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Vegetarianism in Russia
July 31, 2012 22:54


Go Veg!

Leo Tolstoy, the well-known Russian writer and thinker, argued: “While our bodies remain graves of murdered animals, how can we foster hopes for creation of ideal life conditions on the Earth?”

A number of famous Russian people, among them the outstanding artist Ilya Repin, actress Faina Ranevskaya, writer Maxim Gorky, and scientist Alexander Vojejkov were vegetarians. It is remarkable that the legendary invincible Russian wrestler Ivan Poddubny was a vegetarian, whereas the no less famed commander Alexander Suvorov preferred simple soldiers’ food, which was mostly vegetarian.


Not much is known about vegetarianism in Russian antiquity. However, believers kept religious fasts throughout a year, whereas certain religious sects observed total abstention from meat in their food. At the same time it should be taken into account that most of the Russian people rarely ate meat because they just could not afford it regularly. Instead, Russian cuisine resorted to the bounty of nature including fish, mushrooms, grains, and plenty of milk and eggs. Kasha (porridges) and bread were the basis of old Russian diet.

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The early 20th century marked the start of a mass vegetarian movement in Russia. The first association of adherents of plant food in Russia was officially established in St. Petersburg in 1901. A few years later vegetarian canteens, schools and kindergartens began to spring up in a number of Russian cities. Thus, for example, there were six vegetarian canteens in Moscow, five in St. Petersburg and seven in Kiev. There even appeared separate community settlements of vegetarians.

Leo Tolstoy, who became an adherent of healthy lifestyle and ate exclusively vegetarian food in the last 25 years of his life, played a huge role in development of the vegetarian movement in Russia. Tolstoy was elected the honorary member of the Moscow vegetarian society. Leo Tolstoy considered refusal from animal food as the first step in regeneration of moral life. His sermon of abstention and simplification, return to natural life, and most of all the biblical appeal “Thou shalt not kill!” influenced the dissemination of vegetarianism in Russia. It is due to his writings that vegetarian diet became known as “no-slaughter or cruelty-free food”. Tolstoy's essay First Step (1892) had a great impact on vegetarian movement both in Russia and abroad. This work became a kind of a bible for Russian vegetarians. Under the impression of this book a number of eminent figures of Russian culture – among them the writer Nikolay Leskov, and artists Nikolay Ge and Ilya Repin - became vegetarians.

Another famous Russian educator and propagator of vegetarianism was Nicholas Roerich. He emphasized the influence of certain kinds of food on a person’s mind and intellectual development (which was thoroughly studied by ancient Indian sciences of yoga and ayurveda). He wrote in his book Brotherhood: “All food containing blood is harmful for subtle substantial energy. If the humanity had abstained from devouring carrion it would have been possible to advance the evolution.


Vegetarian movement was suppressed by Soviet authorities some time after the revolution: vegetarianism was officially forbidden. Interestingly, even the very term and concept of vegetarianism was totally wiped out from life and mind of the Soviet person: the word “vegetarianism” was not even included into dictionaries and came to be used only for abusive purposes.

After the falling of the Soviet power vegetarians began to come out from the underground. In 1998 they even addressed an open letter “To the President, the Government and deputies of Russia” with a program of gradual transition to plant food. A number of vegetarian organizations were founded. Today the popularity of healthy lifestyle and vegetarianism is growing all around the world, and Russia is not an exception.

 

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Author: Vera Ivanova

Tags: Vegetarianism Russian Cuisine Leo Tolstoy   

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