One should start by saying that vegetarianism is a popular dietary practice that excludes all products obtained from the death of any animal. Thus, meat, tallow, lard, gelatin, liver, eggs, fish are not consumed while milk and products made out of milk are allowed. I should still add here that vegetarianism divides into several categories. For instance, ovo-lacto vegetarianism consumes only eggs and milk besides fruits and vegetables, lacto vegetarianism consumes only milk, ovo-vegetarians consume only eggs.
Speaking about a religious justification of vegetarianism, one should note that in christianity, that applies to Victorian England, it was Apostle Paul who in his epistle to the Romans wrote that although he personally consumed meat regularly, the matter of eating meat should not be discussed and be a choice of everyone. As Paul noted in the Bible
“The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him.” (Romans 14:3)
One should note that certain protestant christian groups like 7th-day-adventists believe in the Biblical prophesies of universal vegetarianism and thus make vegetarianism mandatory part of one’s lifestyle. Other groups on the other hand make use of the Ezekiel 46:12 and Leviticus 7:15-20 where one learns about burnt offerings and eating meat. I will add here that in the XIX century it were the members of the Bible Christian sect that created the first vegetarian groups in England and then moved these groups to the USA together with the colonists.
The first vegetarian society was formed in Ramsgate, England and originally went by the name of Pythagorean, named after a roman vegeterian philospher pythagor. Later, they started to be called vegetarians (Flander, 44).
Speaking about the history of vegetarianism in Victorian England, one needs to understand that in early 1809, the crowd of beleivers went to the church in Salford because the rumors already hinted that something important was going to be said during that cermon (Mitchell, 56).
The preacher raises to his place in the center and approaches the pulpit and started to read Genesis 9.3: “And God said, Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you: even as the green herb I have given you all things, but the flesh, with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat.”
In this manner William Cowherd attempted to show his parishioner a new way of living free from meat products. William Cowherd had been influenced by the works and contribution of Dr. George Cheyne (1671-1743)
From that time on in Victorian England on started to promulgate the idea of vegetarianism. The logic was rather simple, meat was oftentimes associated with wilderness and savagity. All mildly disposed animals prefer to eat fruits and vegetables and it is only the savages that consume meat. As a civilized person, one was expected to eat only fruits and vegetables and avoid flesh at all time.
Another piece of logic that was effectively used in Victorian England to promote vegetarianism was the idea that eating meat was unnatural from regious point of view. Fruits and vegetables are ready for consumption once they are found, while meat needs proper cooking. In other words it was believed that if God truly wanted people to consumer meat, he would have certainly presented meat in a ready-to-consume form, e.g. as a rippen fruit (Hoppen, 132).
It had been assumed that God is a part of every living creature and that the soul was in the blood of animals. Whenever one kills an animal, it is believed that one had killed a god’s creature and took its life, despite the fact that one cannot give life to this animal. In other words, it was a common belief that once an animal is killed, one destroyed a little piece of God and certainly violated the God’s will and commandment of “Thou shall not kill”.
It is of importance to note that the cermon of 1809 had very important long-lasting let alone immediate effects not only in england but also in Europe and the USA. The cermon contributed to the religious split between Cowherd and the Swedenborgian christian leadership that existed at that time and viewed vegetarianism as heresy. In the summer of 1809, Cowherd had already created his own Bible Christian Church that comprised his and 4 other little congregations from the area. Thus, one can certainly say that the first modern vegetarian instutuiton had been created in 1809. With years the members of this Bible Christian Church would be the ones to form Vegetarian Society of Great Britain and the USA.
The idea of vegetarianism as expressed in church by Cowherd was not new and dates back to the time of the Roman Empire and the first proponent of vegetarianism, Pythagoras, who lived about 2650 years ago. It was Pythagoras who believed that the soul of both animals and humans was immortal and after the death would occupy someone else’s body on this earth. Soul was immortal just like the gods, so sould represented gods. Thus, since soul is a part of life-life is also considered godly and sacred. Thus, in order to please gods, a person should do everything possible to preserve life and make it comfortable and fair. It is no wonder why Pythagoras is considered to be the creator of egalitarianism, democracy, liberarianism, and vegetarianism. While in Roman empire there were novel revolutionary and tolerated, during the dark ages of early christianity these ideas went underground (McCutcheon, 87).
The philosophy of Pythagorean was suppressed and soon Neo-platonist, Aristotelean, and Stoic ideas were adopted as dominant. These ideas saw humans as the leaders and masters of nature and saw animals as those that need to be opressed and exploited by humans. These ideas of hierarchy (man’s superiority) supported the ideas of natural order and the power of kings. Only during reformation, ecclesiastical dogma was removed from Europe and the world could again enjoy pythagorean ideas and support from philosophers Jacob Boehme, Thomas Tryon and William Law (Roberts, 102).
In conclusion I would like to add that people formed secret societies across the country where they promoted bizarre ideas of natural unity, love and religious righteousness and welcomed vegetarianism. The bible Christian radicals, or the founding fathers of Victorian English vegetarianism promoted opportunity to learn more about vegetarianism and healthy lifestyle through varoius channels like education, culture and welfare. These epople believed in natural love and ongoing civic improvments. These epople believed that vegetarianisim was healthy and socially justified. Bible Christian followers believed in the need for compassion among fellow human beings and nature in general. One needs to understand that although the healthiness of vegetarainism had been proven one could see resistance to change in the society, and many people, especially the cattle farmers stated that vegetarianism had been a completely wrong idea that deprives people of essential nutrients and pleasure from eating meat. This fight between several parties with differnet interests contributed to the fact that even at present many people consider vegetarianism as wrong and inapropriate. During Victorian times in England it was not widely supported by the rich population that engaged in gluttony and overeating.