The Renaissance was a time of innovation and revolution within art, architecture, politics, science, astronomy, literature, and—veganism? Learn how the rise of humanistic individuality led to the acknowledgement of non-humans as individuals as well.
- Preliminary Matters of Terminology & Biases
- A Focus on Individuality & Renaissance Humanism
- Leonardo da Vinci: Artist, Inventor, Vegan?
- Renaissance Ascetics: A Shift from Religious Purification to Individual Health & Longevity
- The Indigenous Peoples of North America
- Anti-Hunting Literature & Empathy for Animals
- Animal Experimentation & Renaissance Vivisectionists
- The Tenants of Veganism within Renaissance Writings
- In Closing…
The Renaissance was a time of rediscovery, rebirth, and renewed interest in classical Greek philosophy. Viewed as the bridge between the Middle Ages and modern times, the Renaissance spurred innovation and revolution within the fields of art, architecture, politics, science, astronomy, literature, and more. With the invention of moveable type, ideas spread faster than ever before, and there began a general shift away from the religion-centric thought of the Middle Ages towards an individual-centric humanistic thought, valuing logic and reason at its core. With all of this paradigm-shifting afoot, one must wonder: “Where were the vegans?” Okay, maybe one mustn’t wonder that necessarily…but today we’re going to! tweet this
Hi, it’s Emily from Bite Size Vegan and welcome to another vegan nugget. In “The History of Veganism, Part One” we covered veganism in ancient times, and in “Part Two” we tackled the Middle Ages. Today, in “Part Three” we’ll be delving into the time of the Renaissance.
As always, I need to start with a few caveats. First, the actual start and end dates of the Renaissance—like all time periods—are still debated. For the sake of this article, we will be focusing on around 1500 to 1700 CE.
Second, as with the time period terminology of “The Middle Ages,” “The Renaissance” applies almost exclusively to Europe—with the term “The Early Modern Period” more appropriately capturing the time period on a global scale. I’ve chosen the title “The Renaissance” purely for ease of recognition.
Third, due to the nature of the information I was able to find—and as always, historical bias—this is a rather Euro-centric article. Though there were most undoubtedly worthy developments within other parts of the world, as we’ve already seen in the first two parts.
But there is some good news! While still profoundly male-centric as well, we do finally get documentation of an influential woman, with many more to come as historians slowly begin to actually take their most assuredly long-present contributions into account.
Fourth, as we’re now getting closer to modern times, and as I said in the introduction, the 15th century saw the invention of moveable type, the amount of recorded information increases dramatically from here on out. Thus, the disclaimer I’ve given in each history installment is ever more valid with each video; I will most certainly leave out key individuals and occurrences (as all historical accounts are bound to). Again, this is not intentional, but a sad fact of my human limitations in attempting to research, write, edit and publish what amounts to a ten-page academic research paper, and produce several full-length YouTube television episodes all within 2–4 days, every week. (Cue the world’s tiniest violin).
Fifth—and in a similar vein—if I or anyone finds errors in this video (or any of my videos in fact) I will keep a log at the bottom of this post.
And finally, sixth, as the term “vegan” wasn’t coined until 1944, historically the word “vegetarian” most often meant what we now call “vegan.”
With all of that out of the way—I thought it would never end—onward to: “The History of Veganism!” (Part Three)
The Renaissance saw a shift towards valuing the individual and questioning religious beliefs and practices. Thus, in this article, we will be focusing on selected writings and beliefs of individual historical figures, rather than overarching religions, philosophies or cultures.
Some historians assert that there was no development of veganism—at least from an ethical standpoint—between Porphyry of 3rd century CE, who we covered in Part One, and the turn of the 18th century,1 leaving the Middle Ages and the Renaissance in a black hole of un-veganness. However, as we saw in “Part Two”, individuals like the Medieval blind Arab philosopher, poet, writer and all around vegan-truth-bomb-dropper of the Islamic Golden age, Abul ʿAla Al-Maʿarri, were passionately vocal about the rights of animals.
