Read Transcript of Ep 13: The Vegetarians

Close up of printed English writing

Follow this link to hear the episode & read the show notes. Transcription by Amy Carpenter.

US Army band in an archive recording of period song “Army Bean”:

‘Tis the bean that we mean!

[fades and continues in background]

Ian [as narrator]:

In the last half of the 19th century, organised vegetarianism throws itself into questions of global politics – slavery, colonialism, and votes for women. 

This episode, we’ll discover the abolitionist vegetarian settlement in the Wild West, how the British Empire accidentally more Hindus to go vegetarian, and I’m getting on my bike to discover just how [bicycle bell tinkles] surprisingly big vegetarianism was in London – in the 1880s.

[Theme starts – music with sound of gongs]

Vegetarianism: The Story So Far, with me, Ian McDonald. Episode thirteen – Vegetarians.

[Theme ends]

Ian:

It’s 1850. American vegetarians swiftly follow the British in setting up a vegetarian society.

Dr Adam Shprintzen:

I’m Adam Shprintzen. I’m assistant professor of history at Marywood University, in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

The story of the American Vegetarian Society when it establishes itself first in 1850, is a pretty remarkable trajectory towards success.

Ian [as narrator]:

If you went to a convention, you’d meet hundreds of vegetarians. And the mix is fairly similar across the Atlantic.

There are leading figures from the vegetarian congregation of Bible Christians. 

There are respected medical men, including an ex-president of the American Medical Association, Reuben Mussey. 

And there are enthusiasts for fringe medical theories; particularly the so-called water cure.

It’s gone together with vegetarianism ever since Dr Lambe, back in the early 19th Century, prescribed distilled water and a vegan diet.

Shprintzen:

Both internal and external bathing as a means of procuring health.

Ian [to Shprintzen]:

Internal bathing sounds like a euphemism. Colonic irrigation?

Shprintzen:

[Laughs] Yes, that is exactly they were talking about.

Ian:

Good to know.  

[as narrator] I can’t cover everyone, but let me pick out two particularly fascinating people – the Englishman who leads American vegetarianism and takes a bullet for the USA, and the American feminist and water curist who sets up London’s first known vegetarian restaurant.

Shprintzen:

Mary Gove Nichols is a really interesting figure, because I think that she is probably the most active woman involved in organised vegetarianism at the time. So organised vegetarianism takes a very women’s-right focussed ideology.  But in practice, women were kind of relegated to secondary roles, at least at meetings and things like that.

Ian [as narrator]:

But Mary Gove is a prolific speaker and writer. When, in 1842, an English recruit abandoned the New England vegan commune we featured last show, it was for a life of activism with Mary. After he dies, she forms an open marriage with Dr Nichols, a fellow water curist.

Shprintzen:

She talks about vegetarian cookery as a means of liberating women from the kitchen. So that it takes less time to prepare. That means that women had more of an opportunity to serve more important functions: political functions, reform functions.

Mary Gove [read by actor]:

The lives of women as wives, and as cooks, are worn out in providing for artificial wants which bring disease upon families.

Shprintzen:

Mary Gove Nichols also viewed meat preparation as a way of degrading women.

Gove:

Purity is the great law of life.

Ian:

She’s complex and hard to categorise – in 1857, this so-called abbess of free love embraces Roman Catholicism, as does her husband. We shall meet her again in England.

Shprintzen:

Henry S Clubb is a really fascinating figure.

Ian [as narrator]:

His early life is a tour of English vegetarianism.

Shprintzen:

Raised originally in the Swedenborgian Church. Was drawn towards the Bible Christian movement in England.

Ian [as narrator]:

Lives at the Concordium, the vegan commune in London.

Shprintzen:

Emigrates to the United States in 1853. And becomes immediately involved in the reformist politics of the time. 

He serves as a reporter for the New York Tribune, which is the newspaper that’s most aligned with, sort of radical reforms, particularly the anti-slavery movement, the abolistionist movement. 

