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RELIGION IN THE VEGETARIAN WORLD

by Keith Akers

Food for the Gods. Vegetarianism and the World’s Religions. Essays, Conversations, and Recipes. Pythagorean Publishers, 1998. 374 pages, $19.95.

Rynn Berry has hit his stride with his latest book, a "tour" of modern vegetarianism in the world’s major religious traditions. Each religion is discussed in an essay; this is followed by an interview with a vegetarian adherent of that tradition, including such notables as Philip Roshi Kapleau and Ron Pickarski. Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Taoism, Christianity, and Judaism are all represented; the book concludes with some recipes from each tradition.

While not attempting a detailed analysis or history of each tradition, Berry’s essays display enough knowledge to bring the reader up to date on the general state of vegetarianism in the religion. But the real joy of this book is in the interviews. Berry is both perceptive enough to look at each tradition critically, and honest enough to let those he interviews speak for themselves, even when they contradict him.

Food for the Gods has advanced our knowledge of vegetarianism in the world’s spiritual traditions in another way as well: he very accurately represents the eclecticism of the vegetarian world. The one distinguishing feature of vegetarian spirituality is that vegetarians are a very diverse group and do not necessarily identify with "traditional values"; this is as true for the United States as it is for the rest of the world.

Even the three Christians whom he interviews display this diversity: only Andrew Linzey even comes close to resembling "mainline Christianity." Ron Pickarski is a Catholic who accepts reincarnation and thinks that Jesus was a vegetarian. Conrad Latto is a member of the Order of the Cross, an esoteric group based on John Todd Ferrier’s interpretation of Jesus, who also thinks that Jesus was a vegetarian and thinks that Jesus has been reincarnated 40 times since then. The only criticism I would make of Berry’s approach is that there are not enough women represented (Dr. Rehana Hamid is the only woman interviewed).

Food for the Gods is both entertaining and informative. It is another demonstration that vegetarian literature and vegetarian authors have continually evolved in their thinking, refusing to be stuck in the past, challenging the boundaries of our experience.