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  • rojony57
    VEGETABLE LOVE The history of vegetarianism. by STEVEN SHAPIN Issue of 2007-01-22 Posted 2007-01-15 During the great black-pudding controversies of the late
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 28, 2007
      VEGETABLE LOVE
      The history of vegetarianism.
      by STEVEN SHAPIN
      Issue of 2007-01-22
      Posted 2007-01-15


      During the great black-pudding controversies of the late seventeenth
      and early eighteenth centuries, it was put about that Sir Isaac
      Newton abstained from this dish because of the Old Testament
      prohibition against eating blood. After his death, Newton's niece
      defended his reputation, insisting that he had followed St. Paul's
      injunction not to make a fuss about food prohibitions—don't be like
      the bloody Jews—and to "take & eat what comes from the shambles
      without asking questions for conscience sake." It was true, she
      explained, that Newton refrained from eating black pudding and also
      rabbits (whose meat remained bloody because they were killed by
      strangulation), but his reasons were quite different from those
      alleged: "He said meats strangled were forbid because that was a
      painfull death & the letting out the blood the easiest & that animals
      should be put to as little pain as possible, that the reason why
      eating blood was forbid was because it was thought the eating
      blood inclined men to be cruel."
      By the time of Newton's death, in 1727, the English black-pudding
      debate had been running for most of a century. In the "Triall of a
      Black-Pudding" (1652), Thomas Barlow, a future bishop of Lincoln,
      noted that God had specifically proscribed blood eating among the
      Hebrews, whose laws of kashruth mandated the slaughtering and
      handling of food animals so as to drain them, as far as possible, of
      residual blood. Genesis 9:4 said, "Flesh with the life thereof, which
      is the Blood thereof, shall ye not eat," and Leviticus 17:10
      underlined the prohibition:
      "Whatsoever man there be of the house of Israel, or of the strangers
      that sojourn among you, that eateth any manner of blood; I will even
      set my face against that soul that eateth blood, and will cut him off
      from among his people." Barlow pointed out that the New Testament had
      never rescinded this law, despite the relief from various other
      Jewish dietary prohibitions offered by both Jesus and Paul;
      furthermore, the ban on eating blood and the flesh of strangled
      animals was repeated in the Acts of the Apostles. God, Barlow
      asserted, "would not have Men eat the life and the soul of Beasts, a
      thing barbarous and unnaturall." No meat was unclean in itself, but
      that bit of black pudding in the Great British Breakfast was a
      violation of both Jewish law and the Christian dispensation.
      In Newton's time and beyond, you couldn't discuss meat eating or
      its rejection without biting into some tough theology, and Tristram
      Stuart's sprawling "The Bloodless Revolution: A Cultural History of
      Vegetarianism from 1600 to Modern Times" (Norton; $29.95) shows just
      how hard it was to decipher God's dietary will and how many other
      considerations—both sacred and secular—were wrapped up in decisions
      about whether or not it was right to eat animals. The book is a
      magnificently detailed and wide-ranging collection of scholarship on
      what has been said to justify either refraining from meat or
      consuming it. Of course, a history of justifications is not the same
      thing as a history of what people actually ate, or didn't. For many
      people, through most of history, not eating meat was a given: it was
      just too scarce or expensive.
      But, among the few who had the resources, meat's richness, fatty
      satisfaction, and nourishment were much appreciated, as in the
      wonderful Scottish Selkirk G
      race:
      Some hae meat and canna eat,
      And some wad eat that want it;
      But we hae meat and we can eat,
      And sae the Lord be thankit.

      With few exceptions, European proponents of vegetarianism emerged
      from those who had meat. You can define vegetarianism in any number
      of ways, but the simple absence of meat from the diet isn't an
      interesting way to do it. To be culturally significant, you need some
      sort of principled justification, and there has been no shortage of
      that. The arguments that Stuart assembles are part of an immensely
      tangled and resonant debate. There's no demonstration of the
      wrongness of eating flesh that hasn't been countered by equally
      powerful arguments for its rightness, and different justifications
      have a way of both supporting and interfering with one another.
      Broadly speaking, though, for many centuries the debate centered on
      three questions, each of which was reflected in Newton's dietary
      choices and the objections raised to them: there was the religious
      question, concerning the implications of Scripture for human
      alimentation; there were medical questions about the effect of eating
      meat on human health and character; and there was a philosophical
      debate about the proper relationship between man and other animals.
