What do Franz Kafka, Leo Tolstoy, Isaac B. Singer, G.B. Shaw, William Shakespeare, and J.M. Coetzee have in common, besides being genius writers? They were all animal rights advocates who didn’t eat meat. It is especially surprising that Shakespeare wrote about animal abuse more than 400 years ago and that he did not eat meat even though it was the predominant food on the menu of the 16th century. Unfortunately, the barbaric treatment of animals from Shakespeare’s time has continued nowadays, but on a much larger and more brutal scale.
There are many more vegans and vegetarians among the world’s famous writers, but let’s name the ones that most people have heard of.
1. William Shakespeare (1564-1616)
William Shakespeare, an English dramatist, poet, and actor, considered by many to be the greatest dramatist of all time, promoted animal rights more than 400 years ago by writing these dramatic verses:
Thou never didst them wrong, nor no man wrong;
And as the butcher takes away the calf
And binds the wretch, and beats it when it strays,
Bearing it to the bloody slaughter-house,
Even so remorseless have they borne him hence;
And as the dam runs lowing up and down,
Looking the way her harmless young one went,
And can do nought but wail her darling’s loss. (Henry VI)
Shakespeare adhered to a vegetarian diet, although it was strange to be a vegetarian in the 17th century. He might have been a vegan if tofu and soy milk existed in England during that time. In the above excerpt, Shakespeare vividly describes how distraught mother cows cry for days for their stolen calves. Today, most male calves, like their mothers, end up in a slaughterhouse, while female calves are kept for the dairy industry. Unfortunately, the treatment of cows has not changed since Shakespeares’s time; it has actually become much worse.
2. Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910)
Leo Tolstoy, a Russian author, a master of realistic fiction, and one of the world’s greatest novelists was a passionate advocate of animal rights who wrote that eating meat is unhealthy and immoral, which were pretty revolutionary thoughts at the time. In his book “On Civil Disobedience”, Tolstoy writes: “Man can live and be healthy without killing animals for food; therefore, if he eats meat, he participates in the taking away of the animal world only for the sake of his appetite. And behaving like that is immoral.” Tolstoy, writing on the ethics of nutrition, encouraged readers to practice innocence: “If a man strives for a righteous life, his first act of abstinence is the injury of animals.” He also suggests that not eating meat is a natural state of humanity.
George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950)
George Bernard Shaw, Irish comic dramatist, literary critic, socialist propagandist, and Nobel prize winner defended animals using his incredible sense of humor. When commenting on his youthful appearance, George Bernard Shaw replied, “I don’t look youthful. I’m the way I should be at this age. The thing is, others look older than they are. What can we expect from people who eat corpses? … I haven’t eaten meat in 47 years. If all the animals I didn’t eat were harnessed in front of my hearse, it would be a nicer funeral than any king has ever had.”
3. Franz Kafka (1883-1924)
Franz Kafka, one of the greatest writers of the 20th century, advocated against animal experiments and eating uncooked, plant foods. Due to severe lung disease, Kafka experimented with different diets. One of the most memorable stories from Franz Kafka’s life is the memory of how he became a strict vegetarian. It happened once when he visited the Berlin Aquarium. He said to the fish in their lighted tanks, “Now I can finally look at you in peace. I’m not eating you anymore.”
4. Isaac Bashevis Singer (1902-1991)
Isaac B. Singer, a Polish-born Jewish-American writer, and Nobel prize winner wrote: “We are all God’s creatures and it is not in harmony that we pray to God for mercy and justice as we continue to eat the flesh of animals killed for us … Various philosophers and religious leaders have tried to convince their disciples and followers that animals are nothing more than machines without soul and feelings. However, anyone who has ever lived with an animal – be it a dog, a bird, or even a mouse – knows that this theory is a shameless lie, invented to justify cruelty!”
5. J.M. Coetzee (1940-)
In this society of dead writers who have not eaten meat, there is also a living one. J.M. Coetzee is a contemporary Australian novelist and Nobel laureate who uses his reputation and public appearances to advocate for animal rights. He compares factory farms to death camps, saying that “it is a crime against nature to treat any living being like a unit in an industrial process.” This writer is horrified by the indoctrination of children who, growing up under the influence of the meat industry and marketing manipulation, turn into adults who get used to violence. He believes that it only takes one look at the slaughterhouse to turn a child into a lifelong vegetarian.