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Book Review: Bloodless Revolution: A Cultural History of Vegetarianism from 1600 to Modern Times

Bloodless Revolution: A Cultural History of Vegetarianism From 1600 to Modern Times, (previously discussed on SuperVegan here, here , and here) proves to be an extensively researched book of the history of vegetarianism, with an emphasis on the merging of Western Christianity and Eastern philosophy. Tristram Stuart has published a valuable tool for those looking for the historical roots of much of the philosophical and religious reasons for vegetarianism.

As a vegan having read this book, there is no possible way a simple book review could do justice the the immense wealth of information Stuart has compiled. A critical understanding of the origins of vegetarianism serves several purposes, not the least of which is a reassurance that we are not alone, and that intellectuals have been promoting vegetarianism for centuries. Additionally, the book addresses the more controversial angles of vegetarian advocacy, be it the personal pitfalls of particular spokesmen for the cause, or the refutations and critiques brought forth against the advocates. Having an understanding of the battles already fought for the movement provides groundwork for the ongoing battles faced today.

Broken up into three main sections, I. Grass Roots, II. Meatless Medicine, and III. Romantic Dinners, the book travels through many incarnations of vegetarianism throughout the ages. Vegetarianism is embraced initially by those such as Pythagoras and Isaac Newton in an attempt to avoid brutal oppression of others, or to become a more humane individual as it was believed by some that eating meat lead to a more violent nature. In the Meatless Medicine section, individuals such as Pierre Gassendi and Dr. Cheyne preach of the benefits to the body to those who abstain from meat. In the Romantic Dinners section, the French Revolution and utilitarianism emerge to influence the leading vegetarians.

Some of the more interesting facts outlined in the book include the following: In the 1700’s both Rousseau and Gassendi questioned the notion of eating meat as being natural by pointing out a child’s instinctive preference for vegetable foods. The first mention of abstaining from eating eggs and milk in addition to meat is found in the writings of Joseph Ritsin, a radical vegetarian living in London from 1752-1803. Adam Smith recommends taxation of meat as a luxury good in the Wealth of Nations published in 1776. Gandhi, influenced by Shelly, became an advocate for vegetarianism only after traveling to London, after which he traveled back to India with a westernized understanding of vegetarianism that then lead to his famous work in non-violence.

Vegetarianism continues to evolve, looking vastly different today than many of the various forms Bloodless Revolution shows the movement to have taken. From a desire to cause less harm and oppression in the world, philosophers and religious thinkers alike continue to address society’s treatment of animals, inevitably converging on the question of diet and vegetarianism .

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