It goes without saying that the great twentieth-century apostle of nonviolence Mohandas Gandhi was a vegetarian. His parents, being devout Hindus, never gave him meat, fish, or eggs. Under British rule, however, there was a great attack on the age-old principles of Indian culture. Under such pressures, many Indians began to adopt the meat-eating habits of the West. Even Gandhi fell victim to the advice of some schoolfriends, who urged him to eat meat because it would increase his strength and courage. But he later resumed a vegetarian diet and wrote, "It is necessary to correct the error that vegetarianism has made us weak in mind, or passive or inert in action. I do not regard flesh-food as necessary at any stage." he wrote five books on vegetarianism. His own daily diet included wheat sprouts, almond paste, greens, lemons, and honey. He founded Tolstoy Farm, a community based on vegetarian principles. In his Moral Basis of Vegetarianism Gandhi wrote, "I hold flesh-food to be unsuited to our species. We err in copying the lower animal world if we are superior to it." He felt that ethical principles are a stronger support for lifelong commitment to a vegetarian diet than reasons of health. "I so feel." he stated, "that spiritual progress does demand at some stage that we should cease to kill our fellow creatures for the satisfaction of our bodily wants."
Playwright George Bernard Shaw first tried to become a vegetarian at age twenty-five. "It was Shelley who first opened my eyes to the savagery of my diet," he wrote in his autobiography. Shaw's doctors warned that the diet would kill him. When an old man, he was asked why he didn't go back and show them what good it had done him. He replied, "I would, but they all passed away years ago." Once someone asked him how it was that he looked so youthful. "I don't," Shaw retorted. "I look my age. It is the other people who look older than they are. What can you expect from people who eat corpses?" On the connection between flesh-eating and violence in human society, Shaw wrote:
We pray on Sundays that we may have light
To guide our footsteps on the path we tread;
We are sick of war, we don't want to fight,
And yet we gorge ourselves upon the dead.
H.G. Wells wrote about vegetarianism in his vision of a future world, A Modern Utopia. "In all the round world of Utopia there is no meat. There used to be. But now we cannot stand the thought of slaughterhouses. And, in a population that is all educated, and at about the same level of physical refinement, it is practically impossible to find anyone who will hew a dead ox or pig ... I can still remember as a boy the rejoicings over the closing of the last slaughterhouse."
Nobel-prize-winning author Isaac Bashevis Singer became a vegetarian in 1962, at the age of fifty-eight. He said, "Naturally I am sorry now that I waited so long, but it is better later than never." He finds vegetarianism quite compatible with his mystical variety of Judaism. "We are all God's creatures - that we pray to God for mercy and justice while we continue to eat the flesh of animals that are slaughtered on our account is not consistent." Although he appreciates the health aspect of vegetarianism, he states very clearly that the ethical consideration is primary. "Even if eating flesh was actually shown to be good for you, I would certainly still not eat it."
Singer has little patience with intellectual rationalizations for meat-eating. "Various philosophers and religious leaders tried to convince their disciples and followers that animals are nothing more than machines without a soul, without feelings. However, anyone who has ever lived with an animal - be it a dog, a bird, or even a mouse - knows that this theory is a brazen lie, invented to justify cruelty."