While the humanism of the Renaissance and rebirth of scientific inquiry led to assertions of human superiority and a resurgence and proliferation of barbaric vivisection practices, it also saw a growing counter movement that viewed animals as intelligent, sentient, and worthy of compassion and respect.2
As Professor Rod Preece states in his text, Sins of the Flesh, in reference to humanistic individuality,
To recognize individual humans as ends in themselves is a prerequisite to recognizing individual animals as ends in themselves. It is only when we can look to ourselves and say ‘I’ that we can look to animals and acknowledge their right to be perceived, if not necessarily conceive of themselves, as an ‘I’ too.3— Professor Rod Preece, Sins of the Flesh
While many, if not most of the individuals we will cover today, either weren’t themselves fully vegan/vegetarian, or there’s not sufficient documentation to know one way or another, each has contributed—through their writings—to the development of vegan principles and ideals.
Let’s start with the quintessential Renaissance man: Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519), who Professor Rod Preece posits was “the first of the modern ethical vegetarians, basing his thoughts solely in the ethical realm” and “the first since Porphyry to fuse animal ethics and principled vegetarianism.”4 (And once again, Abul ʿAla Al-Maʿarri and others get the short end of the stick.)
Best known for his achievement in the art world, da Vinci made significant contributions to architecture, botany, engineering, mathematics, music, history, cartography, geology, invention, and more—including animal rights and ethical vegetarianism, though those contributions are not as frequently listed in historical accounts.
While da Vinci himself never seems to have stated explicitly that he was vegetarian, those who knew him and wrote about him described da Vinci as both caring for and not consuming animals.5
Da Vinci did, however, write very powerfully against the entitled nature of humans in their treatment of animals for their own gain:
King of the animals—as thou hast described him—I should rather say king of the beasts, thou being the greatest—because thou doest only help them, in order that they give thee their children for the benefit of the gullet, of which thou hast attempted to make a sepulcher [grave/tomb] for all animals; and I would say still more, if I were allowed to speak the entire truth.6— Leonardo da Vinci
And in a similar vein,
Man has great power of speech, but the greater part thereof is empty and deceitful. The animals have little, but that little is useful and true; and better is a small and certain thing than a great falsehood.7— Leonardo da Vinci
Da Vinci asks those insistent on eating animals,
Does not nature produce enough simple [meaning: vegetarian] food for thee to satisfy thyself?8— Leonardo da Vinci
This is a question we will see echoed many times by other veg-inclined thinkers of this time.
In a rather unique display of overarching vegan ethics for this time period, da Vinci speaks to issues beyond diet: naming leather for the animal skin that it is; denouncing the destruction of bees for beeswax and theft of their food for honey; decrying the loss of generations of fish; defending animals abused for labor and eventually slaughtered; highlighting the thievery and “barbaric” slaughter of “countless numbers” of “their little children”; and even addressing the perversity of using a knife with a ram’s horn handle to slaughter more of their own kind.9
Of shoes made from leather
In many parts of the country you can see men walking about on the skins of large beasts.
Of candles made of beeswax
[The bees] give light to divine service—and for this they are destroyed.
Of knives with handles made of ram’s horns
Here we see the horns of certain beasts fitted to sharp iron, which is then used to take the lives of their own kind.
Here the hardest labour is repaid by hunger and thirst, pain and blows, goads and curses and loud abuse.
Of a fish served with its roe
Endless generations of fish will be lost because of the death of this pregnant one.
Of slaughtered oxen— Leonardo da Vinci
Behold-the lords of great estates have killed their own labourers.10
Leonardo da Vinci
And a similar but extended passage:
Of asses which are beaten
… I see thy children given into slavery to others, without any sort of advantage, and instead of remuneration for the services they have done, they are repaid by the severest suffering, and they spend their whole life in benefiting their oppressor.
And many will be cruelly robbed of their stores and their food, and will be cruelly submerged and drowned by folks devoid of reason. O justice of God! Why dost thou not awake to behold thy creatures thus abused?
Demonstrating once again that the arguments against veganism haven’t changed over the centuries is an excerpt from da Vinci explaining why it is that plants do not feel as animals do:
Though nature has given sensibility to pain to such living organisms as have the power of movement, – in order thereby to preserve the members which in this movement are liable to diminish and be destroyed, – the living organisms which have no power of movement do not have to encounter opposing objects, and plants consequently do not need to have a sensibility to pain, and so it comes about that if you break them they do not feel anguish in their members as do the animals.12— Leonardo da Vinci
Yes, we have perhaps one of the greatest minds of human history reduced to refuting the poignant counterpoint, “Plants, tho.” tweet this
As a quick aside, there is a quote frequently circulated amongst vegan and vegetarians that is falsely attributed to da Vinci, namely,
I have from an early age abjured the use of meat, and the time will come when men such as I will look upon the murder of animals as they now look upon the murder of men.
