For centuries the history of vegetarianism in the West was of a practice of "mortification", of attempting to subjugate the desires of the body to some supposed reward in an afterlife, rather than as a protection and celebration of life. I think this history still casts a shadow on vegetarianism today. At Vegsource.com, John Davis looks at Medieval Mindsets - 'vegans' in the middle ages:
There were people who didn’t eat meat in Medieval Europe, and in Asia, but mostly for very different reasons to what we associate with veganism today.
In the western world the time after the fall of the Roman Empire - ‘the dark ages’, or Middle Ages or Medieval period, usually defined as about 500-1500CE. - was dominated by religion in both Europe and Asia, and many of those religions demanded various levels of abstinence and self-denial, even self-punishment.
Noteworthy is a Syrian poet, Al-Ma’arri (973-1057CE):
Thou art diseased in understanding and religion. Come to me, that thou mayst hear the tidings of sound truth.
Do not unjustly eat what the water has given up, [i.e. fish] and do not desire as food the flesh of slaughtered animals,
Or the white (milk) of mothers who intended its pure draught for their young, not noble ladies.
And do not grieve the unsuspecting birds by taking their eggs; for injustice is the worst of crimes.