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More on the History of Vegetarianism


[New Yorker]

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." ...
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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. ...
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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. ...
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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.

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full story:
http://www.newyorker.com/critics/books/ articles/070122crbo_books_shapin

 

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