From People for Animals (Dehli India) From N. Ajay Simha
Vegetarianism may have been common in the Indian subcontinent as early as the 2nd millennium BC. Hinduism preaches that it is the ideal diet for spiritual progress and Jainism enjoins all its followers to be vegetarian.
Vegetarians in Europe used to be called "Pythagoreans", after the philosopher Pythagoras and his followers, who abstained from meat in the 6th century BC. They followed a vegetarian diet for nutritional and ethical reasons. According to the Roman poet Ovid, Pythagoras said: "As long as Man continues to be the ruthless destroyer of lower living beings he will never know health or peace. For as long as men massacre animals, they will kill each other. Indeed, he who sows the seed of murder and pain cannot reap joy and love."
In looking for parallels in Jewish and Christian antiquity for these practices, some vegetarians feel a kinship with Nazarite, Essene, and Ebionite practices.
Gnostics were also primarily vegetarians for spiritual reasons. They believed by eating animals a person would be grounding themselves to this world and their body, which they believed was an evil created by the Demiurge, because they would be consuming divine sparks and thus sinning.
Buddhist monks of the Mahayana school (100CE) have also historically practiced vegetarianism.
Many Hindu scriptures advocate vegetarian diet. The secular literature of Tirukural (circa. 100-300 AD) advocates vegetarianism.
In 1847, the first Vegetarian Society invented the term "vegetarian" -- from the Latin vegetus "lively", and suggestive of the English word "vegetable"
-- was a person who refuses to consume flesh of any kind. Vegetarianism in the 19th century was associated with many cultural reform movements, such as temperance and anti-vivisection. Many "new women" feminists at the end of the century were vegetarians.
Vegetarian societies (apart from India) were first formed in majority meat-eating European countries both as a means to promote the diet and to gather together vegetarians for mutual support. By 2000, most Western and developing nations had functioning vegetarian societies. The countries that were first to establish societies are still the ones most likely to have the greatest proportion of vegetarians within their populations.
In the Western world, the popularity of vegetarianism steadily grew over the 20th century as a result of nutritional, ethical, and more recently, environmental and economic concerns.
Today, Indian vegetarians, primarily lacto vegetarians, are estimated to make up more than 70% of the world's vegetarians. They make up 20 to 42% of the population in India, while less than 30% are regular meat-eaters.
Surveys in the U.S. have found that roughly 1% to 2.8% of adults ate neither meat, poultry, nor fish.