Friday, December 21, 2012


18TH CENTURY VEGETARIAN EVANGELIST - The Beefsteak chapel hardly sounds like a place where vegetarians would be welcome, but more than 200 years ago, this tiny chapel in Salford was the British birthplace of the meat-free diet. In an even greater twist, the cleric who preached the moral virtues of vegetarianism was the Reverend William Cowherd. His Beefsteak Chapel was the country's first vegetarian church. Cowherd, born almost 250 years ago on Sunday 16 December, demanded his congregation eat a meat-free diet. At this time the poor would eat the cheapest meat. This meant a diet featuring a great deal of offal - sometimes stomach or intestines. 
Cowherd believed that God inhabited every animal and as such it was a sin to eat meat. His followers - aptly named Cowherdites - went on to form the Vegetarian Society. The health effects of a meat-free diet were unknown and many feared they would be catastrophic. 

A fellow minister of Cowherd, Robert Hindmarsh, blamed deaths among Cowherd's followers on their meat-free diet. Much of Cowherd's novel social outlook appears to have been influenced by 18th Century Swedish theologian Emanuel Swedenborg. Abstinence from meat became part of the church's creed. Cowherd told his congregation it was a sin to eat meat and it could make them behave aggressively. The Vegetarian Society quotes him saying: “If God had meant us to eat meat, then it would have come to us in edible form as is the ripened fruit.” In a city like Manchester, with people removed from daily, rural reminders of animals being slaughtered for food, intellectuals for the first time began to debate the ethics of eating animals. 
After Cowherd's death in 1816, Joseph Brotherton became the Beefsteak Chapel's minister and continued his mission. Along with other Cowherdites, Brotherton helped form the Vegetarian Society in 1847.

Reverend William Cowherd and some other ministers in England were influenced by the 18th Century Swedish theologian Emanuel Swedenborg who believed that everything in the physical world had a spiritual value. Cowherd's chapel became a working class institution in Salford. Beyond being a place of worship, it was a school, a science academy, a library and had its own printing press. The Vegetarian Society had its own gentleman's club in Manchester city centre. There were more vegetarian restaurants in Victorian Manchester than there are today. According to Dr Samantha Calvert, who has researched the vegetarian movement, in the early days vegetarians were catered for by temperance hotels and dining rooms. At the beginning of religions, vegetarianism was essential. In order to make our minds pure, almost all religion advocate that at least a few days, you adhere to a vegetarian diet.

Gurudev often quoted from the Biblical scriptures when discussing vegetarianism as the natural diet for human beings. He referred, for example, to Genesis 1:29 in the Bible, where God says, “Behold, I have given you every herb-bearing seed which is upon the face of the earth, and every tree in which are fruits; for you it shall be as meat.” He also quoted the Dead Sea Scrolls, which contain some of the teachings on meat eating from the time of Jesus: “And the flesh of slain beasts in a person's body will become his own tomb. For I tell you truly, he who kills, kills himself, and whosoever eats the flesh of slain beasts eats the body of death.” And he alluded to St. Paul, too, who said in his letters to the Romans, “It is good not to eat flesh ...” (Romans 14:2). Additionally, Gurudev had the opportunity to read some of the works of fourteenth-century Christian saints from manuscripts housed in the library of the Order of the Cross, in England. He said that almost every one of them recommended eating pure vegetarian food and abstaining from liquor.

Steven J. Rosen (Satyaraja das) :
“Food for the Soul”
“Vegetarianism and Yoga Traditions”
“We Are What We Eat”, Rev. Sandra Kumari de Sachy

Published by dasavatara das - "Vedic Views on World News"


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