Throughout history, many of the
world`s greatest philosophers, writers, scientists,
artists, spiritual leaders, and teachers have
been adherents and/or enthusiastic supporters
of vegetarianism. Following are some very brief
biographies of some of the most famous. This is
not meant to be a complete listing, nor are the
biographies meant to discuss all aspects of each
person`s life. This section aims to provide an
idea of some of the vegetarian activities and
teachings of several extraordinary people who
have promoted vegetarianism.
Agnon, Shmuel Yosef (1888
- 1970, Hebrew author)
Agnon is a central figure in modern
Hebrew fiction. He wrote many novels and short
stories about major contemporary spiritual concerns.
He won the Israel Prize for Literature in 1954
and 1958 and the Nobel Prize for Literature in
1966, the first time that honor was given to a
Agnon was a devout Jew who spent
much of his life in Israel. He was extremely dedicated
to vegetarianism and wove vegetarian themes into
many of his stories. His great sensitivity to
all creatures is indicated in the following excerpt
from his speech upon receiving the Nobel Prize
Lest I slight any creature, I must also mention
the domestic animals, the beasts, and the
birds from whom I have learned. Job said long
ago (35:11) "Who teacheth us more than
than the beasts of the earth, and maketh us
wiser than the fouls of heaven?"
Buddha (founder of Buddhism)
Although initially a member of a
warrior caste, Gautama Buddha became disgusted
with the excesses of the Brahman priests, and
set out at the age of 29 to find his personal
path to salvation. He was overwhelmed by the suffering
that he saw around him, and concluded that kindness
toward all creatures was an important principle.
He stated, "Do not butcher the ox that plows
in the field" and "Meat eating I have
not permitted to anyone." (Lankavatara )
However, Buddhism has complex teachings related
to the eating of meat, permitting it for people
who had not seen the animal being put to death
and if the animal wasn`t specifically slaughtered
for their benefit. Hence, Buddha himself did eat
some boar`s flesh.
Darwin, Charles (1809 - 1882,
Charles Darwin is known primarily
for his theory of evolution. The background for
this theory was obtained when when he was appointed
a naturalist and sailed around the globe on the
H. M. S. Beagle investigating wildlife in many
remote areas. His conclusions, presented in 1858
in "On the Origin of Species of Species by
Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured
Races in the Struggle for Life", have been
the subject of much discussion and controversy
since then. Darwin`s research led him to conclude
that the differences in mental faculties between
humans and the higher mammals, great as it is,
"certainly is one of degree and not of kind".
He taught that human senses, intuitions, and emotions
may be found, sometimes in a well-developed condition,
in the lower animals. This, plus his sensitivity
and compassion, led him to conclude, "The
love for all living creatures is the most noble
attribute of man".
da Vinci, Leonardo (1452
- 1519, Italian scientist, painter, sculptor,
engineer, and architect)
Leonardo da Vinci made great innovations
in painting, flying machines, military weapons,
and engineering. While his great inventions and
artistic achievements are well known, few people
realize that he was also considered to be the
first great vegetarian of modern Western civilization.
His vegetarianism was primarily for humanitarian
reasons; for example, he would often buy a caged
bird just to set it free.
The strength of da Vinci`s feelings
about vegetarianism is indicated by this quotation
from Merijkowsky`s Romance of Leonardo da Vinci
, " Truly man is the king of beasts, for
his brutality exceeds theirs. We live by the death
of others; we are burial places". He felt
that a time would come when the killing of animals
would be looked on in the same way that the murder
of a person is viewed.
Einstein, Albert (1879 -
1955, scientist, philosopher)
Albert Einstein is considered to
be one of the outstanding scientists in history.
Among his greatest achievements was his formulation
of the "theory of relativity". He was
also a philosopher who often spoke out for peace
Einstein felt that if people switched
to vegetarianism, it would greatly benefit humanity.