      There was no distinct category you could call moral, because all of
      them were, as they remain, intensely moral. Vegetarianism has always
      been less about why you should eat plants than about why you
      shouldn't eat animals.
      And so arguments about vegetarianism, by drawing attention to rights
      that we claim for ourselves but deny to other animals, inevitably
      involve basic questions about what it is to be human.
      When Newton's friends and biographers tried to clarify his views on
      black pudding and rabbit meat, they weren't afraid that he'd be
      thought a closet Jew; they were concerned that he'd be taken for
      something called a Pythagorean. In the sixth century B.C., Pythagoras
      of Samos—he of the theorem relating the hypotenuse and the
      perpendicular sides of a right triangle—founded a community of
      mystical mathematicians who, it was said, observed a general
      prohibition against eating animals, "as having a right to live in
      common with mankind." Interest in the Pythagorean ban was renewed in
      the third and fourth centuries A.D. by pagan Neoplatonist
      philosophers seeking purification of the soul in advance of the
      afterlife, and it persisted until at least the early nineteenth
      century. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the resonance
      of the term "Pythagorean" was more dietary than mathematical. One
      explanation of Pythagoreans' vegetarianism was their adherence to a
      doctrine known as metempsychosis, or the transmigration of souls. If
      your soul, after death, could pass into the body of another animal
      species, vegetarianism was the only sure way to avoid cannibalism.
      For Christians, however, metempsychosis was heresy. Immortal souls
      did not migrate between species; they shuttled between earth, Heaven,
      and Hell—sometimes disembodied from their human frame but never
      entering into that of another species.
      During the Middle Ages and the early modern period, anyone advocating
      vegetarianism might be suspected of belief in pagan metempsychosis.
      Even among the devout, there was ample room for disagreement.
      Original sin—eating fruit from the forbidden Tree of the Knowledge of
      Good and Evil instead of from the permitted Tree of Life—was clearly
      a bad food choice, but there was controversy about Adam and Eve's
      dietary punishment. Some said that it was the labor of agriculture or
      cooking:
      "Thou shalt eat the herb of the field; In the sweat of thy face shalt
      thou eat bread." Others, however, said that the punishment was the
      eating of meat. After the Fall, plants had become less nutritious, or
      the human body had become less able to extract nutriment from plants,
      and we were now metabolically obliged to kill animals and eat their
      flesh.
      Meat eating, then, was a permanent reminder of our sinfulness. Some
      commentators went further, saying that our fallen nature had given us
      a taste for blood, and that we could gauge the extent of our
      wickedness by our relish for the flesh of dead animals and by our
      willingness to make them suffer. Other Christians rejected all
      potentially vegetarian interpretations, pointing out that God, from
      the outset, had given Adam and Eve "dominion over the fish of the
      sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all
      the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the
      earth," and that when, some verses later, God mentioned the edibility
      of plants, he referred to them as "meat." Some even argued that the
      suffering of animals killed for food was proof of their sinful
      nature. Flesh eating was not only part of God's plan; it might even
      be a divine duty.
      When you cited and interpreted Genesis, you were, at the same time,
      taking a view on what was natural for human beings to eat—what their
      original diet was and how both that diet and the human constitution
      had been affected by the fall from grace. For this reason, religious
      arguments about food have shaded into concerns about what is good for
      your hysical and mental health. The medical framework handed down
      from the first-century physician Galen sought to explain how
      different diets worked on your emotions and your personality.
      Evaluations and prescriptions might differ, but a causal link between
      diet and character was generally accepted. Meat made you brave;
      bloody meat made you bloody-minded.
      Late-seventeenth-century English vegetarian writers blamed meat
      eating for making people "sordid, surly, and Soldiers"; it was
      something people did to have their "bestial Nature fortify'd."
      But similar reasoning could be enlisted on behalf of the carnivore.
      The roast beef of Olde England was character-building food, stout
      fare for stouthearted men, while it was widely presumed that a
      vegetable diet made men weak, timorous, and effeminate. In
      Shakespeare's "Henry V," on the eve of the Battle of Agincourt, the
      French observe that the "island of England breeds very valiant
      creatures," feeding on "great meals of beef," so that they "eat like
      wolves and fight like devils." Conversely, it was common for
      physicians in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries to proscribe
      meat for patients who had weak constitutions or led sedentary lives.