I’ll close our coverage of da Vinci with an account from Giorgio Vasari in 1550, which speaks to da Vinci’s compassion and perhaps even establishes him as a liberator of animals.
In all the other animals… he managed with the greatest love and patience; and this he showed when often passing by the places where birds were sold, for, taking them with his own hand out of their cages and having paid for them what was asked, he let them fly away into the air, restoring them to their lost liberty.15 tweet this— Giorgio Vasari on Leonardo da Vinci
Many vegetarians of the Renaissance were, like those of the Middle Ages: ascetically-motivated. However, unlike their Medieval predecessors, Renaissance ascetics were, by and large, more individualized and secular in their pursuits, with health and longevity, rather than religious purification, being major motivators. Among them existed several medical doctors interested in reforming the practice of medicine by aiding the body in healing itself through proper diet and lifestyle choices.16 tweet this
Perhaps the first of the modern rational and secular ascetic vegetarians was Venitian Luigi Cornaro (1465–1566) whose writing, A Treatise on a Sober Life, influenced a great number of individuals—including Leonardi Lessio (also known as Lessii or Lessius)(1554–1623,) and Dr. Thomas Moffet (also known as Moufet, Mouffet, or Moffet) (1553–1604).17
Moffet, for one, was not purely motivated by health alone, asking in his text Health’s Improvement:
Can civil and human eyes yet abide the slaughter of an innocent ‘beast,’ the cutting of his throat, the smashing him on the head, the flaying off his skin, the quartering and dismembering of his joints, the sprinkling of his blood, the ripping up of his veins, the enduring of ill savours, the heaving of heavy sighs, sobs, and groans, the passionate struggling and panting for life, which only hard-hearted butchers can endure to see?18— Dr. Thomas Moffet, Health’s Improvement
Echoing da Vinci’s query, Moffet asks, “Is not the earth sufficient to give us meat, but that we must also rend up the bowels of beasts, birds, and fishes?”19 It’s important to note how Moffet—and indeed others of his time—began employing the term “meat” for more than just animal flesh, perhaps to indicate the substantial nature of plant foods.
Moffet also employs quotations around the term “beast,” which Rod Preece asserts, “indicates both that the term was becoming primarily one of abuse and that some were less than satisfied by the prejudicial usage…linguistic forms as well as animal ethics were changing” and “it was becoming less acceptable to malign the animals by seemingly pejorative expressions.”20
Other ascetic-minded meat-decriers included: Philip Stubbes (c.1555-c.1610), who in his text Anatomy of Abuses compared the multitude of maladies befallen those who consumed flesh to the health of those who did not;21 Roger Crab (1621–1680), whose vegetarianism was grounded in Christianity; and Dr. George Cheyne (1671–1743), one of the most esteemed of English physicians, and one of the first medical authorities in this country who expressly wrote in advocacy of the reformed diet.22
Cheyne himself battled with obesity and ill health, which he overcame by eliminating meat from his diet.5 Even though his primary motivation was health, Cheyne’s writing demonstrated elements of an ethical bent as well:
At what time animal food came first in use is not certainly known. He was a bold man who made the first experiment. To see the convulsions, agonies and tortures of a poor fellow-creature, whom they cannot restore nor recompense, dying to gratify luxury and tickle callous and rank organs, must require a rocky heart, and a great degree of cruelty and ferocity. I cannot find any great difference between feeding on human flesh and feeding on [other] animal flesh, except custom and practice.23— Dr. George Cheyne
Strangely enough, within this vein of pursuing health through diet was none other than Sir Francis Bacon (1561–1626). (YouTube “bacon” commenters, this is your moment of glory.) tweet this While not consistently practicing vegetarianism himself, Bacon commended such a way of eating, and was interested in finding the ideal diet based on empirical fact rather than religious dietary taboos.24
While some of his writings so hint towards an ethical bent, such as: “Nature has endowed man with a noble and excellent principle of compassion, which extends itself also to the dumb animals…And it is certain that the noblest souls are the most extensively compassionate,”25 he was also a firm supporter of vivisection.26
Bacon’s follower, Thomas Bushell (1594–1674), took Bacon’s vegetarian support into full practice, driven by the desire for redemptive purification.27 Bushell, like Bacon, had to be cautious with his vegetable fervor; in Protestant England, asceticism was still seen as a vestige of Catholicism.
