25 Years of Vegetarianism and a Look into the Future

By Heather Gorn

For this special 25th anniversary issue of Vegetarian Journal, I could think of nothing more appropriate than reflecting on the changing state of vegetarianism over the past quarter of a century. I asked a number of prominent activists to help with this project. These are some of the people who have been involved in promoting vegetarianism for 25 years or more. With their unique and experienced perspectives, I took a look back at this country's rediscovery of vegetarianism in the 1960s and 1970s, a look at vegetarianism in the present, and a look into the future. Thank you to everyone who shared their thoughts with us on this special occasion. We look forward to the next 25 years!

Author of Diet for a Small Planet

I grew up in Texas, so the idea of surviving without meat was considered utterly unthinkable. The dominant paradigm was that you could not be healthy without meat and that meat was the center of a healthy diet −− meat is what made you strong and smart. I remember this advertisement that I referenced in an early edition of Diet for a Small Planet. There was a picture of filet mignon and it said, "This is what you serve if you want to impress your brother-in-law." Meat was what you ate to impress people as well as what you ate just to live and be strong.

I remember the early readers of Diet for a Small Planet, the young people who became vegetarian and their parents were terrified that they would die! And I remember joking with people that one of the most important things that my book did was relieve worried parents who thought their children were going to get sick and die without meat. People could not imagine a meal without meat. The meal was centered around the meat in the middle, and then you had your starch and your veggie, and that's what the meal was. To start to think of the meal in a different way is huge, and that's what I tried to do with the recipes in Diet for a Small Planet, to organize them in types of meals where you had different things in the center.

I thought Diet for a Small Planet >was going to appeal to 500 people in the San Francisco Bay area, and I was going to publish it myself. When a New York publisher was interested and then it started to sell, I realized that there were millions of people looking for a way to have meaning in their everyday choices. It is so powerful that, in a world where people feel so powerless, they can feel that everyday choices, in choices that people make several times a day, ripple out and affect the earth and affect other people. I think that it was so cool for people to realize that every time they eat in the plant world, they are voting for a shift away from this very wasteful, destructive, and cruel system. It's something that's so moving, and so easy to do.

Now, we have knowledge about the danger of a meat-centered diet. That was brand new 25 years ago. When I was growing up, no one knew the research about heart disease related to saturated fats. And it has gone hand-in-hand with the environmental movement. When I wrote Diet for a Small Planet, the word 'ecology' had just barely reached its first birthday, so the fact that food had something to do with ecology and the environment was a brand new idea. People were beginning to think about the impact of their food consumption, and I think a lot of people were really moved to say, "Wait a minute, why do I need to eat a wasteful diet when I can eat one that is so good for me and the planet?" It's a win-win-win — why not? And when I opened my eyes to the plant world, I realized that this was where the variety was — in texture, color, shape, and taste; there are endless possibilities. I think that is part of embracing other cuisines — it has allowed everyone to open up to all dimensions of a plant-centered diet and all the kinds of foods that you can create.

I have never felt comfortable predicting the future, but what I've seen in the past few years is books like Center for Science in the Public Interest's new book, em>Six Arguments for a Greener Diet ; I feel like it's come full circle. A new generation is discovering all of these reasons that are still powerful today. I think that the interest going forward is going to go a lot from ecological awareness and people like the Union of Concerned Scientists saying, "Yeah, you can get a Prius, but maybe just as important is eating low on the food chain," and people awakening to the fact that not eating meat is just as important as not driving a gas-guzzling car, or maybe more so. There is still a growing interest in animal cruelty — a motivation to relieve animal suffering — and I'm sure that will continue. But I think that equally strong and stronger will be the environmental impetus as people realize that we just can't tolerate this kind of waste.

VEGETARIAN JOURNAL Issue Three 2007 next >