Vegetarianism is the practice of rejecting the consumption of meat (the flesh of any animal -this means red meat, poultry, seafood). This may include avoiding any by-products of animal slaughter. Dietary habits of vegetarians vary. Some avoid the flesh of animals, but do eat eggs and milk products. Vegans however, reject eating (and using) any kind of animal-based products, including honey.
As we mentioned before, it is widely argued that the earliest practised food movements are religious beliefs surrounding food consumption. The oldest documented examples of vegetarianism were practised in ancient India, especially among Hindus and Jains. There are also records that show some population groups in ancient Greece and Egypt adopting dietary habits similar to vegetarianism. In Europe however, vegetarianism emerged as a concept from ethical and philosophical motivations during the early modern period, and was generally associated with cultural reform movements.
The Vegetarian Society of the UK was established in 1847. This small but highly active group promoting vegetarianism split into two fractions in 1888 -the London Vegetarian Society (LVS) and the Manchester Vegetarian Society (MVS) because of their differences over the definition of vegetarianism. Francis William Newman, President of the Manchester Vegetarian Society, believed that abstinence from meat, fish and fowl should be the only thing the Society advocates and the Society should not be associated with other reform ideas. In 1969, the Manchester and London Vegetarian Societies merged once more to form the Vegetarian Society of the UK. Throughout the years and to this day, the Society’s work has focused on public education with other community groups about the benefits of healthy and sustainable eating.
In the US, Asenath Nicholson wrote the first vegetarian cookbook in 1835. The American Vegetarian Society was founded in 1855 in New York and was closely linked to immigrants from England and to the Bible Christian Church. Similarly many other Christian churches in the US such as the Seventh-day Adventist Church, have become advocates of vegetarianism, and recommend a meatless diet.
The International Vegetarian Union, a union of the national societies, was founded in 1908.
In the Western world, vegetarian and vegan movements have grown significantly in the last decades as a result of environmental, nutritional and health concerns largely resulting from the mass production of animals as food in modern farming practices. According to the 2006 UN report outlining the livestock industry creating more harmful emissions than the transport industry, reducing meat intake would facilitate a considerable change in global warming greenhouse gasses being produced. Concerns about water pollution and wide-spread animal cruelty also play a huge role. Health-wise, scientific studies have shown evidence for decreased overall risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease in individuals following plant based diets.The American Dietetic Association has stated that a balanced vegetarian diet can be “healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may be beneficial in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.”A vegetarian balanced diet means consuming whole grains, vegetables and fruits, beans and lentils, nuts and seeds.
Statistically the percentage of individuals who consider themselves vegetarians or vegans today is relatively small, yet many more claim to deliberately include plant-based foods in their meals everyday.
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