In this installment of Influential Vegetarians in History, we look at two polarizing social figures and the impact these individuals have had on shaping history. The amazing contributions of Albert Einstein and Mohandas Gandhi have had an unquestionable role in developing the way we currently think and live our lives—let’s take a closer look at these humanitarians’ impact on social advancement, and the role vegetarianism played into their inspirational stories.
The revolutionary physicist and humanitarian has become so renowned for innovation that his name alone is synonymous with the word genius the world over. Rising to prominence in his native Germany, Einstein established his legacy with a string of innovations before making his most notable discovery: the law of the photoelectric effect, E = mc². At the dawn of World War II, Einstein relocated to the United States. Upon arriving stateside, Einstein was pivotal in informing president Eisenhower of Adolf Hitler’s plans to develop nuclear weapons. Tragically, the United States government responded by developing the Manhattan Project, and subsequently launched a nuclear attack on Japan. Einstein was vehemently against the use of these weapons by any nation, and released the Russell-Einstein Manifesto in an attempt to educate the public of the dangerous consequences of nuclear warfare.
A purveyor of environmental conservation and cultural development, Einstein was outspoken about his views of religious and political equality, and strongly encouraged fellow human beings to follow suit in his strides for evolution. Einstein openly advocated a vegetarian diet, viewing the lifestyle as the most beneficial to the preservation of the environment, stating, “Vegetarian food leaves a deep impression on our nature. If the whole world adopts vegetarianism, it can change the destiny of humankind.” Einstein also viewed the lifestyle as the most healthful for life and longevity: “Nothing will benefit human health and increase the chances for survival of life on Earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet.”
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi
Born into an affluent political family in Gujarat, India, Gandhi left the security of his family lineage and education to dedicate his life to the selfless advancement and liberation of the human race. At the age of twenty-four, after returning from law school in London, Gandhi set out to South Africa to represent Indian traders in the city of Pretoria. Having never been ostracized for the color of his skin in his native India, Gandhi was quickly exposed to the harsh realities of xenophobia in South Africa. Urged by locals to stay in South Africa to aid in passing legislation against discriminatory laws, Gandhi would end up remaining in the continent for a whopping 21 years: eventually earning Indians the right to vote. Following his extended stay in South Africa, Gandhi organized communes and massive protests in his native India in an effort to dismantle the oppressive British forces occupying his homeland. Gandhi continued his compassionate mission of non-violence until he was assassinated in 1948.
At the heart of Gandhi’s indelible will was a love for all living things, and his view that social progress is entirely dependent on compassion and equality, as illustrated in his famous lines: "The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated,” and “The life of a lamb is no less precious than that of a human being.” Gandhi was greatly instrumental in the growth of vegetarianism in the twentieth century, and is associated with the movement perhaps more than any other social figure before or since. Gandhi worked tenaciously to spread the popularity of vegetarianism, working side by side with the chairman of the London vegetarian society, Dr. Josiah Oldfield, and composed the book, The Moral Basis of Vegetarianism.
Both Einstein and Gandhi dedicated their lives to the progression of humanity. The underlying ethics of their common mission was a love and respect for the world as a whole. By maintaining their spiritual and physical health through a vegetarian lifestyle, both of these historical icons showed that they truly practiced what they preached, and serve as enduring and inspiring role models for future generations of ethically conscientious innovators.