Ian [as narrator]:

For much of the reform press, vegetarianism is an allied movement. For example, the Liberator, newspaper of the fight to abolish slavery, promotes the annual meeting of the American Vegetarian Society: 

The Liberator newspaper [read by actor]:

To vegetarians and friends of human progress everywhere, of both sexes, the invitation is cordially extended.

Shprintzen:

The abolitionist press and the reform-press at large present vegetarians as heros, as dedicated intellectuals.

Ian [as narrator]:

But the popular press, on the other hand…

Shprintzen:

Presented vegetarians as generally weak, emaciated, kind of sickly-looking. So if there’s ever any line drawings of vegetarians they look just physically weak, sallow. Often they’re presented as vegetables themselves.

Ian [as narrator]:

And Clubb plans a venture that combines vegetarianism with the fight against slavery.

Shprintzen:

Clubb comes up with this idea to start a utopian experiment in Kansas, which at this point is a territory. It’s not an organised state.  

Ian [as narrator]:

So Kansas has yet to decide whether it’s going to allow slavery.

Shprintzen:

People who are pro-slavery forces and anti-slavery forces just flooding into Kansas to try to win this demographic race.

Ian [as narrator]:

…to be able to outvote and outfight the other side.

Shprintzen:

Heading out into this largely unsettled territory. The difference with Clubb’s group is that they decided to organise around the principle of vegetarianism, as well as an interesting architectural theory, known as Octagon Design.

Ian [as narrator]:

That’s the theory, of a leading vegetarian called Orson Fowler, that Octagonal buildings have more space and light. The Chicago Tribune rails against them, that: 

Chicago Daily Tribune [read by actor]:

Kansas has got enough philosophers, fiddlers, phrenologists, vegetarians, et cetera, already. She needs beef-eating men – men with thews and sinews, who have blood to spare and the pluck to put themselves in places where the loss of it might happen.

Ian [as narrator]:

Henry Clubb forms a company and sells stock to raise funds; he promises ultimately a liberal town with a library, a university.

Shprintzen:

Niceties meant to add personal uplift.

Ian [as narrator]:

Fifty families sign up, gathered from the American Vegetarian Society and other excited reformers.

Shprintzen:

So there is a bit of a buzz about this.

Ian [as narrator]:

Henry Clubb reports from the initial group of pioneers in Kansas: 

Henry Clubb [read by actor]:

A grist mill is already on the ground, and saws are on the way. 

At present, the residents are enduring some of the inconveniences common to the commencement of all settlements, but they will soon be all comfortably housed.

Ian [as narrator]:

In theory, this is better funded and organised than the previous vegetarian communities. But when the main group of settlers arrives, there’s just one building. Most people are still living in tents. Henry Clubb himself is in an abandoned wigwam.

Shprintzen:

A lot of the settlers head back east upon seeing what wasn’t there upon arrival. 

Ian [as narrator]:

Perhaps neither directors nor settlers were ready for the wild west.

Shprintzen:

The Summer’s harsh. As the Fall runs into Winter it get pretty desperate. Thankfully we’re not talking about starvation levels.

Ian [as narrator]:

So all but the hard core abandon it.  

Shprintzen:

Though what’s important is that the story doesn’t end there. Many of the individuals who showed up with this incredible zeal remain in the territory because they know that the political question is still at stake. 

But what’s interesting is many of them end up becoming violently involved in the battles between free-staters and slave-staters in Kansas.

[US Army Band fades in with another US Civil War song]

Ian [as narrator]:

This is the prelude to the American Civil War.  

Shprintzen:

Actually, people were violently abolitionist. So you just have to kill as many slave-holders as possible.

Ian [as narrator]:

But Henry Clubb never picks up a gun. Not when offered a revolver to defend the settlement against slavers, not even when the civil war starts, and he enlists as a Quartermaster.

Shprintzen:

But there’s an incredible irony here. Henry Clubb, despite the fact that he’s personally involved in arming soldiers, chooses to not carry a firearm. It’s a remarkable expression of these tensions that are facing vegetarianism during this time period. He also witnesses the death and desperation on the battlefield.

