In 1813 the poet, Shelley, published a thesis suggesting that man’s digestive system was designed to break down only plant foods. The dramatist, George Bernard Shaw, abstained from meat eating after the age of twentyfive and lived for a further sixtynine years. Leo Tolstoy conformed to his new religion which also did not allow the consumption of animal flesh.
A Swiss, Dr. Schrodt, in 1879 described the benefit of his natural healthy eating methods and in so doing founded the modern vegetarianism movement. Vegetarians, who eat no flesh but do allow dairy produce and eggs, can easily receive all their nutrients from a variety of vegetable foods. A mixture of vegetable protein from cereals, nuts, beans and roots, can give protein which is similar in quality and quantity to protein from animal foods. Extreme vegetarians such as Hindus and Vegans, eat no animal produce and may be susceptible to vitamin B12 deficiency. The extreme diets practised in Zen macrobiotics or crash slimming diets are potentially more hazardous.
The health food industry is booming in this country. The modern vogue for a return to “natural” foods is probably a reaction, provoked by the increase in large scale packaging and processing of foods, which has dramatically changed food habits over this century. The health food movement stems from man’s recognition of his dependance on the ecological system, which supports him. Some people believe that modern agricultural methods of applying chemical fertilizers to the land, and pesticides to the crops, will ultimately destroy nature’s own delicate balance. They believe in the use of organic fertilizers such as compost and manure, and no other chemicals. Some farms now grow produce in this way, but yields tend to be lower, and the food consequently costs more. Similarly free range animals use more space and are more expensive to keep than those intensively reared.
However the existence of health food stores allows us the opportunity to choose the type of produce we prefer. They have also been responsible for introducing many new and exciting foods, without which our modern diet would be a little less interesting.