Vegetarian Food – A Brief History of Vegetarian Food

6December 2021

Are you looking for a brief history of vegetarian food? If you’re considering a lifestyle change towards vegetarianism, it’s worth understanding how we’ve got to where we are with vegetarian food.

Welcome to the following article in our Vegetarian Food Focus: First Look Series

Where in Wembley can I Enjoy Great Vegetarian Food?


No brief history of vegetarian food would begin elsewhere that here are the start.

At the beginning of civilization, people were hunter-gatherers. This term means that they killed animals for food. People believed that humans started scavenging carnivore leftovers after devouring a kill.

Hunting and gathering took place until humans changed to agriculture.

Fresh organic vegetables and fruits on a wooden table in the garden

This time includes Ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq), and Indus Valley Civilization (present-day Pakistan).

Although people ate vegetables, they did not constitute part of the majority diet.

Being a Vegetarian is when you do not eat red meat or fish, but you still consume other foods such as fruits, nuts, or vegetables.

In this article, I will be talking about the history of Vegetarian Food, its Health Benefits, and its Environmental Impact.

There are many different reasons for becoming a part-time or full-time vegetarian. The main reason people choose to become Vegetarian is that they do not want to harm animals.

However, there are other reasons why some people choose to become Vegetarians. Some do it because of the health benefits that come with being one.

Others do it because of their religion, while some do not like how meat tastes or how expensive it is.

Also, there are more than 3 million vegetarians in America alone. Out of these, only 6% identify themselves as vegan (they don’t eat any animal products such as eggs, dairy, or honey). This proves that most people who choose to become vegetarians do so for reasons other than religious beliefs.

What is a Vegetarian Diet?

A vegetarian diet is a set of foods based primarily on vegetables, fruits, and grains but not meat. People who follow this diet avoid foods of animal origin such as fish, poultry, and red meat.

However, some allow for fish since they only have a nervous system and do not feel pain or emotion like mammals.

Many people believe that if you want to be a true vegetarian, you cannot consume fish; otherwise, it would be considered an “ethical carnivore”.

“Ethical” concerning meat is used because it does not cause harm to animals, while “carnivore” is an animal that eats other animals.

Vegetarianism Around the World: A Brief Timeline

Now, we will move on to a brief history of vegetarian food. Vegetarians follow a specific set of dietary guidelines in which they focus on eating plant-based foods and avoid anything that is an animal-related byproduct.

There are different degrees to how strictly one must adhere to these guidelines to be considered an actual vegetarian. Still, it is generally agreed upon that vegetarians do not eat meat.

The practise of following a plant-based diet has been around for thousands of years and has evolved somewhat since its humble beginnings.

The first recorded instance of vegetarianism was in ancient Greece. When Alexander the Great conquered Asia Minor, he came across the concept of abstaining from meat among some of the natives there.

After observing their practice for a few years, he decided that it must be honourable and brought his men back home to Greece, where they adopted this diet.

While considered one of the first vegetarianism-related documented cases, the Greeks were not strict vegetarians. They still ate fish and sometimes ate animals if the food got sacrificed to Zeus or Aphrodite before consumption.

When Christianity became widespread in Europe after around 250 AD, many Christians followed a vegetarian diet because it is written in the Bible that “God gave us every green plant for food,” They interpreted this passage literally.

They felt that God was not referring to meat specifically, but he made them omnivores so they could eat whatever plants were available. 

By the time the early Christians had become widespread, however, there were already numerous groups of people who had been practising vegetarianism for hundreds of years. The two main groups known to have abstained from meat were the Pythagoreans and the Essenes.

The Pythagoreans were a secret society based on their love of mathematics, especially geometry! They did not want their wisdom to be shared with non-members, so they stayed incredibly secretive while spreading their teachings through word of mouth.

They believed in reincarnation, so they would not eat anything that had once been alive because it could have previously been an animal or plant that had lived at some point in the past.

The Essenes were a community of Jews who lived in Palestine (modern-day Israel) during Ancient Rome around 100 B.C-100 A.D. They were an extremely conservative society with specific clothing, hair and diet rules. 

It is commonly believed that the Pythagoreans and Essenes were both very influential in spreading vegetarianism throughout Europe. Around 850 A.D., the idea of abstaining from meat was very popular among members of religious groups, monasteries, and monks who practised certain sects of Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, Jainism, or Confucianism.

It was also when Christian monasteries began to spread along with their food restrictions among local populations which had not yet adopted Christianity.


Throughout the rest of history, vegetarianism, many were hostile towards the new ideas. People saw it as nothing more than a cult and often condemned it due to its strange nature.

Today, people choose vegetarian diets throughout the world depending on their beliefs or how they feel ethically about eating meat in different cultures and lifestyles.  You can choose to be a vegan (consuming no animal products of any kind) or a vegetarian (only abstaining from meat).

Some people choose to be pescatarians, which means they eat fish but not other types of meat.

Throughout the world, millions of vegetarians believe that it is wrong to kill animals for food because humans have no right to take animals’ lives so that we can taste good food.

Some religions prohibit their followers from eating meat on certain days of the week, during times of fasting, or on religious holidays.

In India and some parts of Africa, butchers are illegal to kill cows because they are sacred animals.

To be a vegetarian today, you don’t need to believe in any particular religion or follow any specific set of beliefs. You must choose based on what you consider ethical and healthy for your body!

Health Benefits of Being Vegetarian

Since vegetables are considered the primary food source for vegetarians, they are healthier than meat. According to Harvard Medical School, one can reduce their risk of heart disease by up to 30% if they follow a vegetarian diet.

Also, studies have shown that vegetarians have lower rates of osteoporosis and diabetes.

However, one must remember that being vegetarian has risks too. One must ensure they get enough daily protein intake because many plant sources will lack certain amino acids, the building blocks of protein.

However, a lack of amino acids is not an issue if one consumes a varied vegetarian diet.

Why not aim to get enough vitamin B12, mainly found in meat. Vegans, however, can get their daily intake of Vitamin B12 from nutritional yeast or fortified cereal.

Environmental Impact of Being Vegetarian

On average, it takes about 5 pounds of grain to make 1 pound of beef. So for every 4 pounds of food an animal eats, it only gets 1 pound back as meat for humans to eat.

Another big issue with animals is their methane emissions. They say Methane is 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide, especially when it comes to global warming.

Plus, the fertilizers used to grow these animals for food pollute waterways. These are just some reasons why people who care about the environment should be vegetarians.

Conclusion – A brief history of vegetarian food

Eating plant-based food as a priority has been around for thousands of years, but it has only recently become popular. Vegetarianism is a relatively new label.

This label is because it causes less harm to animals and the environment when compared to eating meat.

Also, there are health benefits associated with being a vegetarian, such as lower risks of certain diseases like osteoporosis or diabetes.

Many different vegetarian diets exist, each with unique advantages and disadvantages. However, they all share one thing: vegetables form their primary source of food intake.

Vegetarians are healthier than meat-eaters, reducing their risk of heart disease by around 30%, and this is why they live longer.

However, vegetarians still need to ensure they get enough daily protein intake because plants lack certain amino acids needed for building proteins in the body. 

Being vegetarian also causes less harm to the environment due to methane emissions from animals and pollution from fertilizers used to grow these animals for food.

If you have any other thoughts, state them in the comments below.

Where in Wembley can I Enjoy Great Vegetarian Food?

Previous article in our series: 7-great-foods-for-vegetarians-to-eat

Don McDonald

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