      In Galenic medical traditions, roast beef was forbidden to scholars
      and philosophers, either because it stimulated their
      natural "melancholic" humor or because the difficulty of digesting it
      drained the vital spirits away from higher contemplation.
      In "Twelfth Night," Sir Andrew Aguecheek confesses, "I am a great
      eater of beef and I be lieve that does harm to my wit." Belief in the
      causal connection between meat and the masculine virtues persisted
      even after the decline of the Galenic medical tradition: Mahatma
      Gandhi, before reconverting to his original vegetarianism, briefly
      thought "that meat eating was good, that it would make me strong and
      daring, and that, if the whole country took to meat eating, the
      English could be overcome."
      The encounter between Indian and European traditions provides
      Stuart's book with one of its most striking and contentious
      assertions.
      Europeans, having long believed that animal flesh was necessary to
      sustain vigorous life, were astonished at the existence of the pagan
      yet pious Brahmins, who ate no meat but evidently thrived. Stuart, a
      British historian who lived for some years in India, endeavors to
      show that the spread of vegetarian doctrines in the West during the
      seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was a result of growing
      familiarity with the customs of colonized India. Evidently on the
      side of history's herbivores, he "outs" as vegetarians canonical
      thinkers who occasionally reduced their meat intake or advised others
      to do so; he judges the number of Enlightenment vegetarians to have
      been "incalculably large"; and he celebrates vegetarianism as the
      leading edge of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century thought. Like so
      many other arguments in the vegetarian debate, though, the news from
      India could be used by both sides. Were the Brahmins moral exemplars,
      or did they prove the association between vegetarianism and religious
      error?
      There is also a big difference between those who refrained from
      eating meat as part of an abstemious medical regimen and those who
      took a principled stand against the killing of animals for food, and
      Stuart tends to underplay the ambiguity of their dietary choices. The
      great eighteenth-century Scottish diet doctor George Cheyne, who at
      one point weighed four hundred and forty-eight pounds, was famous for
      having shed much of his fat by adopting a diet of vegetables and
      milk, and Stuart notes with approval that Cheyne urged a plant-based
      diet on many of his patients, including the novelist Samuel
      Richardson. But Stuart omits to say that Cheyne did not prescribe
      vegetarianism universally: he reckoned that someone following an
      ordinary course of life might healthily consume half a pound
      of "Flesh Meat" a day. Cheyne was outraged by rumors that he forbade
      meat eating as a general rule. Vegetarianism was reserved for the
      most desperate medical circumstances.
      Cheyne's prescriptions were based on the new matter theory of the
      scientific revolution. He thought that the smallest particles of meat
      were so grossly sized and shaped that they eventually occluded the
      vessels and obstructed the flow of vital fluids. The fine corpuscles
      of plant matter had none of these inconveniences, and so were much
      better for you.
      But the medical commendation of plant eating retained a strong
      theological dimension, as when Cheyne wrote, "The infinitely wise
      Author of Nature has so contrived Things, that the most remarkable
      Rules of preserving Life and Health are moral Duties commanded us."
      The medical idiom for talking about proper diet linked as easily to
      social and political concerns as it did to religious ones. The
      connection between eating carne and a carnal character made
      abstinence from flesh eating attractive to radical thinkers who
      disapproved of violence, war, and the brutish oppression of man by
      man. And some drew an analogy between the treatment of lower animals
      and of the lower orders. The seventeenth-century English vegetarian
      polemicist Thomas Tryon thought that people ate meat so "that they
      might act like Lions, and Devils, over their own kind as well as over
      all other Creatures." Many of the radical political and religious
      sects that erupted onto the English scene in the mid-seventeenth
      century used diet to criticize the established social order. If, as
      the sectaries maintained, God was present in all animate creatures,
      then animals were our brothers and eating them was a sin.
      The eighteenth century saw the emergence of an argument for
      vegetarianism from the perspective of animal rights. George Cheyne
      and other commentators argued that the habit of killing, like that of
      meat eating itself, hardened the heart and the nerves, both
      figuratively and literally.
      The squeamish human response to animal suffering was the authentic
      one; the callous reaction induced by familiarity was accounted
      artificial or false. "To see the Convulsions, Agonies and Tortures of
      a Poor Fellow-Creature . . . dying to gratify Luxury . . . must
      require a rocky Heart, and a great Degree of Cruelty and Ferocity,"
      Cheyne wrote. In the early eighteenth century, Bernard Mandeville,
      in "The Fable of the Bees," judged, "There is of all the Multitude
      not one Man in ten but what will own, (if he was not brought up in a
      Slaughter-house) that of all Trades he could never have been a
      Butcher; and I question whether ever any body so much as killed a
      Chicken without Reluctancy the first time." Previous eras had seen
      meat eating as constitutionally conducive to violence, but by the
      time Jeremy Bentham published "An Introduction to the Principles of
      Morals and Legislation," in 1789, the ground had shifted: meat eating
      was violence.