Clubb:

I saw a great many wounded and dead men, and saw scenes which I never wish to see again. It seems hard that our men, who are innocent, have to suffer so much. But such is war, and we must have patience until it is over.

Ian [as narrator]:

A few days after writing that, unarmed in the thick of the fighting, Henry Clubb is shot.

Shprintzen:

And the only thing that saves him is that he happens to have his naturalisation papers sitting inside his lapel pocket. And the papers are shredded and destroyed. But it actually stops the bullet from entering into his body, and saves his life.

Ian [as narrator]:

I know it’s since become a cliché, but it’s Henry Clubb’s story and we’re sticking to it. And not everyone is so lucky: his fellow vegetarian settler Samuel Stewart is killed in combat.

And by the time this cruel war is over, the American Vegetarian Society itself has closed down.

[to Shprintzen] Is it fair to say that organised American vegetarianism sacrifices itself to stop slavery?

Shprintzen:

I think that’s absolutely fair to say. That the principle of pacifism had been a tradition dating back to the earliest vegetarian settlers coming from the Bible Christian church.

[Music fades louder]

US Army Band singers:

“and our fight will make them free” [fades]

Shprintzen:

But the slavery cause becomes so important that vegetarianism itself, as kind of a singular practice to perfect all reform, becomes less important in the shadow of the issue of abolitionism.

Ian:

Henry Clubb himself, writing later, admits:

Clubb:

But the political excitements owing to the attempts to introduce slavery into free territory, and the effort to prevent this by emigration to Kansas, absorbed public attention, and all moral reforms had to be suspended until freedom was ultimately established.

[US Civil War song ends]

Ian [as narrator]:

In 1857, British popular attention is focussed on India, where a revolt has been reportedly sparked by a new paper cartridge and its animal fat. 

You see, the Indian troops are being switched from muskets to rifles. The cartridge with the gunpowder and bullet in is made out of paper, and it needs to be greased to be stuffed into the rifle. 

One British vegetarian magazine puts it:

Anonymous Writer [read by actor]:

Whilst an abundance of vegetable oil might have been used, this operation has been effected with lard. 

Ian:

Specifically of pigs, abhorrent to Muslims, and cows, sacred to Hindus.

Anonymous Writer:

And thus the native Sepoys … consider themselves contaminated in having to “tough” and “bite” the cartridge in the routine of their duty.

Ian:

The East India Company insists that those cartridges only went to European troops, and the underlying causes of the revolt aren’t part of our story, but war spreads along the Ganges plain. 

Afterwards, the last vestiges of the Mughal empire, the last vestiges of veg-curious emperor Akbar, if you remember him, are swept away, along with the East India Company, along with the independence of Princely States, all into the British Raj.

And I discovered to my surprise, that this wasn’t all bad for Indian vegetarianism.

It’s obviously bad for morale. In the 1880s, the schoolboys of strongly vegetarian Gujarat share a forbidden doggerel.

Indian Schoolboy [read by actor]:

Behold the mighty Englishman

He rules the Indian small

Because being a meat-eater

He is five cubits tall.

Ian:

But I found out in India that the Raj, by trying to apply inflexible definitions to a continent of a hundred thousand gods, actually encourages vegetarianism.

Consider the word “Hinduism”. I’ve been using it to describe, for want of a better phrase, Indian paganism since the middle ages. But when I did that in an interview with venerable historian D N Jha, he corrected me. 

Prof. Dwijendra Narayan Jha:

Hindus never describe themselves as Hindus. Hindu becomes identity only in 19th Century.

Ian:

You might remember Professor Jha from the start of our series. We talked in his book-lined office, in his apartment, looking out onto the clothes lines of a busy Delhi suburb. 

The word “Hindu” goes from being the word Muslims used for non-Muslims, to the British catchall term for people who aren’t something else. 

But if you consider some of the followers of Sufi and Bakhti saints we met a few episodes ago, and how they straddle the Muslim / Hindu boundary, you realise it’s hard enough for British census officers to decide who to call a, quote “Mohammedan”, and who a Hindu.

