International Vegetarian Union (IVU)
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History of Vegetarianism - Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910)

a postcard featuring Tolstoy, published by the Bulgarian Vegetarian Union in the 1920s or 30s. (pictures from Jan Stastny, Prague)

- from the 1957 IVU Congress souvenir book

LEO TOLSTOY is another Genius that cannot be pigeonholed in any one category. Novelist, Humanitarian, Warrior for Peace, Russian Philosopher, his name is a household word throughout the world. Tolstoy lived very simply on bread, porridge, fruits, and vegetables.

"If a man's aspirations towards a righteous life are serious.. .if he earnestly and sincerely seeks a righteous life, his first act of abstinence is from animal food, because, not to mention the excitement of the passions produced by such food, it is plainly immoral, as it requires an act contrary to moral feeling, i. e., killing - and is called forth only by greed."

"It is horrible! It is not the suffering and the death of the animals that is horrible, but the fact that the man without any need for so doing crushes his lofty feeling of sympathy and mercy for living creatures and does violence to himself that he may be cruel. The first element of moral life is abstinence."

Tolstoy himself tells how he became a vegetarian :

"Not long ago I had a talk with a retired soldier," writes Tolstoy in Recollections and Essays, "and he was surprised at my assertion that it was a pity to kill animals for food, and said the usual things about its being ordained. But afterwards he agreed with me: 'Especially when they are quiet, tame cattle. They come, poor things trusting You. It is very pitiful.'

"Such a situation, is dreadful. Not the suffering and death of the animals, but that man suppresses in himself unnecessarily, the highest spiritual capacity - that of sympathy and pity towards living creatures - and by violating his own feelings, becomes cruel. And how deeply seated in the human heart is the injunction not to take life. But by the assertion that God ordained the slaughter of animals, and above all as a result of habit, people entirely lose their natural feeling.

"Some time ago I decided to visit the slaughter-house at Tula, and meeting a meek, kind acquaintance of mine, I invited him to accompany rue. My friend refused; he could not, he told met bear to witness the slaughter of animals. It is worth remarking that this man is a sportsman and himself kills animals and birds ....

"And... a kind refined lady will devour the carcasses of these animals with full assurance that she is doing right, at the same time asserting two contradictory propositions :

"First that she is so delicate that she cannot be sustained by vegetable food alone ; and secondly, that she is so sensitive that she is unable. not only herself to inflict suffering on animals, but even to bear the sight of the suffering.

"Whereas the poor lady is weak precisely because she has been taught to live upon food unnatural to man ; and she cannot avoid causing suffering to animals - for she eats them.

"The wrongfulness, the immorality of eating animal food has been recognized by all mankind during all the conscious life of humanity. Why, then have people generally not come to acknowledge this law? The answer is that the moral progress of humanity is always slow; but that the sign of true, not casual Progress, is in uninterruptedness and its continual acceleration. And one cannot doubt that vegetarianism has been progressing in this manner.

"The progress of the movement should cause especial joy to those whose life lies in the effort to bring about the Kingdom of God on earth, not because vegetarianism is in itself an important step towards that kingdom, but because it is a sign that the aspiration of mankind towards moral perfection is serious and sincere.''


Mr. William Simpson moved the following resolution, which was heartily agreed to :- "The International Congress now assembled in Dresden, send hearty greetings to Leo Tolstoy, for his 80th birthday; and express their admiration of his character and deep gratitude for his many labours in behalf of peace and the moral and religious improvement of mankind." - 1st World Vegetarian Congress, 1908


The vegetarian movement ought to fill with gladness the souls of those who have at heart the realization of God's kingdom upon earth, not because vegetarianism itself is such an important step towards the realization of this kingdom (all real steps are equally important or unimportant), but because it serves as a criterion by which we know that the pursuit of moral perfection on the part of man is genuine and sincere. - News Review, 1892

A man can live and be healthy without killing animals for food; therefore, if he eats meat, he participates in taking animal life merely for the sake of his appetite. And to act so is immoral. - On Civil Disobedience

What I think about vivisection is that if people admit that they have the right to take or endanger the life of living beings for the benefit of many, there will be no limit for their cruelty. - letter to Mrs C.P.Farrell, July 1909

If a man aspires towards a righteous life, his first act of abstinence is from injury to animals. - The First Step

Pity is always the same feeling, it doesn't matter, whether you feel it for a human being or a fly. - unkown origin

A message from the World Vegetarian Congress, held in Johnstown, PA, USA, 1996:

[Elizabeth Tepper Konviser] My father, Isaac Tepper, was born in the Ukraine in 1897. At the age of 8, he became a vegetarian on his own, against the pressure and bribes of his parents. They said he was crazy, and he actually believed it until he read about Tolstoy. I am a lifetime vegetarian, and so is my husband, David Konviser. We have four children who are third generation vegetarians on both sides of the family, and we have one grandchild, who is a fourth generation generation vegetarian.

Elizabeth Tepper Konviser
Green Brook, New Jersey