      These philosophical and psychological arguments became central to
      debates about meat eating and remain so. In the seventeenth century,
      Descartes was at one extreme in insisting that animals were mere
      machines, no more capable of experiencing pain than a clock, yet even
      his followers had to come to terms with solid evidence that many
      people nonetheless felt moved by signs of animal pain. The Cartesians
      had a response: any such human reaction was itself just a mechanical
      reflex. There were no moral obstacles to keep you from enjoying the
      fruits of the slaughterhouse. For others, however, our capacity to be
      moved by animal pain was powerful proof of fellowship, proof that we
      share a moral order with the beasts. Those who framed such arguments
      didn't doubt that this sympathy was a natural human reaction,
      evidence to be set against scriptural permission to eat meat.
      Compassion-based vegetarianism soon assumed the tone of a moral
      crusade. The poet Shelley, a sometime vegetarian, was certain that
      Robespierre's Terror would never have happened had the Paris
      population "satisfied their hunger at the ever-furnished table of
      vegetable nature" and that Napoleon would never have made himself
      emperor had he "descended from a race of vegetable feeders." George
      Bernard Shaw is said to have asked, "While we ourselves are the
      living graves of murdered beasts, how can we expect any ideal
      conditions on this earth?" Yet there is no straight path from the
      renunciation of meat to a politics of virtue. Nazi vegetarianism
      raises obvious problems in this regard. Stuart asserts that Hitler's
      strict adherence to a vegetarian diet was largely
      medical: "Throughout his life, Hitler continued to believe that
      abstaining from meat alleviated his chronic flatulence, constipation,
      sweating, nervous tension, trembling of muscles, and the stomach
      cramps that convinced him he was dying of cancer." The Nazi
      leadership, however, sought to extrapolate ideologies of wider
      application from the Führer's dietary choices. Himmler praised the
      constitutional virtues of vegetable consumption; he wanted the Waffen
      S.S. to go vegetarian and thought that once the Germans had
      dietetically cleansed themselves they would undoubtedly rule the
      world. Göring arrived at a twisted version of the humanitarian
      argument, threatening "those who still think they can treat animals
      as inanimate property" with the concentration camp.
      What about us? Theological arguments still flourish: witness such
      best-sellers as Don Colbert's "What Would Jesus Eat?" (2002) and
      Jordan S. Rubin's "The Maker's Diet" (2004). So do medical concerns,
      though they have changed their idiom—from the Galenic "breeding of
      ill humors" to modern worries about, say, the accumulation of
      cholesterol plaques. Recent epidemiological studies suggest that
      adult vegetarians tend to have lower blood pressure, lower
      cholesterol levels, lower rates of obesity, and, more
      controversially, higher childhood I.Q.s—though vegans tend to have
      lower I.Q.s than their carnivorous peers, and the nature of the links
      between vegetarianism, health, and I.Q. is unclear.
      Moral arguments about animal suffering are still central to the
      popular debate. Paul McCartney once said, "If slaughterhouses had
      glass walls, everyone would be a vegetarian," and it's true that many
      of those who have little experience of what goes on in an abattoir
      are repulsed by any kind of firsthand knowledge, or even by reading
      vivid accounts.
      But things are different on the other side of the slaughterhouse
      wall. Those who kill animals in the course of their working day may
      quickly become habituated to it, and to dismiss this effect as mere
      desensitization effectively discounts great knowledge of animal death
      in favor of slight knowledge. Similarly, those who like to
      romanticize country people are frequently discomfited by their
      uncuddly ways with livestock. A major source of the sympathy with
      animal suffering that developed so strongly from the Enlightenment
      may well be the pattern of urbanization that removed so many of us
      from daily experience of how our food is produced. Why is
      it "natural" not to know very much about "nature"?
