We know what vegetarianism and veganism is. We know quite a lot now, about the types of food we need to eat to stay healthy. We also know about the many benefits – socially, ethically environmentally, from a health perspective. But how about some interesting facts that describe veggies around the world thoughout history?
Although some research data points toward a pure vegetarian diet, (also known as veganism), as the diet humans should be consuming, (like other herbivores of the animal kingdom), it is difficult to prove. It's even more difficult to convince most people as such. Since cavemen, pictures often depict hunting. Somehow, vegetables and fruits have always been a large part of our diet, so we can definitely say that our diet was never purely carniverous. By looking to history in the written word, however, the first indication of people eating vegetarian diets, hail from India, Greece and southern Italy. Depending on the location, most chose a certain degree of animal derivatives (or not), but all have had one thing in common: they abstained from flesh.
According to Wikipedia, the Indian continent is the one where most ancient vegetarians have lived. Those that were Hindu, Jain, or Buddhist especially conformed to this way of eating to promote a non-violent diet. The diet was part of the religion. Certain groups practiced animal sacrifices, where consuming flesh was the norm. This occured s early as 2000 BC, but since the scripts of those earlier days do not mention what the mainstream population ate, we can surely assume that meat wasn’t a part of their daily diet. This is indicated clearly in the Kapisthala Katha Samhita of the Black Yajurveda, written circa 800 to 700 BC. To learn more about the details concerning religious diets in ancient populations, click here.
For a very long time, quite a few aboriginal populations of warmer climates in the Americas, such as the Incas, ate almost exclusively vegan diets. Their staples included quinoa, amaranth, potatoes, and corn (or maize). We know today that the Incas developed several hundred varieties of potatoes and still cook using many different types of corn . The Mayas are also known to have eaten an almost exclusively vegan diet, and for introducing meat as a staple, only after the arrival of Europeans.
Fast forward to the 20th century. A Western, European-descending world finally started to learn about vegetarianism. Mahatma Gandhi, the great Indian social justice fighter, began to influence many westerners about “compassionate eating”. Mostly unknown to westerners until then, vegetarianism began taking roots in the world’s dominant superpower, the United States. Vegetarianism and veganism have begun gaining pervasive cultural influence. Today, roughly 1 to 2.8 million Americans are vegetarians, and India is home to the world’s first vegetarian McDonald’s.
Even though this new form of eating and thinking is gaining momentum and popularity, many different cultures on our beloved planet still don’t agree on it's practice. India and the United Kingdom require food labeling, so vegetarians and vegans can know off-hand if they are purchasing food that they can eat. But many of the French, for example, still regard veganism as an aberration.
Although most Chinese aren’t vegans, Buddhism is the main influence for the choice of becoming vegetarian in their country. Taiwan has an especially high concentration of vegetarians, with 10% of the population eating a plant-based diet at least part of the time. Apart from China, any other country with Buddhist followers is often found to have higher percentages of veg heads than other countries, such as Japan and India.
In Europe however, if a vegetarian-friendly trip is what you are looking for, keep clear of France. Not only is a plant-based diet frowned upon, but it is actually illegal to serve vegan meals in such places as children’s schools, prisons and hospitals. So, if you become ill in France, don’t count on being able to eat in the hospital cafeteria. If vegan-friendly is what you are looking for, visit Italy, the Netherlands, or Germany. There is a whopping 10% of the population of Italy that declares itself vegetarian. Belgium, on the other hand, is home to the first city of the world where there is an official “veggie day” once a week.
As for the Americas, Brazil, Canada and the United States are the three countries with the highest number of vegetarian consumers. Although North-Americans consider health or animal rights as the primary reason, Brazilians opt to rebel against the destruction of the Amazon. They are the ones that witness firsthand the quantities of trees cut down for raising livestock, and growing the soybeans needed to feed animals instead of people.