"The time will come when men such as I will look upon the murder of animals as they now look on the murder of men." - Leonardo da Vinci
Within recorded history, however, vegetarianism is evident as a common way of life well before the birth of Christ. It's impossible to say who the first vegetarians were. Seventh Day Adventists will tell you that Adam and Eve were the first vegetarians, but aside from Christian scripture (Genesis 1:29) actual evidence is sorely lacking.
From a scientific point of view, man was probably not vegetarian early in his history. Indeed, prehistoric man almost indoubtedly ate meat, having to survive on whatever food was available. The neaderthal man was probably a bigger meat eater, living in the ice age when other types of food were scarce. However, moving through time, cro-magnon man probably consumed a diet based primarily on nuts, seed, fruits and vegetables with only some meat.
Other discussions begin with the ancient Greeks with a history of nearly 1,000 years, but this Eurocentric approach overlooks the much earlier appearance in India of ideas and practices centering on nonviolence toward living things.
Asoka, who was emperor of India in the third century, was a convert to Buddhism who prohibited a number of cruel practices involving animals, including animal sacrifice.
He adopted vegetarianism himself and strongly encouraged his subjects to do likewise. Vegetarianism in fact still is a prominent aspect of Hinduism and Jainism, which both date from long before the Common Era.
Other theories said that Pythagoras is generally regarded as the first prominent thinker who prescribed vegetarianism for his followers.
Pythagoras's vegetarianism began from his belief in the ensoulment of animals, the identical composition of human and animal souls, the "transmigration" of souls after death, obligatory nonviolence, and the natural and supernatural relationship of humans and animals.
This form of vegetarianism had a spiritual and metaphysical foundation as well as ethical significance.
Vegetarianism has strong Christian roots and it can be considered quiet modern. Around the year 1800, a minister of the Church of England, Reverend William Cowherd, created the first Christian Congregation that strongly prohibited eating meat. Followers of his doctrine avoided all meat and many would live as vegans, eating neither eggs nor diary products. Years later, the Vegetarian Society of Great Britain was formed by members of the Bible Christian Church in 1847.
Later on, in the mid-nineteenth century and early twentieth century, vegetarianism started to grow in the United States and vegetarian associations began to form across the country. The American vegetarian association was formed in 1850.
The first Canadian vegetarian association was formed in Toronto in 1945. Since then, the Toronto Vegetarian Association has developed to be the largest locally based North American Vegetarian Association, with over 1700 members.
According to a Gallup Poll, by 1943, 2% of Americans were living as vegetarians, and one year later the term vegan was first introduced in Great Britain.
The Vegan Society of England was formed and wanted to eliminate human's reliance on animals and encourage a diet free of animal products.
The developed of vegetarianism ceased after World War II, probably due to the publication of food guides published by the United States Department of Agriculture, which put a strong emphasis on the consumption of meat and dairy products as a way to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
During the 60's and 70's, vegetarianism was a subject of discussion once again and rebirth in popularity.
With this rebirth, however, came a new focus. Vegetarianism started to focus less on health living and more on the environment, animal rights and ethics.
Nowadays, vegetarians choose to be vegetarian for a combination of reasons: ethical, environmental, economical, and healthful. Arguments for vegetarianism are stronger than ever and vegetarian movements exist across the globe.