History of Vegetarianism
The idea of vegetarianism has been around for a long time, before many of us could ever imagine. This gives a brief description of the where and when of vegetarianism history.
Early Times of Vegetarianism
The term "vegetarian" was coined by the British Vegetarian Society in the mid-1800's. (The Latin root of the word refers to the source of life.) However, vegetarianism itself dates back to a time before recorded history. Many anthropologists believe that most early humans ate mainly plant foods, being more like gatherers than hunters. This view is supported by the fact that the human digestive system resembles that of other plant-eaters rather than that of meat-eaters. The early "human as plant-eater" view is also supported by the fact that humans on meat-based diets contract recieve major health problems such as heart disease and cancer much more frequently than people eating vegetarian diets.
The Greek mathematician Pythagoras was a vegetarian, and vegetarians were often called Pythagoreans until a different word was created.
The Start of Vegetarianism in the U.S.A.
Vegetarianism was not very common in the U.S. until 1971, when Frances Moore Lappé's bestseller Diet for a Small Planet was published.
Lappé dropped out of graduate school at U.C. Berkeley to do personal research on world hunger issues. Lappé was startled to discover that it takes 14 times as much grain to feed an animal than what you get out of it in meat -- an enormous waste of resources. At the tender age of 26, Lappé then wrote Diet for a Small Planet to encourage people to eat meatless meals and stop wasting the world's food.
The Problems with Complementing protein.
In 1971 America the idea of not eating meat was considered much crazier than it is today. Many people believed that vegetarianism wasn't just unhealthy, but it was absolutely impossible to survive on a vegetarian diet. Lappé knew that her book would be met with this mindset, so she researched vegetarian nutrition. Whendoing so she made a mistake which would change the course of vegetarian history. Lappé found studies conducted around the turn of the century on rats. This study showed that rats grew best when fed a combination of plant foods whose amino acid (protein) patterns resembled that of animal foods.
Lappé devoted half of her book to this idea of "protein complementing" -- how to serve beans and rice together, for example, so that the protein would be "complete". The protein complementing idea was contagious and made its way into academic views, encyclopedia entries, and the American mindset. Unfortunately, the idea that protein combining is necessary was absolutely wrong
The first problem was that the protein complementing theory was just a theory. There had never been any studies on humans, only on rats.. Further, if plant foods were really so inferior, then how did cows, pigs, and chickens who eat nothing but grains and other plants get their protein? Wasn't it odd that we were eating farm animals for protein, and they were eating nothing but plants? Finally, plant foods were not as "deficient" in various aminoacids as Lappé had thought.
The Rest of the 70's
Lappes book "Diet for a Small Planet" launched the vegetarian movement in the United States. Vegetarian cookbooks, restaurants, and communes started appearing out of nowhere. We usually associate the 60's with hippies, and hippies with vegetarianism, but in fact vegetarianism was very uncommon before 1971.
That same year, some San Francisco hippies started a vegetarian commune in Tennessee which they generically named The Farm. The Farm popularized the use of soybean foods in the U.S, especially tofu, which was mainly unknown to Americans before The Farm Cookbook, which consisted of soybean recipes and explained how to make tofu.
In 1975, Australian ethics professor Peter Singer wrote Animal Liberation, which was the first scholarly work to present ethical arguments for not eating animals or experimenting on them. This book virtually launched the animal rights movement in the U.S. overnight. Animal rights groups started showing up everywhere, including PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) in the early 80's.
A New Diet for the World and the starting of Veganism
The 70's got the vegetarian ball rolling but by mid-80's several myths about vegetarianism were still held. One was the idea promoted by Diet for a Small Planet ( the myth about protein combining). Many "would-be" vegetarians were put off about changing their diets because of the planning they thought was required. Another was that it might be possible to be healthy on a vegetarian diet, but there were no health benefits.
Those myths were all destroyed by John Robbins' 1987 book "Diet for a New America". His work actually contained little information that was new and original most of the ideas had been published elsewhere. Robbins' contribution was to take an array of existing information and combine it into one large, documented volume, and to add his own inviting analysis. Part 1 of Diet for a New America exposed the horrors of factory farming. Part 2 demonstrated how deadly meat-based diets are, and how healthy and safe vegetarianism is . Part 3 introduced the world to the incredible environmental consequences of animal agriculture, which many vegetarians were unaware of before the book was published.
Robbin's book restarted the vegetarian movement in the U.S., as it launched the vegan movement, and helped introduce the term "vegan" into the American vocabulary
Medical Evidence is Overwhelming
Dr. John McDougall started publishing a series of books promoting vegan diets to treat most major illness, and he reached his biggest success with the 1990 MacDougall Program .
In the early 90's, the American Dietetic Association published a position paper endorsing vegetarian diets, and support for vegetarian diets started to be seen throughout the medical community.
Today, acceptance of vegetarianism by medical authorities and the general public is at an all-time high. Myths are still around, but overall change in attitude about vegetarianism since the 80's is nothing short of remarkable.