He wrote, "the vegetarian manner of living
. . . would most beneficially influence the lot
He believed that people were separated
from other people and from animals because of
excessive self concern. For a better world, he
felt that, "our task must be to free ourselves
from this prison by widening our circle of compassion
to embrace all living creatures and the whole
of nature in its beauty". He felt that even
the striving for such an achievement was in itself
part of liberation and a foundation for inner
Gandhi, Mohandas (1869 -
1948, Indian Hindu social reformer and nationalist
Mahatma Gandhi was one of the greatest
nationalist leaders in the history of India. He
used civil disobedience, including such tactics
as fasting and passive resistance, to work for
freedom for his people. He also worked very hard
to bring people of various religions together.
Gandhi saw vegetarianism as a moral
cause, even once stating that he would prefer
death to consuming some beef-tea or mutton, even
under medical advice. He saw the life of a lamb
as no less precious than that of a human being.
In his," The Moral Basis of Vegetarianism",
he asserted, "The greatness of a nation and
its moral progress can be judged by the way its
animals are treated". To Gandhi, vegetarianism
was not just a religious principle, but an obsession
that he spent much time and effort on. He wrote
5 volumes on the subject.
Though he rebelled against vegetarianism
for a short time in his youth, his reading of
Henry Salt`s Plea for Vegetarianism , a book that
he discovered by accident, made him a dedicated
vegetarian by choice. He held that flesh-foods
were unsuited to the human species. He was a very
strong opponent of vivisection, calling it "the
blackest of all the black crimes that man is at
present committing against God and His fair creation".
Gompertz, Lewis (labor leader)
Lewis Gompertz was the British founder
of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to
Animals in 1824.
He felt that it was improper education
that was responsible for what he regarded as the
"crime of cruelty", and he advocated
more instruction that would help people distinguish
between right and wrong. He was very much against
hunting, since it was inhumane to pursue "a
poor defenseless creature for mere amusement,
till it becomes exhausted by terror and fatigue
. . ."
Graham, Sylvester (1794 -
Sylvester Graham was an American
Presbyterian minister (ordained in 1826) who preached
on temperance and stressed whole-wheat flour and
vegetarian diets. He was known for his graham
crackers. His Graham Journal of Health and Longevity
preached his principles of good health. He compared
people physiologically to orangutans, and concluded
that vegetarian food was natural for both primates.
Graham had many devoted followers,
known as Grahamites, who slavishly followed his
principles, which included temperance, sexual
restraint, and baths, in addition to vegetarianism.
He was so famous that his lectures on proper living
were attended by thousands, and he was able to
hold his audiences spellbound. He had many disciples
who also worked diligently to further the vegetarian
cause. When the British Vegetarian Society was
founded in 1847, he helped found a similar group
Kafka, Franz (1883 - 1924,
important Austrian - Czech writer)
Kafka was a Czech-born, German novelist
whose writing had tremendous influence on western
literature and art. His many books include The
Castle , The Trial , and The Great Wall of China
. His novels have been translated into many languages
and have been adapted for movies, plays, and operas.
The plot in his books generally center around
the hero`s search for identity.
Kafka was attracted to vegetarianism
for health and ethical reasons. While viewing
a fish in an aquarium, he said, "Now I can
look at you in peace; I don`t eat you any more."
He had little faith in conventional doctors; he
was interested in the benefits of raw-food diets.
He was also involved in anti-vivisection activities.
Kellogg, John Harvey, M. D.
(1852 - 1943, American surgeon)
Dr. John Harvey Kellogg was a Seventh-day
Adventist who worked actively to promote proper
health approaches. To further this interest, he
founded a sanatorium in Battle Creek, Michigan.
Thousands of patients came seeking cures. To further
nutritious eating, he invented flaked cereals
and peanut butter. His wife Ellen wrote the first
modern vegetarian cookbook, Science in the Kitchen
Kellogg wrote prolifically about
his then radical nutritional and health ideas.
