The history of Russian vegetarianism: in a nutshell

“How can we hope that peace and prosperity will reign on earth if our bodies are living graves in which dead animals are buried?” Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy

A wide discussion regarding the rejection of the consumption of animal products, as well as the transition to a plant-based diet, the need for rational and efficient use of environmental resources, began in 1878, when the Russian journal Vestnik Evropy published an essay by Andrey Beketov on the topic “The Present and the Future human nutrition.”

Andrey Beketov – professor-botanist and rector of St. Petersburg University in 1876-1884. He wrote the first work in the history of Russia on the topic of vegetarianism. His essay contributed to the development of a movement seeking to eradicate the paradigm of meat consumption, as well as to show society the immorality and harm to health resulting from eating animal products. Beketov argued that the human digestive system is adapted to the digestion of greens, vegetables and fruits. The essay also addressed the issue of inefficiency in livestock production due to the fact that the cultivation of plant-based animal feed is very resource-intensive, while a person could use these resources to grow plant foods for their own feed. Moreover, many plant foods contain more protein than meat.

Beketov came to the conclusion that the growth of the world’s population will inevitably lead to a shortage of available pastures, which will eventually contribute to the reduction of cattle breeding. The statement about the need for a diet of both plant and animal food, he considered as a prejudice and was sincerely convinced that a person is able to receive all the necessary strength from the plant kingdom. At the end of his essay, he reveals the moral reasons for refusing to consume animal products: “The highest manifestation of the nobility and morality of a person is love for all living beings, for everything that lives in the Universe, not only for people. Such love cannot have anything to do with the wholesale killing of animals. After all, aversion to bloodshed is the first sign of humanity. (Andrey Beketov, 1878)

Lev Tolstoy was the first, 14 years after the publication of Beketov’s essay, who turned the gaze of the people inside the slaughterhouses and told about what was happening within their walls. In 1892, he published an article called , which caused a resonance in society and was called by his contemporaries the “Bible of Russian Vegetarianism.” In his article, he emphasized that a person can become a spiritually mature person only by making efforts to change himself. Conscious abstinence from food of animal origin will be a sign that the desire for moral self-improvement of a person is serious and sincere, he notes.

Tolstoy talks about visiting a slaughterhouse in Tula, and this description is perhaps the most painful piece of Tolstoy’s work. Depicting the horror of what is happening, he writes that “we have no right to justify ourselves by ignorance. We are not ostriches, which means we shouldn’t think that if we don’t see something with our own eyes, then it doesn’t happen.” (Leo Tolstoy, , 1892).

Along with Leo Tolstoy, I would like to mention such famous personalities as Ilya Repin – perhaps one of the greatest Russian artists, Nikolai Ge – renowned painter Nikolay Leskov – a writer who, for the first time in the history of Russian literature, portrayed a vegetarian as the main character (, 1889 and, 1890).

Leo Tolstoy himself converted to vegetarianism in 1884. Unfortunately, the transition to plant foods was short-lived, and after a while he returned to the consumption of eggs, the use of leather clothing and fur products.

Another prominent Russian figure and vegetarian – Paolo Troubetzkoy, a world-famous sculptor and artist who portrayed Leo Tolstoy and Bernard Shaw, who also created a monument to Alexander III. He was the first to express the idea of ​​vegetarianism in sculpture – “Divoratori di cadaveri” 1900.  

It is impossible not to recall two wonderful women who connected their lives with the spread of vegetarianism, the ethical attitude towards animals in Russia: Natalia Nordman и Anna Barikova.

Natalia Nordman first introduced the theory and practice of raw food when she gave a lecture on the topic in 1913. It is difficult to overestimate the work and contribution of Anna Barikova, who translated and published five volumes of John Guy on the subject of cruel, treacherous and immoral exploitation of animals.

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