Just a Little Common Sense

For a life based on reason, ethics, literature and art.

Vegetarianism: Older Than Christianity

with 2 comments

I get tired of people telling me that vegetarianism is just a fad, a passing trend. Here is one of the latest additions to my collection of quotes, from the writings of the greek philosopher Plutarch (46 – 120 AD):

Can you really ask what reason Pythagoras had for abstaining from flesh? For my part I rather wonder both by what accident and in what state of soul or mind the first man did so, touched his mouth to gore and brought his lips to the flesh of a dead creature, he who set forth tables of dead, stale bodies and ventured to call food and nourishment the parts that had a little before bellowed and cried, moved and lived. How could his eyes endure the slaughter when throats were slit and hides flayed and limbs torn from limb? How could his nose endure the stench? How was it that the pollution did not turn away his taste, which made contact with the sores of others and sucked juices and serums from mortal wounds? […] It is certainly not lions and wolves that we eat out of self-defense; on the contrary, we ignore these and slaughter harmless, tame creatures without stings or teeth to harm us, creatures that, I swear, Nature appears to have produced for the sake of their beauty and grace. But nothing abashed us, not the flower-like tinting of the flesh, not the persuasiveness of the harmonious voice, not the cleanliness of their habits or the unusual intelligence that may be found in the poor wretches. No, for the sake of a little flesh we deprive them of sun, of light, of the duration of life to which they are entitled by birth and being.

So yes, there already were vegetarians over 2500 years ago. Well known and ancient history even when Plutarch put these lines onto paper, phrasing quite eloquently one of the main reasons for which I abstain from eating flesh: The very idea of feeding on the carcasses of others simply disgusts me.

Written by Phil

November 4, 2010 at 22:43

2 Responses

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  1. I think the question needs to be asked of whether Plutarch’s musings are relevant in a time when we know as a scientific fact that we have evolved. Sure, ok, some vegetarians find eating flesh disgusting, but I would put it to you that our hominid ancestors were eating flesh long before morality and common laws of hygiene existed.

    As a Darwinist I find it pretty hard to swallow (pun intended) the point here about the supposed unnaturalness of putting “mouth to gore” – especially regarding defenceless creatures put here “for the sake of their beauty and grace”. The reason we have evolved the way we have is because those stupid enough to take on a lion or other creature capable of better defence didn’t get much of a chance to pass on their genetic material… Again, I should emphasise that I know this knowledge was not around when Plutarch wrote this piece, but to me it’s not the best arguement for vegetarianism. I don’t argue that vegetarianism is a passing fad, I agree that is has been around for millenia, but to me it seems like it is merely another idiosyncratic preference. I can’t stomach eggs, you can’t stomach meat. Some people don’t like the taste, others disagree with farming practices, others still (and of course these categories aren’t mutually exclusive) are morally opposed to gaining nutrition from others’ carcasses. To me, we are still animals, and carnivores aren’t morally judged for consuming the flesh of fellow creatures – should we be? Do we really think so well of ourselves that we are creating our own special category of Organisms That Should Know Better? I’m also inclined to think about the nutritional value that meat offers. Although virtually all (if not the entire spectrum of nutritional needs) can be found in non-animal sources, frequently the amounts to be consumed to gain the recommended quantities are simply enormous. That said, I’m not well versed in nutrition so probably should not swim out of my depth.

    Out of curiosity, do you wear leather shoes or clothing, P..? :P


    November 4, 2010 at 23:52

    • Hey K, nice job putting down every single pro-meat argument, with the sole exception of the environmental argument against soy products. :D

      I’m writing a full post on all the other reasons for which I don’t eat meat, and am going to post it shortly. The sole purpose of this post was to point out that is not just a passing trend, one of the many tumors of the ridiculus health-hype that also brings us products to desinfect (not just “clean”, but actually desinfect) our kitchens because if-your-child-touches-a-single-germ-it’s-going-to-die!-nonsense. I get that all the time, and it’s incredibly annoying.
      Not that the age of a certain lifestyle has any baring on its ethical value one way or the other, but it’d be nice if all those people who oh-so-value tradition would finally acknowledge that of vegetarianism.
      From Pythagoras to Jeremy Bentham, there is a huge line of great thinkers who chose not to eat meat, and that very fact alone might make one think that perhaps, maybe, there really are reasons for vegetarianism that might be worth pondering.


      November 11, 2010 at 17:45

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