For over 60 years, he edited Good Health Magazine
, which promoted vegetarianism in virtually every
issue. His dietetic ideas were also published
in "The Miracle of Life" in 1904.
Nearing, Scott (1883 - 1983)
Scott Nearing was a back-to-the
land pioneer. He wrote " Living the Good
Life", with his wife, Helen, in 1954. In
this book, they indicated that they went to live
off the land, because they "were looking
for a kindly, decent, clean, and simple way of
life". They felt that the many pressures
of modern society and the greed and materialism
that were stressed made it imperative to move
away from civilization and get close to nature,
to live simply, and to grow their own food.
The Nearings became vegetarians
because they regarded it as the best way to "maintain
a healthy body as an operating base for a sound
mind and purposeful harmless life", and because
of their philosophy of doing the "greatest
good to the greatest number of people".
Peretz, Isaac Lieb (1852
- 1915, Yiddish author)
Peretz was a prolific and versatile
writer of Hebrew and Yiddish stories and poems.
He was one of the founders of modern Yiddish literature
as well as an important figure in Hebrew literature.
His compassion, sensitivity, and rich imagination
in championing the cause of the oppressed and
common people inspired many other authors. He
wrote much about the lives of the chassidim, and
the Jewish socialist movement was greatly influenced
by his ideas.
Plutarch (46 - 119 A.D.,
Greek historian and biographer)
Plutarch was most famous for his
"Lives", biographies of famous contemporaries.
Another important work was his " Moralia",
a collection of 60 of his miscellaneous writings.
Plutarch was a strong advocate of
vegetarianism. He responded to attacks on vegetarianism
in his "On the Eating of Animal Flesh".
He felt that people should be ashamed to "mingle
murder and blood with (nature`s) beneficent fruits.
In "Moralia", he wrote, "But for
the sake of some little mouthful of flesh, we
deprive a soul of the sun and light, and of that
proportion of life and time it had been born into
the world to enjoy." He felt that we should
be merciful to other creatures, "were it
only to learn benevolence to humankind"
Porphyry (234 - 305 A.D.,
Greek author and philosopher)
Porphyry was a very avid advocate
of vegetarianism. His literary output was enormous.
He wrote "On Abstinence From Animal Food",
an early plea for vegetarianism.
He stated that it was iniquitous
to eat animals, not for basic needs such as nourishment
, but only for pleasure and gluttony. He regarded
animals as his brothers and asserted, "A
man who eats a harmless diet will be less inclined
to slaughter another man`s flesh since the idea
would be unthinkable".
Pythagoras (580 - 500 B.C.,
Greek philosopher and mathematician)
Pythagoras was an influential Greek
who established schools where philosophy, political
science, and mathematics were discussed. Today,
he is best known for his Pythagorean theorem,
which relates the lengths of the sides of right
Many people consider Pythagoras
as "the father of vegetarianism". Vegetarians
were initially known as Pythagoreans, until the
middle of the 19th century. We know about Pythagoras`
vegetarian views primarily through "The Metamorphoses",
the epic poem by the Roman writer, Ovid . In that
work, Pythagoras states, "Alas, what wickedness
to swallow flesh into our own flesh, to fatten
our greedy bodies by cramming in other bodies,
to have one living creature fed by the death of
another!" Pythagoras also felt that, "As
long as man continues to be the ruthless destroyer
of lower living beings, he will never know health
or peace. For as long as men massacre animals,
they will kill each other."
Rousseau, Jean-Jacques (1712
-1778, French philosopher)
Rousseau is considered by many people
to be the most striking figure in French philosophy
and literature. He had great enthusiasm for individual
liberty and emotional participation in life. He
exalted freedom over any external authority, natural
impulse over discipline, and individual`s feelings
over society`s conventions. His attitudes were
a regenerating force and influenced many others
While not a vegetarian, Rousseau`s
writings on the subject affected future dietary
movements, including Fruitlands, a 19th century
vegetarian commune. He considered vegetarianism
to be the ideal diet for people; in his textbook
for the ideal education of a child, "Emile",
he advocated a simple vegetarian diet for children.
