany and America there are many institutions where flesh is only prescribed in special cases. Flesh food is not included in the dietary of the chief hospitals and orphanages of the native states of India, excepting in the wards devoted to Europeans.
The athletic side of the movement has been represented in national and international races by vegetarians winning the Berlin and Dresden walking match (125 m.), the Carwardine Cup (100 m.) and Dibble Shield (6 hours) cycling races (1901 and 1902), the amateur championship of England in racquets and in tennis (held by Mr Eustace Miles for a series of years), the cycling championship of India (3 years), half-mile running championship of Scotland (1896), world's amateur cycle records for all times from 4 hours to 13 hours (1902), 100 miles championship Yorkshire Road Club (1899, 1901).
In the religious world the Seventh-Day Adventists (who are connected with many sanatoria and the manufacture of food specialities) and some Bible Christians, the worshippers of Vishnu and the Swami Narang and Vishnoi sects, amongst others, preach abstinence from flesh food. The Salvation Army, the Tolstoyans and the Doukhobors encourage it. A number of orders in the Roman Catholic church (e.g. the Trappists) and in the Hindu faith (e.g. the Dadupanthi Sadus) are pledged abstainers.
The general question of food values is discussed in the article DIETETICS; see also NUTRITION. But there is no doubt that, whatever may be the view taken as to the extreme theory of vegetarianism, it has had considerable effect in modifying the excessive meat-consuming regime of previous days, and in introducing new varieties of vegetable cooking into the service of the table.
The literature on the subject is considerable, but the two classics are perhaps The Ethics of Diet, by Howard Williams, and The Perfect Way in Diet, by Dr Anna Kingsford. In former years the " Vegetarian Society " was the most active in producing literature, but since about 1901 the Order of the Golden Age has come to the front with new and up-to-date books, booklets and leaflets, and the Ideal Publishing Union has reprinted much of the earlier literature. The chief periodicals are the Vegetarian (weekly), the Herald of the Golden Age (monthly), the Vegetarian Messenger (monthly), the Vegetarian (American monthly), the Children's Garden (monthly). (J. O.)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)