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
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.