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A Universal Ethic for All Mankind

"I have since an early age abjured the use of meat, and the time will come when men will look upon the murder of animals as they look upon the murder of man," is a quote attributed to Leonardo Da Vinci. 
 
Ethical considerations moved Benjamin Franklin, who became a vegetarian at age sixteen. Franklin noted "greater progress from that greater clearness of head and quicker apprehension." In his autobiographical writings, he called flesh-eating "unprovoked murder." 
 
The poet Shelley was a committed vegetarian. In his essay, "A Vindication of Natural Diet," he wrote, "Let the advocate of animal food... tear a living lamb with his teeth and, plunging his head into its vitals, slake his thirst with the steaming blood... Then, and only then only, would he be consistent." 
 
Shelley's interest in vegetarianism began when he was a student at Oxford, and he and his wife Harriet took up the diet soon after their marriage. In a letter dated March 14, 1812, his wife wrote to a friend, "We have foresworn meat and adopted the Pythagorean system." 
 
Shelley, in his poem "Queen Mab," described a world where humans do not kill animals for food: 
 
"...no longer now 
"He slays the lamb that looks him in the face 
"And horribly devours his mangled flesh 
"Which, still avenging Nature's broken law 
"Kindled all putrid humors in his frame 
"All evil passions, and all vain belief 
"Hatred, despair, and loathing in his mind 
"The germs of misery, death disease and crime" 
 
"The vegetarian movement," wrote Tolstoy, "ought to fill with gladness the souls of all those who have at their heart the realization of God’s Kingdom on earth." 
 
"I have no doubt," wrote Henry David Thoreau, "that it is a part of the destiny of the human race, in its gradual improvement, to leave oft the eating of animals, as surely as the savage tribes have left off eating each other when they came in contact with the more civilized." 
 
"Animals are my friends... and I don't eat my friends." ~George Bernard Shaw
 
Mohandas Gandhi wrote: "It is necessary to correct the error that vegetarianism has made us weak in mind, or passive or inert in action. I do not regard flesh-food as necessary at any stage." 
 
Gandhi wrote several books in which he discussed vegetarianism. His own daily diet included wheat sprouts, almond paste, greens, lemons, and honey. He founded Tolstoy Farm, a community based on vegetarian principles. 
 
In his Moral Basis of Vegetarianism, Gandhi wrote: "I hold flesh-food to be unsuited to our species. We err in copying the lower animal world if we claim we are superior to it." 
 
Gandhi felt the ethical principles are a stronger support for a lifelong commitment to vegetarianism than reasons of health: "I do feel," he stated, "that spiritual progress does demand at some stage that we should cease to kill our fellow creatures for the satisfaction of our bodily wants." 
 
"...the whole point of life is to harmonize with everything, every aspect of creation. That means down to not killing the flies, eating the meat, killing people or chopping the trees down." 
 
--George Harrison 
 
Describing his reaction to a visit to a slaughterhouse, Canadian tennis champion Peter Burwash wrote in A Vegetarian Primer: 
 
"I'm no shrinking violet. I played hockey until half of my teeth were knocked down my throat. And I'm extremely competitive on a tennis court... But that experience at the slaughterhouse overwhelmed me. When I walked out of there, I knew I would never again harm an animal. I knew all the physiological, economic, and ecological arguments supporting vegetarianism, but it was firsthand experience of man's cruelty to animals that laid the real groundwork for my commitment to vegetarianism." 
 
"If you could feel or see the suffering, you wouldn't think twice. Give back life. Don't eat meat." 
 
--Kim Basinger 
 
"The meat industry spends hundred of millions of dollars lying to the public about their product. But no amount of false propaganda can sanitize meat... a living nightmare for animals." 
 
--Chrissie Hynde
 
Like pacifists and/or pro-lifers, vegetarianism in itself is merely an *ethic*, and not a religion. 
 
As an *ethic*, vegetarianism has attracted some of the greatest figures in history. 
 
The Table of Contents to Rynn Berry's 1993 book, Famous Vegetarians and Their Favorite Recipes: Lives & Lore from Buddha to the Beatles lists: 
 
Pythagoras: "An ancient Greek religious teacher." 
 
Gautama the Buddha: "An ancient Indian savant and religious teacher." 
 
Mahavira: "The historical founder of the world's oldest vegetarian religion---the Jains of India." 
 
Plato (and Socrates): "Pythagorean philosophers who are the founders of the Western philosophical tradition." 
 
Plutarch: "An ancient essayist and biographer, famous for his Lives of notable Greeks and Romans. 
 
Leonardo da Vinci: "Italian Renaissance man; Leonardo is one of Western Civilization's greatest geniuses." 
 
Percy Shelley: "Scientist, classicist, aesthete, Shelley was probably the most gifted English Romantic poet." 
 
Count Leo Tolstoy: "Nineteenth century Russian author, Tolstoy is considered to be the world's greatest novelist." 
 
Annie Besant: "Nineteenth century English social reformer and spiritual leader...at once a feminist, a labor leader, a theosophist, a freethinker, a devoted mother and a founder of the planned parenthood movement. She is one of the most remarkable women of modern times." 
 
Mohandas Gandhi: "Indian civic and spiritual leader; inventor of the hunger strike; architect of Indian independence; father of modern India." 
 
George Bernard Shaw: "Celebrated wit; peerless music and drama critic; essayist and dramatist of genius." 
 
Bronson Alcott: "American transcendentalist philosopher; father of Louisa May Alcott; founder of the first vegetarian commune, Fruitlands." 
 
Adventist physician Dr. John Harvey Kellogg: "World-class surgeon, pioneering nutritionist, and food inventor extraordinaire. Kellogg invented peanut butter, flaked cereals, and the first meat substitutes made from nuts and grains." 
 
Henry Salt: "Venerable figure in the vegetarian movement; author of such vegetarian classics as Seventy Years Among the Savages, and Animal Rights." 
 
Frances Moore Lappe: "Author of Diet for a Small Planet, Lappe's two million copy 1971 bestseller put vegetarianism on the map, and awakened Westerners to the nutritional and economic benefits of a vegetarian diet." 
 
Isaac Bashevis Singer and Malcolm Muggeridge are described as the first major literary figures in the West to turn vegetarian since Tolstoy. 
 
Brigid Brophy: "Noted for her formidable intellect, Brigid Brophy is an English novelist, biographer, and critic of the first rank. She is the first major woman novelist to become a vegetarian." 
 
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA): 501 Front Street, Norfolk, VA 23510 (757) 622-PETA

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