      We also hear a lot, these days, about environmental justifications
      for vegetarianism, although revulsion at factory farming may point
      not to vegetarianism but to eating sustainably produced—and probably
      tastier—meat. Environmentally driven vegetarianism is newly
      prominent, but it has a convoluted history that goes back at least to
      the late eighteenth century. The English divine William Paley
      believed that statecraft should aim at maximizing a nation's
      population, reckoning that an acre of potentially arable land given
      over to "grain, roots, and milk" could support twice the number of
      people as the same land devoted to grazing animals to be killed for
      food. Adam Smith recommended potatoes over pasturage for much the
      same reason. Utilitarian political economy was closely related to
      patriotism, and continued to be, in some quarters, into the twentieth
      century: during the extreme food shortages at the beginning of the
      Third Reich, Göring inveighed against farmers who gave grain to
      animals which should have been used to feed Germans. These days, the
      environmental argument is not about maximizing the number of people
      that the environment can sustain but about sustaining the
      environment.
      Does producing a pound of lentils involve burning less fossil fuel
      than producing a pound of hamburger meat, or more? How many square
      miles of forest are cleared to graze cattle? How much biodiversity is
      lost both in grazing livestock and in raising the corn and soybeans
      to fatten them?
      A recent report by the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization
      reckons that at least eighteen per cent of the global-warming effect
      comes from livestock, more than is caused by all the world's
      transportation systems. It has been estimated that forty per cent of
      global grain output is used to feed animals rather than people, and
      that half of this grain would be sufficient to eliminate world hunger
      if—and it's not a small if—the political will could be found to
      insure equitable distribution.
      Yet the energy-cost argument is formidably complicated and cannot by
      itself support refusing all forms of meat in favor of all forms of
      plant matter: shooting and eating the deer chewing up the tulips in
      your garden may turn out to be more environmentally virtuous than
      dining on tofu manufactured from Chinese soybeans, and walking to the
      local supermarket for a nice hanger steak cut from a grass-fed New
      Zealand steer may be kinder to the planet than getting into your
      Toyota Prius to drive five miles for some organic Zambian green
      beans. (Stuart takes his ecological convictions seriously: he
      identifies himself in interviews as a "freegan," diving into
      Dumpsters to retrieve discarded food, disturbed that "the food thrown
      away in [Britain] alone is enough to feed millions of people.")
      Stuart is of the opinion that vegetarians have long had the best of
      the intellectual arguments. If so, that just shows how little
      intellectual arguments matter to populations' eating decisions. The
      number of vegetarians in developed countries is evidently on the
      increase, but the world's per-capita consumption of meat rises
      relentlessly: in 1981, it was 62 pounds per year; in 2002, the figure
      stood at 87.5 pounds. In carnivorous America, it increased from 238.1
      to 275.1 pounds, and the practice is spreading in traditionally
      herbivorous Asia. Indians' meat consumption has risen from 8.4 to
      11.5 pounds since 1981; in China, it has increased from 33.1 to an
      astonishing 115.5 pounds. This result has nothing to do with
      principle and everything to do with prosperity. Stuart's "bloodless
      revolution" has been much less a conversion than a conversation.
      The history of vegetarian (and anti-vegetarian) thought neither adds
      up nor goes anywhere, except in the sense that it goes everywhere
      that people disposed to reflection have explored when asking what it
      means to be human and to be good. It's a history of human morality,
      but it's no less a history of human ingenuity in moral argumentation.
      When the sixteen-year-old Ben Franklin converted to vegetarianism, he
      seemed to have been struck both by its health benefits and by moral
      sensitivity to animal suffering. But Franklin soon fell off the
      wagon. On his first sea voyage from Boston, his ship was becalmed off
      Block Island: Our People set about catching Cod, & haul'd up a great
      many. Hitherto I had stuck to my Resolution of not eating animal
      Food; and on this Occasion, I consider'd . . . the taking every Fish
      as a kind of unprovok'd Murder, since none of them had or ever could
      do us any Injury that might justify the Slaughter. All this seem'd
      very reasonable. But I had formerly been a great Lover of Fish, &
      when this came hot out of the Frying Pan, it smeled admirably well. I
      balanc'd some time between Principle & Inclination: till I
      recollected, that when the Fish were opened, I saw smaller Fish taken
      out of their Stomachs: Then thought I, if you eat one another, I
      don't see why we mayn't eat you. So I din'd upon Cod very heartily
      and continu'd to eat with other People, returning only now & then
      occasionally to a vegetable Diet. So convenient a thing it is to be a
      reasonable Creature, since it enables one to find or make a Reason
      for everything one has a mind to do.
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