While Bushell was motivated by a religious drive to reverse the acts of Adam by returning to the vegan diet of man before the fall, a belief summarized by Sir John Pettus’ (1613–1695) assertion that, “We multiply Adam’s transgression by our continued eating of other creatures, which were not then allowed to us,”28 his efforts were also “endorsed by scientific rigour.”29 Bushell was putting himself forth as the “perfect experiment” of Bacon’s belief that a vegetarian diet would extend one’s lifespan.30 Bushell lived to age 80 at a time when the life expectancy at birth was 35 years old.
Now, as I mentioned, the information available for this time period is very Euro-centric, but let’s take a moment to venture over to North America where the European colonization of the continent was well underway.
This is an area I’ll be exploring more thoroughly in a dedicated article, but I wanted to at least touch on it here. In her article “Native Americans and Vegetarianism,” Dr. Rita Laws—herself a member of the Choctaw Nation—explains that the stereotype of the horse-mounted Indian hunter dressed head to toe in animal skins, adorned with feathers and housed in an animal skin teepee, did not fit the majority of North American indigenous peoples, save perhaps the Apache tribe, prior to European colonization:
Among my own people…vegetables are the traditional diet mainstay. The homes were constructed not of skins, but of wood, mud, bark and cane. The ancient Choctaws were, first and foremost, farmers. Even the clothing was plant based.31 tweet this— Dr. Rita Laws, member of the Choctaw Nation
Laws pinpoints the change in practices to the appearance of Francisco Vázquez de Coronado y Luján (1510–1554), better known as Coronado, a Spanish explorer who led an expedition from Mexico to what is today Kansas, from 1540 to 1542, bringing with him an ample amount of horses, some of whom broke free and multiplied, later to be utilized by the Plain Indians. In combination with the later introduction of guns, the Age of Buffalo began as plain Indians learned to hunt faster and more efficiently.32
As an aside, Dr. Margaret Robinson—a vegan Mi’kmaq scholar and bisexual activist based in Toronto, who’s written on the creation of Aboriginal veganism—speaks to the problematic manner in which non-native people use the history of Native tribes as justification for their own consumption of animals. Robinson emphasizes that native culture is ever-evolving, despite the tendency of the dominant white discourse to want to freeze it in time.33
Of course, not all Europeans were in support of hunting. In fact, anti-hunting literature was common during the Renaissance. Dutch humanist, Catholic priest, social critic, teacher, and theologian Desiderius Erasmus (1466–1536) produced perhaps the most amusingly poignant quote of all time, made all the better considering he was a priest.
Speaking of “those who prefer before everything else the chase of wild beasts [and who] say they get indescribable delight from the blast of hunting horns and the howling of hounds,” Erasmus says, “I expect such people think even dog turds smell of cinnamon.”34 tweet this
But what pleasure is there in slaughtering animals in whatever numbers?…And so when they have finished dissecting and devouring the dead beast, what have they accomplished except to degrade themselves into beasts while imagining they are living the life of kings.35— Desiderius Erasmus, In Praise of Folly
In his work entitled “The Wild Boar’s Defence,” poet George Granville (1666–1735) speaks from the perspective of a wild boar about to be killed, who is pointing to the human hunter’s hypocrisy, stating:
You murder us in sport, then dish us up— George Granville, “The Wild Boar’s Defence”
For drunken feasts, a relish for the cup.
We lengthen not our meals: but you much feast;
Gorge till your bellies burst – pray, who’s the beast?
With your humanity you keep a fuss,
But are in truth worse brutes than all of us.36
Granville’s ability to empathize with non-human animals was displayed in many Renaissance writings, and was a welcome contrast to the view of animals as machines championed by René Descartes (1596–1650).37 Though Descartes never explicitly stated that animals couldn’t feel pain, his description of them and their reactions as “machine-like” provided scientists a way to justify their gruesome animal experiments.
