Tristram Stuart’s thought-provoking book is not a global history of this taboo. Instead, it revolves around the vegetarian movement that began in 17th-century England — the name first came into use in the 1840s — and that remains strong today. But there is nothing narrow about the author’s focus. Both scholarly and entertaining, The Bloodless Revolution is a huge feast of ideas — ideas from India and France and America, from ancient Greece and Thoreau and Emerson, from Rousseau, Hobbes, the Kabbalah, the Old Testament, Descartes and Darwin, to name just a few of the better-known sources that weigh in on the meatless diet.
Vegetarianism illustrates the tremendous impact that India had on British culture but also the impact of the British on India. Mahatma Gandhi, Stuart tells us, didn’t take up vegetarianism as a cause until he encountered the raw food movement, which dates back to the poet Shelley, while in London to study law. Gandhi embraced the diet — he had rejected vegetarianism in his youth — because he determined it was free of “himsa” or violence.
But the meatless diet couldn’t be completely violence-free, for it also appealed to Adolf Hitler.