According to the Scriptures, vegetarianism is as old as mankind. The Creation story reveals that God provided our first parents with a diet of fruits, grains, and nuts. Vegetables were added to the list later on (see Gen. 1:29; 3:18). When the Flood destroyed all vegetation, God gave Noah permission to use flesh foods (Gen. 9:3). Within a few generations after the Flood, life expectancy was reduced from an average of 800 to around 150 years. As time progressed, a further shortening of life came about. David spoke of life expectancy in terms of threescore and ten years. Some believe that a flesh diet was a factor in this reduction of the life span. (See "Why Adventists Live Longer," p. 24.)
After the Exodus Israel craved the flesh menu of Egypt. They rejected "the bread of heaven," "angels' food" (Ps. 78:24, 25).* Finally God, through Moses, said, "Sanctify yourselves for tomorrow, and you shall eat meat; for you have wept in the hearing of the Lord, saying, 'Who will give us meat to eat? For it was well with us in Egypt.' Therefore the Lord will give you meat, and you shall eat. You shall eat, not one day, nor two days, nor five days, nor ten days, nor twenty days, but for a whole month, until it comes out of your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you" (Num. 11:18-20). Their wish was granted, and their lust for flesh was satisfied at a terrible cost of thousands of lives.
Today the vegetarian way of life is being advocated and practiced by millions around the globe. We are told that the harmful type of cholesterol is found only in meat and animal products. Thus nutritionists are urging a reduction of such foods in our diet. Others advocate vegetarianism for humane reasons, the right to life for animals. Vegetarian societies are proliferating.
Historically, many notable individuals were vegetarians, including Milton, Voltaire, Shelley, Pope, Thoreau, Franklin, Tolstoy, Wesley, Gandhi, Newton, Rousseau, Kellogg, and Saint Francis of Assist. Some of the early Church Fathers, including Chrysostom, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and Tertullian advocated a meat-free diet to one degree or another. Add to this list Buddha, Aristotle, Socrates, Plato, Pythagoras, Ovid, and Plutarch.
Seventh-day Adventists have recommended vegetarianism for more than 100 years. Many of our members are vegetarians, although some are not. One interesting, little-recognized aspect of vegetarianism is its effect on personality and behavior. Ellen G. White, one of our pioneer leaders, wrote extensively on the subject of diet. Nearly a century ago she pointed out that by eating flesh foods, "the animal nature is strengthened and the spiritual nature weakened" (Counsels on Diet and Foods, p. 383), and that "animal passions bear sway as the result of meat eating" (ibid., p. 269). Again she stated that using meat "stimulates the lower animal passions" (ibid., p. 384). And "that the use of flesh meat has a tendency to animalize the nature, and to rob men and women of the love and sympathy which they should feel for everyone. We are built up from that which we eat, and those whose diet is largely composed of animal food are brought into a condition where they allow the lower passions to assume control of the high powers of the being" (ibid., p. 390).
Several years ago Robert E. Morrow, M. D., a Salt Lake City orthopedic surgeon, shared with me details of an experiment he performed that dramatically confirmed this point. In 1981 he was studying the effect of arteriosclerosis (hardening of the walls of the arteries) on the degeneration of the spinal discs. He stated that there were numerous articles in the literature dealing with dietary changes that produce arteriosclerosis in the blood vessels of rabbits that are normally free of this disease since they are herbivorous animals.
Dr. Morrow took 200 New Zealand rabbits and divided them into five groups of about 40 rabbits each. Each group was fed a different diet ranging from the standard rabbit food of alfalfa pellets to ham burger. The rabbits given hamburger required extra time getting accustomed to a meat diet. But after developing a taste for it, they consistently refused supplemental rabbit chow. Their preference for hamburger was so strong that they would go several days without eating available vegetable food, waiting for the hamburger to be served.
Ordinarily rabbits are peaceful animals, but the hamburger diet made a dramatic change in their personalities. They actually became vicious. They were prone to kill and eat their babies. It was not uncommon for them to fight to the death. At times, if one of the rabbits would die, the others would become cannibalistic. Eventually the caretaker had to be careful in handling these hamburger-eating rabbits in order to keep from being bitten. The caretaker himself, after noticing the change in the rabbits, became a vegetarian.
Dr. Morrow went on to explain that man is considered an omnivore, or both herbivorous and carnivorous, and yet it has been fairly well recognized that if one wishes to have a tough, mean fighter in the human, this can be achieved by a meat diet as opposed to a vegetarian diet. He stated that this is well known in boxing circles. He testified personally to the difference in himself when on a vegetarian diet as opposed to a meat diet. He felt much more aggressive on a flesh diet. He concluded that to strengthen those characteristics that are associated with a higher level of spirituality, a vegetarian diet would be helpful. —J. Robert Spangler.