Shelley and Vegetarianism
A brief study of the English poet's attitude to vegetarianism by Mihaela Mudure of Romania
IVU News - Issue 1-96

Vegetarianism is an important choice in anybody's life. You may choose it for ethical, medical or religious reasons, or for all three together. You should also bear in mind that food is one of man's main links with the natural environment. If you choose the right food, your body and mind will be closer to nature and healthier. Plants are the only living organisms that can synthesise solar energy directly, so if you eat vegetables you will get solar energy in a purer form. If you eat meat it will be in a perverted form. The examples of great personalities who have espoused the vegetarian ideal have always been instructive, and one of these is the English Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley.
In 1812, through William Godwin's son, Shelley met John Frank Newton, the author of "The Return to Nature" which strongly advocated the vegetarian diet. Newton was a highly educated person who had formerly been at Christ Church College Oxford and intended to write three more books on vegetarianism. The Shelleys were influenced by his vegetarian views and adopted them in 1812. Later they admitted that their health had improved and that they felt much better.
Shelley wrote two articles advocating vegetarianism, both of which are very interesting as their approach is extraordinarily contemporary. In "A Vindication of Natural Diet", Shelley considers meat eating as a consequence of the Fall from Grace described in the Old Testament, and a proof that we live in a post-lapsarian world. He gave the example of Prometheus. Having brought fire to people for culinary purposes, thus allowing them to consume flesh, Prometheus was punished by having his liver perpetually devoured by vultures.
Shelley considered that people should eat only the food produced in their own native country because they grew up in that natural environment and are adapted to it. Consequently he believed that the English should not drink wines from France, Portugal or Spain. Spices from India were also not to be used, for the same reason. He was against any kind of strong drinks because they are not a natural product: "Drink no drink but water restored to its original purity by distillation." With regard to food, he counselled: "Never take any substance into the stomach that once had life. Vegetarianism will give you longevity. Avoiding meat does not mean self- mortification. It is both for you and for the natural environment you belong to. You will be rewarded for this."
Shelley's second article about vegetarianism is "On the Vegetable System of Diet". The author considers that eating animal food is an unnatural habit producing disease. As we don't have the teeth that predator animals have it is normal to assume that animal food should not be eaten by humans. We should also keep in mind that eating animal food means torturing animals. Man tortures either when he kills them or when he raises them. This is unfortunately very contemporary when we think of present-day factory farming systems.
Butchering animals is wicked. Forcing them to produce more products than is natural is wicked. Forcing them into existence is wicked. "If the use of animal food be, in consequence, subversive to the peace of human society, how unwarrantable is the injustice and the barbarity which is exercised toward these miserable victims. They are called into existence by human artifice that they may drag out a short and miserable existence of slavery and disease, that their bodies may be mutilated, their social feelings outraged. It were much better that a sentient being should never have existed, than that it should have existed only to endure unmitigated misery."
Shelley's advice is to have simple culinary habits as the human being is most capable of bodily exertion after or before a simple meal.
The great Romantic poet advocates vegetarianism in a very convincing and contemporary way. He might be our contemporary or we might be his contemporaries from this point of view.
The only conclusion to be drawn is this: Let us follow Shelley's example and share his views.