Nikola Tesla is often hailed as one of the brightest minds of the past two centuries, best known for his visionary engineering ideas and the design of the modern alternating current electricity supply system.
Like many aspects of his eccentric life, it’s apparent the prophetic inventor was obsessive about his diet. Through much of his adulthood – when his brain was most fruitful – Tesla was not so puritanical about his health, drinking gallons of coffee, heavily smoking, and eating meat.
However, as the years went by, he become more restricted with his diet, shifting towards a pescatarian diet and eventually going fully vegetarian.
A 1944 biography titled “Prodigal genius; the life of Nikola Tesla” by John J. O'Neill, reads: “With the passing decades, Tesla shifted away from a meat diet. He substituted fish, always boiled, and finally eliminated the meat entirely. He later almost entirely eliminated the fish and lived on a vegetarian diet.”
It seems this choice to go vegetarian was based on health and well-being, but also concerns about agriculture and the environment.
“On the general principles the raising of cattle as a means of providing food is objectionable, because, in the sense interpreted above, it must undoubtedly tend to the addition of mass of a "smaller velocity." It is certainly preferable to raise vegetables, and I think, therefore, that vegetarianism is a commendable departure from the established barbarious habit,” Tesla wrote in the June 1900 edition of The Century Illustrated Magazine.
“That we can subsist on plant food and perform our work even to advantage is not a theory, but a well-demonstrated fact. Many races living almost exclusively on vegetables are of superior physique and strength,” he added.
He also did away with smoking after his sister fell sick and shunned his much-loved stimulants, including his favorite caffeinated drink, coffee.
“As a youth, he drank a great deal of coffee, and, while he gradually became aware that he suffered unfavorable influences from it, he found it a difficult habit to break. When he finally made the decision to drink no more of it, he adhered to his good intentions but was forced to recognize the fact that the desire for it remained. He combated this by ordering with each meal a pot of his favorite coffee, and having a cup of it poured so that he would get the aroma,” O'Neill wrote in the Tesla biography.
It’s not clear why Tesla was so ardently against caffeine in his later life, but he was so opposed to the stimulant that he wrote in 1935 that people would lose the taste for it within a century. Like some of his other predictions, it looks like he might have got that one wrong, unless the next decade has some big surprises.
"More people die or grow sick from polluted water than from coffee, tea, tobacco, and other stimulants. I myself eschew all stimulants. I also practically abstain from meat. I am convinced that within a century coffee, tea, and tobacco will be no longer in vogue. Alcohol, however, will still be used. It is not a stimulant but a veritable elixir of life. The abolition of stimulants will not come about forcibly. It will simply be no longer fashionable to poison the system with harmful ingredients,” Tesla wrote in a Liberty magazine article entitled "A Machine to End War" written in 1935.
Tesla is not the only renowned genius of this era to opt for a vegetarian diet. Albert Einstein was an omnivore for much of his life, but drifted towards vegetarianism a year or so before his death in 1955.