He stated that children have an inborn preference
for vegetarian, rather than flesh, foods, and
felt that this was a proof that meat was not a
natural diet for people. In "Emile",
he also indicated that "great eaters of flesh
are, in general, more cruel and ferocious than
Salt, Henry S. (1827 - 1939,
English reformer and author)
Henry Salt was educated at Cambridge
and later was active in social reform and literary
work. Among his many writings were biographies
of Henry David Thoreau, Percy Bysshe Shelley,
Alfred Lord Tennyson, and Richard Jefferies.
Salt had a great influence on late
19th century British antivivisectionists. He believed
that the emancipation of people from cruelty and
injustice would have to be associated with the
emancipation of animals. He was critical of religion,
which he felt had never befriended the cause of
humaneness. He felt that condoning cruelty to
animals perpetuates the spirit that condones cruelty
to people. His views on vegetarianism were eloquently
expressed in his "The Logic of Vegetarianism".
Schweitzer, Albert (1875
- 1965, theologian, renowned medical missionary
in Africa, winner of Nobel Peace Prize, 1952)
Although of German heritage, Schweitzer,
perhaps more than any other contemporary figure,
is considered to belong to all nations. His name
is virtually synonymous with the phrase "reverence
for life". He was a theologian and philosopher,
an accomplished organist, a prolific author, a
missionary doctor in Africa, and the winner of
the 1952 Nobel Peace Prize.
Although not a vegetarian for most
of his life, he believed that vegetarianism was
the diet most consistent with reverence for life.
He regretted that he could not fulfill the vegetarian
ideal as closely as he would have liked. The importance
that he placed on compassion to animals is indicated
in his statement, "Until he extends the circle
of his compassion to all living things, man will
not himself find peace."
Shaw, George Bernard (1865
- 1950; British dramatist and critic)
Among the most famous of vegetarians,
Shaw was a vegetarian for most of his life. He
was a prolific writer and authored many plays.
Shaw considered himself a "cannibal",
before he discovered the vegetarian writings of
the poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley. At the first meeting
of the Shelly Society at University College, Oxford,
Shaw claimed himself to be, like Shelly, a socialist,
atheist, and vegetarian. When asked why he was
a vegetarian, he once replied, "Why should
you call me to account for eating decently? If
I fattened on the scorched corpses of innocent
beings you might ask me why I did that."
While primarily a vegetarian for aesthetic and
nutritional reasons, he also condemned animal
slaughter, and he saw connections between violence
done to animals and people going to war against
other human beings.
Shaw was noted for his witty and
often cutting statements. Among his comments on
vegetarianism is, "Animals are my friends
and I don`t eat my friends."
Shelley, Percy Bysshe (1792
- 1822, British author)
Although his life was cut tragically
short due to an accident at sea, Percy Bysshe
Shelley was one of England`s most prolific writers.
He was especially well known for his poems. He
was also politically active, working to help the
poor in his district.
He wrote "A Vindication of
Natural Diet" in 1813, a defense of vegetarianism
on ethical, health, and environmental grounds.
In it he stated, "It is only by softening
and disguising dead flesh by culinary preparation
that it is rendered susceptible of mastication
or digestion, and that the sight of its bloody
juices and red horror does not excite intolerable
loathing and disgust."
Shelton, Herbert (1895 -
1985, author and natural hygiene advocate)
Herbert Shelton was a founder of
the natural hygiene movement. He was one of its
great champions and most prolific writers. He
authored many books, including "Superior
Nutrition", "Health for All", "The
Science and Fine Art of Fasting", and "Human
Life: Its Philosophy and Laws".