Jha:

When the British came here, then they started their process of census. And it is at that time that they were categorised as Hindus. And the distinction between Hindus and Muslims, sometimes, was so fuzzy, that in some senses regards also, you have Hindu-Mohammedans [Laughs], which means that they are both Hindus and then Mohammedans. 

So what happened was that in 1911 census, census commissioner, his name was Edward Gait, and he issued a circular “What is this nonsense of Hindu-Mohammedans, or Mohammedan-Hindus? Put them in either of the two categories, don’t put them like this, they can’t be both”.

Ian:

So the British tell most Indians that they are Hindus, and many unite around the word. 

This tract, namechecking many of the sects and philosophies of India, is from Tamil south India. You might remember veg-friendly Vaishnavism from the Medieval India episode.

Hindu Tract Society [read by actor]:

Hereafter Hindus should not fight among themselves, calling themselves Thenkalais, Vadakalais, Saivites, Vaishnavites, Advaitins, Visishtadvaitins and Dvaitins; they should act as one man and oppose the Christian religion.

Ian:

But what does Hinduism mean? For some people, in some places, being vegetarian is important, particularly if you want to be high caste.  

Burton Cleetus is Professor Jha’s colleague at Jawaharlal Nehru university. And I came to his office on campus.

Dr Burton Cleetus:

If you look at the census records from 1875 onwards you have a large number of incidences where lower-caste communities gather together at places and say that, “we will not consume meat from now-onwards”. 

Ian [to Cleetus]:

So, the British, in doing a massive census that asked people what their caste status was,

Cleetus:

Yes.

Ian:

Actually codified things that were a bit fluid before. 

Cleetus:

Yes, exactly.

Ian:

In the process, making people who were seen as lower-caste, go, “ok, we’re gonna have to move ourselves up the social gear”. And one of the ways you did that was by going, “ok, we are now vegetarian. We are now pure.”

Cleetus:

Yes. If you look at the census record date, they always claim that “our social position, our low social position is because we were basically like Brahmins at some point, and we consumed this meat, or we consumed that meat”. [fades out]

Ian [as narrator]:

Of course, caste practices are much broader than diet.

Cleetus:

[fades back in] … and at times they change their names. Sometimes they change their practices. Their professions, their behaviours, in order to raise themselves in social hierarchy.  

So this whole move towards vegetarianism became a major issue.

Ian [as narrator]:

There’s obviously a big difference between vegetarianism being an ethic, and it being the basis of caste prejudice; a topic we’ll return to in the last episode. 

But this expectation of vegetarianism even affects traditional Indian medicine, such as Ayurveda.

Cleetus:

Ayurveda has undergone fundamental transformation in the modern period. It tends to identify itself with the larger vegetarian tradition. 

Ian [as narrator]:

Bhaskar Chakraborty is a professor of modern Indian history at the University of Calcutta. In his office, he told me how vegetarianism is at the heart of the new debates about Hindu identity.

Prof. Bhaskar Chakraborty:

It is connected with the attempt to find out correct Hindu way of life. It is connected with Hindu revivalist ideas. It is connected with Arya Samaj activity.

Ian [to Chakraborty]:

So what does Arya Samaj actually mean?

Chakraborty:

Arya Samaj is a particular group which were anxious to restore the pristine purity of Hindu religion. It means preservation of Aryanism.

Ian [as narrator]:

Ayr-i-a or Ar-ja or Ar-ia means “noble” – as well as, in theory, the ancestors who composed India’s oldest sacred verses, the Vedas. You’ve probably heard the word abused by western racists, but that’s nothing to do with our story. 

Arya Samaj is egalitarian, casteless, iconoclastic, and monotheistic. Like the organised Western religions to which the reformers compare Hinduism, Arya Samaj points to an infallible sacred text – the Vedas.

And it will remain a force for vegetarianism in India into the 21st Century.

Chakraborty:

Later on, the Arya Samajes, and some Hindu orthodox sections, they came together and started a campaign all over this country. 

Ian [as narrator]:

In many areas, such as where we are in Bengal, even Brahmins eat meat. So instead they unite around the beloved, and economically vital, cow.

