ENGLAND, December 16, 2012 (BBC): The Beefsteak chapel hardly sounds like a place where vegetarians would be welcome, but more than 200 years ago, this tiny chapel in Salford was the British birthplace of the meat-free diet.
In an even greater twist, the cleric who preached the moral virtues of vegetarianism was the Reverend William Cowherd. His Beefsteak Chapel was the country's first vegetarian church.
Cowherd, born almost 250 years ago on Sunday 16 December, demanded his congregation eat a meat-free diet. At this time the poor would eat the cheapest meat. This meant a diet featuring a great deal of offal - sometimes stomach or intestines. Cowherd believed that God inhabited every animal and as such it was a sin to eat meat. His followers - aptly named Cowherdites - went on to form the Vegetarian Society.
The health effects of a meat-free diet were unknown and many feared they would be catastrophic. A fellow minister of Cowherd, Robert Hindmarsh, blamed deaths among Cowherd's followers on their meat-free diet.
Much of Cowherd's novel social outlook appears to have been influenced by 18th Century Swedish theologian Emanuel Swedenborg.
Abstinence from meat became part of the church's creed. Cowherd told his congregation it was a sin to eat meat and it could make them behave aggressively.
The Vegetarian Society quotes him saying: "If God had meant us to eat meat, then it would have come to us in edible form as is the ripened fruit."
In a city like Manchester, with people removed from daily, rural reminders of animals being slaughtered for food, intellectuals for the first time began to debate the ethics of eating animals.
After Cowherd's death in 1816, Joseph Brotherton became the Beefsteak Chapel's minister and continued his mission. Along with other Cowherdites, Brotherton helped form the Vegetarian Society in 1847.
There were more vegetarian restaurants in Victorian Manchester than there are today.