Given that anesthesia was not available, all animal experimentation was carried out on living, fully conscious animals. And before you react in disgusted disbelief, this barbarism is still practiced today in animal testing labs around the world.
William Harvey (1578–1657) was the first doctor since 2nd century Greek physician Galen [Aelius Galenus] (c.129-c.210) to begin a research program based on live animal experimentation. Through cutting open conscious rabbits and tying off their hearts before slicing through their aorta, Harvey deduced that the blood circulated through the body.38 Well done.
Flemish anatomist Vesalius (1514–1564), believed by some to be the founder of modern anatomy, established vivisection as part of school curricula and was able to disprove many of Galen’s concepts by using both live animal experimentation and dissecting the corpses of criminals or those he acquired via grave-robbing.39
Against such horrors as the live evisceration of animals, the thoughtful and empathetic writings of other Renaissance thinkers are quite welcome. Shakespeare (1564–1616) himself expressed compassion for hunted animals,40 trapped birds,41 overworked horses,42 and even beetles,43 flies44 and snails45 in various works.46 tweet this
For example, in “Measure for Measure,” he afforded equal validity to a beetle’s experience of pain, stating:
the poor beetle what we tread upon, In corporal sufferance finds a pang as great, As when a giant dies.47— William Shakespeare, “Measure for Measure”
Renaissance thinkers touched on a wide array of issues pertinent to the development of veganism, including, as we’ve already seen, the hypocrisy and utter presumptiveness of man, the value inherent in non-human animals, the fact that humans are not designed to hunt and consume animals, and the abundance of plant foods for the taking.
Every argument against veganism that exists today has apparently existed since the genesis of veganism. We’ve already seen the advent of the “Lions, tho” argument over 1,000 years ago, fielded by Abul ʿAla Al-Maʿarri, and of course the “Plants, tho” taken on by da Vinci. So I thought we’d round off the latter portion of this video by hearing some select Renaissance quotes that speak to common objections as well as open up new ways of thinking about non-human animals.
Philosopher Michel Eyquem de Montaigne (1533–1592) wrote:
For my part I have never been able to see, without displeasure, an innocent and defenseless animal, from whom we receive no offense or harm, pursued and slaughtered.48— Philosopher Michel Eyquem de Montaigne
He cautioned parents who would think that their child displaying violence towards animals was a sign of strength, stating that in fact such actions were,
the true deeds or roots of cruelty, of tyranny, and of treason. In youth they bud, and afterwards grow to strength, and come to perfection by means of custom.49— Philosopher Michel Eyquem de Montaigne
Montaigne poignantly decried humanity’s pomposity, writing:
Presumption is our natural and original disease. The most calamitous and fragile of all creatures is man, and yet the most arrogant. It is through the vanity of this same imagination that he equals himself to a god, that he attributes to himself divine conditions, that he picks himself out and separates himself from the crowd of other creatures, curtails the just shares of other animals his brethren and companions, and assigns to them only such portions of faculties and forces as seems to him good. How does he know, by the effort of his intelligence, the interior and secret movements and impulses of other animals? By what comparison between them and us does he infer the stupidity which he attributes to them?50 tweet this— Philosopher Michel Eyquem de Montaigne
The latter portions of this quote displays a very important development in Renaissance thought: that of the unique experience and independent lives of non-human animals and the revolutionary concept that their worth cannot be accurately judged by human standards. We will see this echoed by others as we move forwards.
Poet Francis Quarles (1592–1644) wrote succinctly of the body count left by man’s appetite.
The birds of the air die to sustain thee;— Francis Quarles
The beasts of the field die to nourish thee;
The fishes of the sea die to feed thee;
Our stomachs are their common sepulcher,
Good God! With how many deaths are our poor lives patched up?
How full of death is the life of momentary man!51 tweet this
Around the same time as Quarles, French physicist and philosopher Pierre Gassendi (1592–1655) expertly responded to the argument that eating animals is natural because “everyone does it,” by pointing out that
Indeed, is it that man is sustained on flesh. But how many things, let me ask, does man do every day which are contrary to, or beside, his nature?52— Pierre Gassendi
He further speaks to how unnatural it is for humans to kill other animals.
