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Beans and Greens: The History of Vegetarianism 

 Stephanie Butler The History Channel :

Early America had at least one famous vegetarian: Benjamin Franklin. Franklin wrote in his autobiography that he began eating a plant-based diet at the tender age of 16, after reading a book that advocated the practice. Franklin wrote that, much like many modern day teenagers, his “refusal to eat Flesh occasioned an inconveniency,” and was often mocked by others. He began eating fish on a sea voyage a few years later, but ate mainly vegetarian for the rest of his life.

Notable early vegetarians included Leo Tolstoy, George Bernard Shaw, Mahatma Gandhi and American Bronson Alcott, a Transcendentalist teacher, reformer and the father of “Little Women” author Louisa May Alcott.

A meatless diet was referred to as a “Pythagorean diet” for years, up until the modern vegetarian movement began in the mid-1800s. While Pythagoras was an early proponent of a meatless diet, humans have been vegetarians since well before recorded history.

Most anthropologists agree that early humans would have eaten a predominantly plant-based diet; after all, plants can’t run away. Additionally, our digestive systems resemble those of herbivores closer than carnivorous animals. Prehistoric man ate meat, of course, but plants formed the basis of his diet.

It wasn’t until the 1960s that vegetarianism moved into mainstream American life and the movement’s growth picked up speed in the 1970s when a young graduate student named Francis Moore Lappe wrote a book called Diet for a Small Planet. In it, she advocated a meatless diet not for ethical or moral reasons, but because plant-based foods have much less impact on the environment than meat does.

Today, many vegetarians refuse meat because of animal rights issues, or concerns over animal treatment, a principle first espoused in Peter Singer’s 1975 work “Animal Liberation.”