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  Given the biological fact that human beings are omnivores, it seems illogical that large numbers of us should choose to remove meat (or in extreme cases, all animal products) entirely from our diet. Vegetarianism has always been practised as a form of religious abstinence (the range is from Catholics giving up meat-eating for Lent to Hindus giving it up altogether), and the rationale in each case is perfectly comprehensible. Others give up meat-eating on health grounds, claiming that vegetarians have less cholesterol in the blood, that they are less prone to rage and other excessive emotions, and that they live longer. In the Western world in the last quarter of the 20th century, vegetarianism has been widely practised: it was calculated in 1989, for example, that 11% of all girls in the US below the age of 15, and 8% of all boys, were vegetarians. Whatever the reasons distaste for modern methods of farming, slaughtering and preserving meat-animals, ecological concern (there is a correlation, for example, between hamburger sales and the amount of rainforest being cut down to make pasture for cattle), the fashion for slimness, health worries the statistic is extraordinary, without precedent in any society which is meat-eating by custom. Perhaps vegetarianism is a function of human fancy rather than of human thought; but (as with cannibalism) its wide spread and its very incoherence as a principle, tell us something about what we are as a species, and what we (or at any rate some of us) would like to be. KMcL

Further reading Colin Spencer, The Heretic\'s Feast: a History of Vegetarianism.



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