History and Evolution of the Vegetarian Diet

Vegetarians have been around longer than the diet was a choice. Evidence shows us that some paleolithic people existed on a nearly 100% plant based diet. Historically, a vegetarian diet was a safer alternative to stalking and hunting a large animal. Plants were easier to eat and digest--especially in the days before cooking had evolved. Hunting animals for meat and being able to cook and preserve the meat were not always options for humans. It took thousands of years to develop hunting skills, tools and food preservation methods. Not only were vegetarian diets practical, some early humans also did not believe in harming or eating animals. Throughout history, many vegetarian diets have been based on religion, philosophy as well as health and animal advocacy.

Vegetarian diets were both practical and sustainable for human survival. Humans learned to gather plant based foods and to store these foods by drying them in the sun. Gathering foods did not present the safety issues that hunting did, and gathering food guaranteed at least some food every day. Plant based foods were safe and mostly free from parasites. Evidence shows that some early humans traveled from north to south to avoid harsh winters and ensure a constant supply of plant based foods to gather. Over time as animals were domesticated, they were not raised for their meat, but rather for their milk or eggs. Maintaining an ongoing supply of food made more sense than killing the animal for a short term supply.

Once humans began to develop agricultural practices and establish farms, they could raise enough food to feed themselves as well as their animals. At this same time advances were made in food preservation and culinary techniques, which meant that the meat could be stored for several months. Although most commonly animals were raised for and eaten seasonally like a spring lamb or a Christmas goose. In many poorer areas of this world, this remains the case.

In modern time industrial meat farming, refrigeration and transportation made meat more available than at any previous time in human history. Throughout the early part of the 1900’s large meat farms became a huge business in the United States. Eventually, however, the conditions of the farms and the treatment of the animals led to a revival of vegetarianism. The animals were often fed unnatural diets and given growth hormones, steroids and antibiotics, leading people to question how healthy the meat was for human consumption. As obesity and other nutrition related diseases have become epidemics, this skepticism has grown stronger.

In the 1970’s many began to question the ethics and health benefits of eating meat and more people began to explore a vegetarian diet. Today vegetarian diets are very common and are often recommended to treat many different types of health problems including arthritis, obesity and cardiovascular disease. Studies show us that vegetarians experience better health and have more energy than people who eat a traditional western diet.