THE LESS FRAGILE PLATE

Vegetarianism, the abstention from meat, is an ethically motivated diet that, in spite of having weathered a bumpy ride and at times scarpered underground in fear of persecution, might finally come to the fore as the less fragile plate, the more sustainable meal of the future, or will it? Is the human race ready to accept meals without meat and favour the more maintainable vegetable? Or are we too far gone? Are the majority hard wired into believing a good feed has to revolve around the eating of an animal? Are we going to rally once more, as bygone days would prove, and shelf any notion of becoming a fleet of vegetarians because baps must bare burgers, even if that means others go without? Mmmm, what of this vegetarianism?

The Less Fragile Plate - vegetarianism in history - Still life photograph | Pic-nik: A conversation of food

Vegetarianism throughout history has raised its head as a way of life, as a moral stance for animal rights, only to be countlessly swatted aside by the majority in favour of the bludgeoning of the beast. Influential figures came, protested, and found their voices dampened and dispelled. An early influencer and celebrated mathematician, Pythagoras, coupled with making a ball of the world, famously denounced the killing of animals, encouraging them to be treated as an equal. This Greek free thinker not only sympathised with the furry and feathered, but he understood the health advantages and feared the influence of the slaughter, claiming such butchery would brutalise the soul. Ironically his views were trampled into the ground by the brute of the Roman Empire. Enter into the ring Russel Crowe, brandishing his blade… ‘Ak ya blighta, take that our kid, and off with yeh wee loaf of bread sonny Jim’. Meat was not only the order of the day but the murder of animals was heralded as a fine spectacle. Phythagoras’ principles were most determinedly quashed and all remaining Pythagoreans knew better than to flaunt their views for fear of being burnt at the stake. In swept the Christians, spreading their gospel, but still no relief for the vegetarian, as early Christians were determined that our gangly frame was vastly superior to all other living forms, so there was little dissuasion of blood sports or the eating of meat. The European vegetarian was forced underground and at this point in history only India had a notable voice on the subject, as a cardinal belief of Jainism, Hinduism, and Buddhism was ‘not to injure’, referring to the virtue Ahimsa.

The Less Fragile Plate - vegetarianism in history - Still life photograph | Pic-nik: A conversation of food

Applause for the onion bhaji and roll on the 14th century, a period of rediscovery, namely the Renaissance, as classical Greek philosophy was revisited and a compelling idea reconsidered, could animals actually feel? Do they have some description of a soul?
‘Look Leo, this Pig makes a right din if I kick him here! How odd, must be summit to do with trapped gas don’t you think?’
‘I do. Either that or he can actually feel Robert. Kick him here instead and let’s see.’
Leonardo Da Vinci, the visionary, who conceived the unfeasible flying machine, epitomised the Renaissance humanist ideal and despite conceiving an armoured vehicle was a peaceful fella, so naturally circumstantial evidence would have him as a vegetarian. What a coup! But hold for a moment and ponder, if a falafel couldn’t stir a smile on Mona’s face why hadn’t our classical genius entertained her with an arousing Donna kebab? Ha, maybe not so clever after all Sir Leonard! Or had his marvellous mind calculated the potential impact of future factory farming and wisely steered clear of encouraging yet another mouth to sort the need for meat? More than likely, and with the championing of ‘thought’ gloriously vegetarianism was back with a force. Into the rally entered the impassioned pen of the romantic Percy Bysshe Shelley, who despite not reaching dizzy heights of notoriety in his lifetime, rigorously took up the baton. Shelly turned to the observation of an Orangutang, wonderfully structuring his argument on the similarities of man with this orange ape, which is, of course frugivorous, and feeds solely on fruit. Shelly highlighted the similarity of our dentures, implying how they are in fact configured for grinding and gnawing not the gnashing and ripping of flesh, and in the acknowledgement that our stomach was all but identical, his quarrel had only just warmed. Wow, compelling, he pressed on conjuring images of how we condition our infatuation for meat in the same manner ‘a love of strong liquors is also with difficulty taught to infants. Almost everyone remembers the wry faces the first glass of port produced’. * Perhaps a touch dated but just. My first taste of lager was not a pleasing one and on a weak day whisky still makes me wince. Shelley’s words reverberate, his reasons making sense, meat is not only unsustainable for a spiralling population but perhaps should never have been entertained. When exactly did we first decide to feast on dead animals? Was it just out of greed? Was the medieval man jealous of the Vulture the Wolf, the Tiger? Or was he desperate, in need of any morsel to survive?

