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What is a vegetarian diet?

The Modern Vegetarian Movement

Today vegetarianism is trendy -- 25 percent of adolescents even think it's "cool" [source: Time]. The success of vegetarian cosmetics and vegetarian foods like veggie dogs and tofurkey is a testament to the diet's popularity. Groups that promote vegetarianism and animal rights, like the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), have tremendous lobbying power with major companies. But vegetarianism hasn't always been so generally accepted, nor has it always been linked with the animal-rights movement.

In 17th- and 18th-century Europe, some Protestant groups embraced vegetarianism as a moral directive -- a way to be sinless. By the 19th century, European and North American vegetarianism had become a fringe health movement. Adherents promoted the dietary benefits of vegetarianism -- even coupling it with temperance and anti-tobacco movements. Modern organized vegetarianism began with the formation of the Vegetarian Society in 1847 by the Bible Christian Sect of England. Within a year, the Society had 478 members.

It wasn't until the mid 20th century that vegetarianism partnered with animal rights movement. America's most notorious animal rights organization, PETA, vigorously protests against all meat, animal products and animal testing. It is best known for its bold ad campaigns. The HSUS takes a less strict approach. It accepts that people will eat meat and focus instead on reducing meat consumption, replacing animal products and improving farming techniques. Both PETA and the HSUS, however, are powerful political machines: They hold stock in companies like Tyson, Wal-Mart, McDonald's and Smithfield's.

Check out the links on the next page for more information about vegetarianism.