Vegetarianism is defined as the practice of abstaining from the consumption of meat such as red meat, poultry, seafood, and the flesh of any other animal, and may also include abstention from by-products of animals processed for food such as honey or dairy products.

People can choose to become vegetarian for various reasons. It may be due to religious beliefs, health issues, animal welfare or concerns about the use of hormones in livestock.

Whatever the reason may be, it is clear that in today’s modern world, there has been a significant increase in people choosing to become vegetarian.

It has also become easier for people to continue their practice due to grocery stores offering more vegetarian-friendly products, the increase of new vegetarian-only restaurants opening up in the United States and even traditional restaurants and fast-food chains adding vegetarian options on their menus.

Believe it or not, vegetarianism is not something that just appeared within the last ten years, it is actually a practice that has happened since ancient times. Here are some tips on being a healthy vegetarian.

Continue scrolling to learn more about the history of vegetarianism.

Vegetarianism During Ancient India

Buddhism figure by itself
Did you know that there are more than 500 million Buddhists around the world? Source: Visualhunt

Religions in India dating back to 6th century BC, such as Jainism and Buddhism, had strict principles of non-violence towards animals. Due to this rule, people who practiced these religions practiced vegetarianism.

Within the Buddhist community though, there were some people that would refrain from harming or killing animals but would still consume meat. This was known as the Buddhist vegetarianism.

There are two schools of thought when it comes to Buddhist vegetarianism.

The first one explained that Buddha allowed his monks to consume meat only if it was being offered by hosts or as alms if they had no reason to suspect that the animal was killed only for them.

The second thought says that Buddha and his community were strict vegetarians and the habit of receiving meat, as a charity, was only years after a decline in discipline.

Hinduism, which continues to be one of the top religions practiced in India, does not prohibit the consumption of meat.

It does, however, encourage ahimsa, which is the concept of non-violence towards all life forms including animals.

Due to this concept, many Hindus decide to live on a vegetarian or lacto-vegetarian diet. They practice methods of food production that are in harmony with nature, compassionate, and respectful of other life forms and nature.

To this day, India is still ranked top in the world with 38% of its total population being vegetarian.

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Vegetarianism During the European Renaissance

Mona Lisa painting by Leonardo Da Vinci
The Mona Lisa has been described as the best known, the most visited, the most written about, the most sung about, the most parodied work of art in the world. Source: VisualHunt.com

Vegetarianism in Europe appeared again after the beginning of the European Renaissance. This returned as a philosophical concept based on ethics on animal rights.

One of the most notable vegetarians during this time was Leonardo da Vinci. He was convinced that “the time will come when we condemn the eating of animals, just as today we condemn the eating of our own kind, the eating of humans".

There were a few influential philosophers however that believed that we did not owe ethical treatment to animals and that animals were strictly here for us.

Among them was Rene Descartes, a French philosopher, mathematician and scientist and Immanuel Kant who was an influential Prussian German philosopher.

Even though Kant may not have practiced vegetarianism, he did believe that a man’s heart could be judged by how he treated animals.

Another well-known vegetarian individual was Benjamin Franklin. In his autobiography, Benjamin states that he became a vegetarian at age 16 because he felt it was healthier, more ethical and could save him money.

Did you know that thanks to Benjamin Franklin, tofu was introduced to the United States in 1770?

Vegetarianism During the Early Modern Period

vegetables being cut up and ready to be cooked
Bell peppers, any color, are a great source of vitamin A, C, E, B6, potassium and dietary fiber. Source: Visualhunt

Within the 18th century, in the United States, there were small groups of Christian vegetarians.

One of these small groups was known as Ephrata Cloister, one of America’s earliest religious communities founded in what is now Pennsylvania in 1732.

Among their beliefs on following the bible and practicing self-discipline, Ephrata Cloister would follow a vegetarian diet. They were allowed to eat meat only during the celebration of communion when lamb was served.

By the end of the 18th century, England began to abandon the idea that animals were made only for man’s use.

Instead, during the early 19th century, England became the country in Europe where vegetarian ideas were most welcomed and people here were enthusiastic about their vegetarian principles and practices.

The vegetarian movement began to spread and more people began to join as vegetarians, especially in larger urbanized cities.

On September 30, 1847, the first Vegetarian Society of the modern western world was established in the United Kingdom.

During the Victorian era, women were more likely to be vegetarian versus men. Women were usually the ones that advocated on becoming vegetarian to promote a purer and simpler diet.

To this day today, the United Kingdom is still one of the top 10 countries with the most vegetarians, to be exact, 9% of the population is vegetarian.

Different Types of Vegetarianism

Picture showing all five food groups on a plate
A balanced diet is made up of the five food groups such as carbohydrates, protein, milk, fruits and vegetables, fats and sugars. Source: bigbrand@rocketmail.com on Visualhunt.com

Although the term vegetarian can seem fairly easy to comprehend, there are many different categories that fall within a person being vegetarian.

Some of the most commons types of vegetarianism include pescetarianism, Lacto-vegetarianism, Ovo-vegetarianism, Lacto-Ovo vegetarianism, and veganism.

Having a pescatarian diet consist of a plant-based diet where the person’s only source of meat is seafood. Up until the 21st century, pescetarianism was considered a form of a vegetarian diet.

Lacto vegetarianism is a diet that includes vegetables as well as dairy products, which explains the term lacto which comes from the Latin root lac meaning milk. Among these dairy products are milk, cheese, yogurt, butter, and cream.

In India, the top vegetarian country in the world, being Lacto vegetarian is considered to be the same as a vegetarian.

Ovo-vegetarianism is a vegetarian diet that allows the consumption of eggs but no dairy. Ovo-vegetarians are often also considered eggetarians. Ovo comes from the Latin word meaning egg.

In India, ovo vegetarianism is not considered being vegetarian.

The next most common form of vegetarianism is a combination of the two previous types mentioned, lacto-ovo vegetarianism.

As you may have already guessed, this plant-based diet allows the consumption of dairy products and eggs.

In western countries, lacto-ovo vegetarians are the most common types of vegetarians. The final most common form of vegetarianism is veganism.

Veganism is defined, according to the Vegan Society, as a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.

In clarity, vegans do not consume any meat, any additional food products that come from animals such as dairy, eggs or honey, nor do they use any clothing or material things that come from animals such as leather, soap bars, wool or certain makeup products.

Being vegan is the hardest form of vegetarianism because of the large amount of products that we use or consume each day that are made from animals.

Next time you are at a grocery store, restaurant or purchasing makeup, keep an eye out for vegan products. Companies nowadays include a vegan logo on products or menus making it easier for vegans to identity.

The similarities between all of these forms of vegetarianism are that all of them will include a large number of vegetables and fruits in their diets, their differences, however, is how much of animals and animal products, if any, they will allow themselves to consume.

As we mentioned before, deciding to become vegetarian can be different for every person, but the idea is clear, people are trying to limit their consumption of animals or animal products and try to live off a more natural diet.

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