Man lives very well upon flesh, you say, but, if he thinks this food to be natural to him, why does he not use it as it is, as furnished to him by Nature? But, in fact, he shrinks in horror from seizing and rending living or even raw flesh with his teeth, and lights a fire to change its natural and proper condition … If you answer, ‘that may be said to be an industry ordered by Nature, by which such weapons are invented,’ then, behold, it is by the very same artificial instrument that men make weapons for mutual slaughter. Do they this at the instigation of Nature? Can a use so noxious be called natural? Faculty is given by Nature, but it is our own fault that we make a perverse use of it.53— Pierre Gassendi
In answer to the obligatory, “Well what can you eat?” argument comes the veritable verbal vegan food porn of English writer John Evelyn (1620–1706), who speaks with great gusto of:
The infinitely wise and glorious author of nature, who has given to plants such astonishing properties; such fiery heat in some to warm and cherish, such coolness in others to temper and refresh, such pinguid juice to nourish and feed the body, such quickening acids to compel the appetite, and grateful vehicles to court the obedience of the palate, such vigour to renew and support our natural strength, such ravishing flavour and perfumes to recreate and delight us; in short, such spirituous and active force to animate and revive every faculty and part, to all the kinds of human, and, I had almost said heavenly capacity.54 tweet this— John Evelyn
That got me all hot and bothered. It’s like the 17th century’s version of a vegan Instagram account showcasing all the tasty vegan treats.
Evelyn goes far beyond laying out this literary buffet, positing that eating animals had lead to more bloodshed between Christians than any other cause, as violence against other species inevitably translates to violence against one’s own:
Not that I impute it only to our eating blood; but I sometimes wonder how it happened that so strict, so solemn and famous a sanction_ not upon a ceremonial account; but (as some affirm) a moral and perpetual one for which there seem to be fairer proofs than for most other controversies agitated among Christians – should be so generally forgotten, and give place to so many other impertinent disputes and cavels about other superstitious fopperies, which frequently end in blood and cutting of throats.55— John Evelyn
Finally, we come to Margaret Cavendish (1623–1673), The Duchess of Newcastle, who wrote plays, poetry, and essays on science, philosophy and nature, and was one of first female authors to be printed,56 and just so happens to be the first woman ever mentioned in “The History of Veganism” series. It’s about time! (Nothing like male historical bias to turn even a vegan history series into a sausage fest.)
So let’s hear what the Duchess had to say. Cavendish spoke against the concept of inherent human superiority, pointing to the wisdom within non-human animals and arguing that it was man’s “pride, self conceit and presumption” that has misled him into judging other creatures by human standards, not realizing that language and reason could take non-human form:57
For what man knows whether fish do not know more of the nature of water, and ebbing and flowing and the saltness of the sea? Or whether birds do not know more of the nature and degrees of air, or the causes of tempests? Or whether worms do not know more of the nature of the earth and how plants are produced? Or bees of the several stores of juices and flowers than men?…Man may have one way of knowledge…and creatures another way, and yet other creatures’ manner or way may be [as] intelligible and instructive to each other as Man’s.58— Margaret Cavendish, The Duchess of Newcastle
And, on the unearned entitlement of humans:
Yet man doth think himself so gentle, mild— Margaret Cavendish, The Duchess of Newcastle
When he of creatures is most cruel wild.
And is so proud, thinks only he shall live,
That God a god-like nature did him give.