Singer, Isaac Bashevis (1904
- 1991, Yiddish author, Nobel prize winner)
I. B. Singer was an outstanding
writer of Yiddish stories. His best-selling novels
include "The Family Moscat", "Satan
in Goray", "The Magician of Lublin",
"Gimpel the Fool", "The Spinoza
of Market Street", and "The Slave".
He received the Nobel Prize for Literature in
He was a staunch vegetarian for
his last 35 years, primarily because of compassion
for animals. He was fond of saying that he was
a vegetarian for health reasons - the health of
the chicken. He frequently included vegetarian
themes in his stories. In his short story, "The
Slaughterer", he described the anguish that
an appointed slaughterer had trying to reconcile
his compassion for animals with his job of slaughtering
animals. He felt that the eating of meat was a
denial of all ideals and all religions: "How
can we speak of right and justice if we take an
innocent creature and shed its blood".
Thoreau, Henry David (1817
- 1862; American writer and naturalist)
Thoreau was primarily known for
his advocacy of civil disobedience and his most
famous book, Walden , or Life in the Woods , where
he advocated that people abandon the complexities
of civilization. He urged people to "Simplify,
simplify" and "March to the tune of
a different drummer". Following his own advice,
Thoreau "to solve some of the problems of
life, not only theoretically, but practically",
as he said. built a log cabin on Walden Pond,
near Concord, Massachusetts, and lived there alone
for two years.
While he strongly advocated vegetarianism,
he practiced it for only a few years. In Walden
, he wrote, "I have no doubt that it is part
of the destiny of the human race in its gradual
development to leave off the eating of animals
as surely as the savage tribes have left off eating
each other when they came in contact with the
Tolstoy, Leo (1828 - 1910,
Russian social critic and novelist)
Leo Tolstoy was one of Russia`s
most famous writers and social commentators. Among
his famous books is "War and Peace".
While a hedonist for most of his
life, a visit to a slaughterhouse which he vividly
wrote about moved him toward vegetarianism. His
conversion was gradual and he vacillated back
and forth for several years. He expressed his
moral reasons for vegetarianism in the preface
to a book called "The Ethics of Diet".
In his essay, "The First Step", he indicated
that meat-centered diets were immoral, not only
because of the harm done to animals, but "that
man suppresses in himself, unnecessarily, the
highest spiritual capacity - that of sympathy
and pity toward living creatures like himself
- and by violating his own feelings becomes cruel."
He also stated that, since people can be healthy
without eating meat, doing so is immoral.
White, Ellen G. (1827 - 1915,
vegetarian health reformer)
Ellen White was one of the founders
of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church. She was a
vegetarian health reformer, and vegetarianism
and other health teachings of the Adventists are
due to her efforts. She believed that the human
body represented God`s temple and therefore it
should not be abused. She also denounced tobacco
About fifty percent of Adventists
today are lacto-ovo vegetarians. There are about
2 million Adventists throughout the world, with
about a quarter of them living in the United States.
The Seventh-Day Adventists are strong promoters
of good health. They have their own publishing
company and produce many books and other publications.
They also have many hospitals, natural food stores,
and vegetarian restaurants. In addition, they
have an institution of higher education, Loma
Several studies have found that
Adventists are significantly healthier than the
general population. Vegetarians owe much to Seventh-Day
Adventists, since much of what is now known about
health effects of vegetarianism comes from their
1. Much of the information in these
brief biographies is based on material in the
Encyclopedia Americana and historical material
in "The Vegetable Passion", by Janet
Barkas, "The Vegetarian Handbook", by
Gary Null, "Vegetarianism - A Way of Life',
by Dudley Giehl, "Food for a Future",
by Jon Wynne-Tyson, and "Judaism and Vegetarianism",
by Richard H. Schwartz. Many of the quotations
and quotation-excerpts are from "The Extended
Circle - A Dictionary of Humane Thought",
edited by Jon Wynne Tyson.