While modern vegetarianism is concerned largely with issues of animal welfare, its roots are to be found in the desire to promote spirituality by curbing humanity’s excessive appetites.
An English translation of the essay De esu carnium, written by the first-century Greek philosopher Plutarch, was published in 1603. Translated by Philemon Holland, the text was given the title ‘Whether it be lawfull to eate flesh or no’ and opens with a bang:
But you demand of mee, for what cause Pythagoras abstained from eating flesh? And I againe doe marvell ... what motive and reason had that man, who first approached with his mouth unto a slaine creature … How could his eies endure to behold such murder and slaughter, whiles the poore beasts were either sticked or had the throats cut, were slaied and dismembered? How could his nose abide the smell and sent that came from them? How came it that his taste was not cleane marred and overthrowen with horrour, when he came to handle those uncouth sores and ulcers; or receive the bloud and humours, issuing out of the deadly wounds.