And that all creatures for his sake alone,
Was made for him to tyrannize upon.59
French Bishop and Theologian Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet (1627–1704) harkened back to the days before the Biblical fall of man to again highlight how much humans must disguise animal products in order to consume them:
The nourishment which without violence men derived from the fruits which fell from the trees of themselves, and from the herbs which also ripened with equal ease, was, without doubt, some relic of the first innocence and of the gentleness for which we were formed. Now to get food we have to shed blood in spite of the horror which it naturally inspires in us; and all the refinements of which we avail ourselves, in covering our tables, hardly suffices to disguise for us the bloody corpses which we have to devour to support life.60— Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet
He, like Evelyn, warns of the transference of violence against non-human animals to violence against fellow humans, stating that:
Life, already shortened, is still further abridged by the savage violences which are introduced into the life of the human species. Man, whom in the first ages we have seen spare the life of other animals, is accustomed henceforward to spare the life not even of his fellow-men. It is in vain that God forbade, immediately after the Deluge, the shedding of human blood; in vain, in order to save some vestiges of the mildness of our nature, while permitting the feeding on flesh did he prohibit consumption of the blood. Human murders multiplied beyond all calculation.61— Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet
Around the exact same time of Bossuet, English naturalist John Ray (1627–1705) echoed the arguments of Gassendi:
There is no doubt, that man is not built to be a carnivorous animal [as] hunt and voracity are unnatural to him. Man has neither the sharp pointed teeth or claws to slaughter his prey. On the contrary his hands are made to pick fruits, berries and vegetables and teeth appropriate to chew them.62— John Ray, English naturalist
He again implores,
Everything we need to feed ourselves and to restore and please us is abundantly provided in the inexhaustible store of Nature.63— John Ray, English naturalist
Ray closes out with what really amounts to an “our food’s better than your food” taunt:
In short our orchards offer all the delights imaginable while the slaughter houses and butchers are full of congealed blood and abominable stench.64— John Ray, English naturalist
Doctor and medical reformer Philippe Hecquet (1661–1737)—who served almost exclusively the poor, only seeing the wealthy when forced—pointed out the obvious examples in nature of the power of plant-based eating in answer to those who doubted such a diet could sustain strength:
“How,” they say, “can we be supported on Grains, which furnish but dry meal, fitter to cloy than to nourish; on Fruits, which are but condensed water?” But this … condensed water is the same that has caused the Trees to attain so great bulk … Besides, how can men affect to fear failure in strength, in eating what nourishes even the most robust animals, who would become even formidable to us, if only they knew their own strength.65— Philippe Hecquet
Hecquet also comments upon how severely we must prepare animal products in order to find them palatable, yet how readily available are the multitudes of fruit and other foods from nature, which are more suited for humans:
It causes our nature to revolt, and excites horror to eat raw flesh, and as it is presented to us naturally; and it becomes supportable for us to the taste and to the sight only after long preparation of cooking, which derives it of what is inhuman and disgusting in its original state; and, often, it is only after many various preparations and strange seasonings that it can become agreeable or sanitarily good. It is not so with other meats: the majority, as they come from the hand of Nature, without cookery and without art, are found proper to nourish, and are pleasant to the taste – plain proof that they are intended by Nature to maintain our health. Fruits are of such property that, when well-chosen and quite ripe, they excite the appetite by their own virtue, and might become, without preparation, sufficing.66— Philippe Hecquet
The good doctor expresses an exasperated lament that I daresay is still shared by many a vegan today:
It is incredible how much Prejudice has been allowed to operate in favour of meat, while so many facts are opposed to the pretended necessity of its use.67— Philippe Hecquet
While receiving the formal approval and commendation of several doctors regent of the Faculty of Medicine of Paris University, Hecquet’s writings speaking to the merits of plant-based eating, received much insult and ridicule from anonymous professional critics of his time, better known as The Trolls of the Renaissance. tweet this
Let’s close it out with Thomas Tryon (1634–1703), an English merchant, author and passionate vegetarian.5 With a basis in his religious beliefs, Tryon spoke to the ethics of consuming animals, saying:
For there is greater evil and misery attends mankind by killing, horrifying and oppressing his fellow creature and eating their flesh … than is generally apprehended or imagined. Man’s strong inclination after flesh and his making so light and small a matter of killing and oppressing inferior creatures, does manifest what principle has got the dominion in him … It should be considered that flesh and fish cannot be eaten without violence and doing that which a man would not be done unto.69— Thomas Tryon
I hope that you enjoyed this look into the development of veganism in Renaissance times.
The time it took to produce this video clocks in at about 103 hours over a period of about 5 days—including ample time creeping around my local library for sources. If you’d like to help support Bite Size Vegan so I can keep putting in the long hours to bring you this educational resource, please check out the support page.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on the Renaissance of veganism and some of the concepts brought forth. And remember, citations to everything I’ve covered (as well as many further resources), are available below.
— Emily Moran Barwick