The Less Fragile Plate - vegetarianism in history - Still life photograph | Pic-nik: A conversation of food

Impassioned and almost swayed, even a sect of the Christian faith jumped on the bandwagon, empowering the poor – who could ill afford meat anyway – and establishing communes in the USA. Enter Mr Kellogg’s, not the business tycoon one would expect as Dr John Harvey Kellogg aligned himself with these fundamentalists, not as a promotional stunt but as an advocate of vegetarianisms health benefits. Stifle your laughter, I’m sure his vision of the cereal was a far cry from the sugary Cockerel we spoon into our chops today.
‘Mum, I’m so happy we scrapped the bacon butty, I have so much more energy since you introduced these cereals. Look I can fly. Look, Mummy, I can really fly!’
‘Open the window my dear let’s see if he can do it from the third floor.’
Eeeeeeeeeeee…. boom mu mu! Rudely interrupts World War II, but surprisingly on the side of the vegetarian. Odd that such a murderous time would favour the poor animal, well I’m sure that wasn’t its goal but even the felon Hitler turned to Vegetarianism at the end of his life, vividly talking of the horrors animals suffered in an attempt to dissuade others around him from eating meat. Pause. My toupe slips to the floor in shock, if only his conscience had stretched a little further. But yes the War hit countries reserves, the means to manufacture and produce meat crumbled, and in Britain we were willed to ‘Dig For Victory’, to grow our own fruit and vegetables. As we for the first time in many years found ourselves staring down that barrel of starvation, had we for the first time in history awoken the real argument in favour of Vegetarianism? Had we cocked our rifles hammer and tasted, or not for some, what it was like when food production didn’t meet demand? Wasn’t it time to act, to de-prioritise the eating of meat? Not likely! Instead, we opted to skid savagely in the opposite direction and so factory farming was introduced and the human race surged on, ensuring mouths would never go without meat for the foreseeable future. Obviously, voices rose opposing such institutions but the credibility Vegetarianism had gained from Adolf’s onslaught had stagnated. Vegetarians were accepted, for sure, they had a place at the table but it was still a fad, a personal choice, and the majority chose against.

The Less Fragile Plate - vegetarianism in history - Still life photograph | Pic-nik: A conversation of food

A new motivation was needed, the argument ‘it’s not nice to kill cute things’ hadn’t swayed the masses, the fact our body isn’t really built for eating a bunny hadn’t cut it. A louder voice on the matter was needed, one that would urge the masses to eat a meat-free diet. Craaack! The world spoke up, not in the form of a natural disaster but in the 80’s and 90’s environmental issues did indeed erupt beneath our feet and ‘seemingly’ for the first time in history calculations were made and an end to our fine land was foreseeable. Horribly the blame couldn’t be passed on and we were held accountable, as specialists scrutinised our impact on pastures green and ta dar! Vegetarianism, now widely acknowledged, mostly respected, suddenly had a new impetus, it not only served to stop animal cruelty but could indeed offer a sustainable diet for generations to come. For the first time in an age the way was paved for vegetarianism, it now had the potential to evolve as the model diet. The eater of meat surely now had to blink hard at dwindling resources and entertain that the Vegetarian would finally and deservedly have their unmovable place in history.

The Less Fragile Plate - vegetarianism in history - Still life photograph | Pic-nik: A conversation of food

Really? Who knows? I’m a neanderthal who enjoys eating pig fat, like the silly amount of you who too eat meat at least once a day. I predict this not to be something I witness, I’ll be fertilising a potential veg patch of the future before meat goes scarce. I can, however, follow the logic, it’s easier to grow crops than cattle, as the cattle need crops to grow, so vegetarianism is, in my mind, the future, and although I am not ready to denounce meat, because it’s comforting, because it is the making of my meal, I intend to fight that very impulse and in doing so pass the message down to the younger generation in the hope that when they have a kumquat and noodle salad, they aren’t pining for the meat that for me would be missing. We have to train ourselves and offspring to enjoy the ‘hole without the toad’ and find it as rewarding. Oh, brave disciplined Vegetarians, how do you refuse the smell of bacon and not miss the bite and tang of flesh? You have battled so hard through history to protest our savagery, now we plead you teach us how to enjoy the ‘Vin without the Coq!’ Or as Shelley urges, try not to be weak… ‘It is true that the reluctance to abstain from animal food, in those who have been long accustomed to its stimulus, is so great in some persons of weak minds, as to be scarcely overcome; but this is far from bringing any argument in its favour.’ *

*Percy Bysshe Shelly. A Vindication of Natural Diet

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