Leo Tolstoy is a prominent writer and mastermind of the 19th - early 20th centuries, who is well-known all over the world. Hus works have been turned into films, scholars and students are brought up on his books.
He was a many-sided personality. He didn’t support religion, but dreamed of creating a new perfect world. He believed in good, preached spirituality and altruism. He established a school where he taught peasant children.
L. N. Tolstoy among students of evening courses for workers. Yasnaya Polyana. 1909
Despite being a great writer and count, he was easy to deal with, didn’t emphasize his superiority and noblesse, was down-dressed in peasant clothes, plough the earth together with peasants.
And the most unusual thing for his time and the society he lived in – Leo Tolstoy was a vegetarian.
Once, while reading a book called “The Ethics of Diet”, the writer wanted to visit a slaughterhouse to see and feel what was described in this book.
He went to the Tula slaughterhouse, which, as it was claimed, was built in a new way that made the killed animals suffer as little as possible.
He watched a young bull being killed in front of his eyes. When a butcher stabbed the bull in its neck, the poor animal fell on his belly, clumsily rolled over on the side and thrashed around in agony. Another butcher fell on him from the opposite side, bent his head to the ground and cut his throat. Dark blood poured from his throat. When there was no blood anymore, the butcher raised the bull’s head and began skinning it. Life was still flickering out in the poor bull’s body, and large tears were raining down from his eyes; he was in unbearable pain...
Leo Tolstoy was shocked by the cruelty of killing a domestic animal that trusted people, was quiet and tame, and take humans for its friends.
After seeing that, Tolstoy gave a new meaning to a lot of things. He couldn’t forgive himself for not preventing cruel murdering of living creatures and thus became the culprit of their painful death. He was brought up in the traditions of Russian Christianity, with its basic commandment “thou shalt not kill” got a new meaning for the writer.
“By killing animals for food, a human suppresses his highest spiritual feelings – compassion and pity on other living creatures like himself – and hardens his heart by going against it. How can we hope that peace and prosperity will be on earth if our bodies are living graves, where dead animals are buried?” Leo Tolstoy.
At the age of fifty, Tolstoy completely refused animal food and switched to a vegetable diet.
“My diet mostly consists of hot oatmeal porridge that I eat twice a day with wheat bread. Besides, for lunch I have cabbage or potato soup, buckwheat porridge or potatoes – boiled or fried in sunflower or mustard oil – and compote of dried plums and apples. The lunch, which I have together with my family, can be replaced, as I have already tried, with oatmeal that is the basis of my nutrition. Not only my health hasn’t suffered, but has significantly improved since I refused milk, butter and eggs, as well as sugar, tea and coffee,” wrote Leo Tolstoy.
During the last 25 years of his life, the writer was promoting the vegetarianism idea, explaining its moral and ethical meaning to people. A spiritually developed person refuses any kind of violence.
He said that violence would prevail in human society until people refused violence against animals. Refusal of meat products is one of the main ways to put an end to human inner evil and cruelty. Inability to empathize and sympathize is a sign of a low level of a person’s culture and soul development.
In 1892, Tolstoy published an article “The First Stage”, in which he writes that the first stage on the way to moral and spiritual enhancement of a person is refusal of violence against others and self-improvement starts with switching to vegetarian food.
“Both the teachings of the Brahmans, Buddhists, Confucians, and the teachings of Greek wise men set the degrees of virtues, with the higher cannot be achieved without mastering the lower one.”
“You can’t but feel horrified when seeing the upbringing of some children in our world. Only the worst enemy could cultivate those weaknesses and vices so diligently in a child as his parents, in particular mothers, do. I feel horrified, looking at this and even more at the consequences of this, if you can see what is going on in souls of the best of these children, diligently destroyed by their parents.”
“A gorging human cannot fight laziness, and a gorging and idle human will never be able to fight lust.”
Fragments from the article “The First Stage”, L.N. Tolstoy
Having read the article “The First Stage”, a Russian journalist and admirer of Tolstoy’s works I.I. Perper not only became a vegetarian, but founded the “Vegetarian Outlook” journal in 1909.
There is a letter written on December 30, 1901 by Tolstoy to a famous St. Petersburg doctor Alexander Petrovich Zelenkov about vegetarianism:
“I think that all the matters related human life can be resolved in undoubtedly right way and completely only when they are considered from a moral point of view. The same is right for vegetarianism as well:
it is based on realization of injustice and cruelty of killing living beings for personal, a very low demand, a pleasure of taste, since the ability to stay completely healthy without eating meat has enough of proofs...”
In the essay “What is my faith?” Tolstoy reflects on the nature of a human soul: “torturing a dog, killing a chicken and a calf is disgusting and distressingly to the human nature.”
In March 1908, Tolstoy was interviewed by American magazine Good Health.
“I stopped eating meat about 25 years ago, I have never felt weaker when I refused meat and never felt the slightest deprivation or longing for eating meat. I feel stronger and healthier in comparison to people (an average person) of my age... I think that not eating meat is good for health or rather, eating meat is unhealthy, since it is immoral; and everything immoral is always harmful both to the soul and to the body”- the writer talks about himself.
According to Leo Tolstoy, vegetarianism is only the first step a human can make on his way to development of ethics and morality. Moral and spiritual improvement is possible only if a person refuses the whims and false values, which he dedicates his life to.
Vegetarian dining room in Moscow 1914
The consequence of deification of such false values as greed, superiority over other people, and gluttony is a feeling of aggression in regard to the nature, animals and the own species.
Tolstoy believed that if people weren’t so aggressive, greedy and insensitive towards their close ones, they wouldn’t destroy what life gives them, and mutual respect, love and harmony would prevail in the world.
These ideas were published over 120 years ago. But humanity turned a deaf ear to Leo Tolstoy’s appeal to be cleaner and better. People keep killing creatures of their kind, starting terrible destructive wars. People still remain cruel to animals, destroying them for entertainment, meat or in sake of creating fashion accessories of their skin. People are blind, but I hope that someday the idea of Leo Nikolayevich Tolstoy will become a reality, and our world will become light-filled, kind and humanistic.