“My diet consists mainly of hot oatmeal, which I eat twice a day with wheat bread. In addition, at dinner I eat cabbage soup or potato soup, buckwheat porridge or potatoes boiled or fried in sunflower or mustard oil, and compote of prunes and apples. The lunch that I eat with my family can be replaced, as I tried to do, with one oatmeal, which is my main meal. My health has not only not suffered, but has improved significantly since I gave up milk, butter and eggs, as well as sugar, tea and coffee, ”Leo Tolstoy wrote.
The great writer came up with the idea of vegetarianism at the age of fifty. This was due to the fact that this particular period of his life was marked by a painful search for the philosophical and spiritual meaning of human life. “Now, at the end of my forties, I have everything that is usually understood by well-being,” says Tolstoy in his famous Confession. “But I suddenly realized that I don’t know why I need all this and why I live.” His work on the novel Anna Karenina, which reflected his reflections on the morality and ethics of human relationships, dates back to the same time.
The impetus for becoming a staunch vegetarian was the case when Tolstoy was an unwitting witness to how a pig was slaughtered. The spectacle so shocked the writer with its cruelty that he decided to go to one of the Tula slaughterhouses in order to experience his feelings even more sharply. Before his eyes, a young beautiful bull was killed. The butcher raised the dagger over his neck and stabbed. The bull, as if knocked down, fell on its belly, awkwardly rolled over on its side and convulsively beat with its feet. Another butcher fell on him from the opposite side, bent his head to the ground and cut his throat. Black-red blood gushed out like an overturned bucket. Then the first butcher began to skin the bull. Life was still beating in the huge body of the animal, and large tears were rolling from blood-filled eyes.
This terrible picture made Tolstoy rethink a lot. He could not forgive himself for not preventing the killing of living beings and therefore became the culprit of their death. For him, a man brought up in the traditions of Russian Orthodoxy, the main Christian commandment – “Thou shalt not kill” – acquired a new meaning. By eating animal meat, a person becomes indirectly involved in the murder, thus violating religious and moral morality. In order to rank oneself in the category of moral people, it is necessary to relieve oneself of personal responsibility for the killing of living beings – to stop eating their meat. Tolstoy himself completely refuses animal food and switches to a kill-free diet.
From that moment on, in a number of his works, the writer develops the idea that the ethical – moral – meaning of vegetarianism lies in the inadmissibility of any violence. He says that in human society, violence will reign until the violence against animals stops. Vegetarianism is therefore one of the main ways to put an end to the evil that is happening in the world. In addition, cruelty to animals is a sign of a low level of consciousness and culture, an inability to truly feel and empathize with all living things. In the article “The First Step”, published in 1892, Tolstoy writes that the first step towards the moral and spiritual improvement of a person is the rejection of violence against others, and the beginning of work on oneself in this direction is the transition to a vegetarian diet.
During the last 25 years of his life, Tolstoy actively promoted the ideas of vegetarianism in Russia. He contributed to the development of the Vegetarianism magazine, in which he wrote his articles, supported the publication of various materials on vegetarianism in the press, welcomed the opening of vegetarian taverns, hotels, and was an honorary member of numerous vegetarian societies.
However, according to Tolstoy, vegetarianism is only one of the components of human ethics and morality. Moral and spiritual perfection is possible only if a person gives up a huge number of various whims to which he subordinates his life. Such whims Tolstoy attributed primarily to idleness and gluttony. In his diary, an entry appeared about the intention to write the book “Zranie”. In it, he wanted to express the idea that immoderation in everything, including food, means a lack of respect for what surrounds us. The consequence of this is a feeling of aggression in relation to nature, to their own kind – to all living things. If people were not so aggressive, Tolstoy believes, and did not destroy what gives them life, complete harmony would reign in the world.