Chakraborty:

So, cow killing, and eating beef, became identified with the Muslims. They denied the fact that in the past, the Brahmins also ate beef. And once it became identified with the Muslims, the whole entire cow population also became a site of contest between Hindus and Muslims.

Ian [as narrator]:

Sometimes this descends into communal violence.

Chakraborty:

If there was a certain logic of vegetarianism behind it, that particular logic became entirely irrelevant in the way the cow production also unfolded, by the close of the 19th Century.

Ian [as narrator]:

And so the quest for Hindu identity settles not on vegetarianism, but cow protection.

China and Japan aren’t colonised like India, but they face similar issues. You might remember the expert in Chinese vegetarianism whom I visited in Paris, Vincent Goossaert 

Dr Vincent Goossaert:

And in some cases there was even a complete objection of Chinese culinary culture, even rejecting chopsticks and that kind of things. 

Ian:

Both China’s vegetarian fasting tradition and Japan’s medieval aversion to farming animals come under pressure.

Goossaert:

The idea that the Chinese children become stronger and therefore should eat more meat.

Ian [to Goossaert]:

Exactly the same conversations that’s happening in India at the same time.

Goossaert:

Of course, of course. And in Japan as well. The Japanese used to eat extremely low red-meat. They would eat lots of fish of course, little bit of poultry. But the very idea of eating red meat was almost unknown in Japan. And one of the first things the Meiji emperor did to really show people that things were changing.

Ian:

January 1872.

Goossaert:

That he publically let it known that he ate beef. And it was a shock to people. It was really an epochal change for Japanese society. And the Japanese took up eating meat pretty quickly.

Ian [as narrator]

Japan’s vegetarian traditions are almost entirely lost. 

But in China, new vegetarian folk religions spring up; and Christian missionaries find Chinese vegetarianism so stubborn that they refer to the…

British Missionary [read by actor]:

Sect of vegetarians.

Ian:

Missionaries see breaking the vegetarian fast – which in China and India forbids eggs – as a test of sincere conversion. For example one missionary boasts of a Chinese convert:

American Missionary [read by actor]:

Her idols, beads, and other idolatrous possessions she brought to the missionaries, and, by eating an egg, broke her religious abstinence of seventeen years, cutting all connections with her old manner of life.

Ian:

But if the new British Empire accidentally helps Indian vegetarianism, it’s a setback for vegetarianism at home. Professor Julia Twigg of the University of Kent was the first modern academic to look at British vegetarian history.

Prof. Julia Twigg:

So we saw it in the early 19th Century connected with all these utopian groups and ideas. But in the middle of the century what we think of High Victorianism, the era of the 1850s and 60s, then we can see quite a considerable decline.

Ian [to Twigg]:

So what’s High Victorianism?

Twigg:

High Victorianism is I suppose the period of Victorian confidence.

Ian [as narrator]:

With British war victories in India and the Crimea, radical causes are in retreat. When the Vegetarian Society’s founding fathers pass away in the 1850s, they’re not really replaced until the tide turns.  

Twigg:

It’s not the world that we get in the 1880s when we begin to see some new concerns, new social movements questioning that Victorian world. You know I’m thinking of movements in politics, in feminism. Nature cure, diet reform, passivism, Indian spirituality. Across a whole range of things. 

And it becomes a little bit more common as a diet. We see the beginnings of emergence in London particularly of vegetarian restaurants. Not great numbers of them, but clearly recognisable restaurants. 

Ian [as narrator. Walking and getting onto his bicycle]:

And of course –  I live in London. So let’s get out of the studio, onto the bike, and go on a tour of some of the faces and places of Victorian vegetarian London. [tinkle of bicycle bell]

Mary Gove Nichols [actor reading]:

The Alpha, The First Food Reform Restaurant.

[Toot of car horn]

Ian:

I’m on London’s Oxford Street, and, which is buses and traffic and shoppers now. In the 1870s where I’m standing would have been the Alpha. Set up by Mary Gove Nichols and her husband. Just across from the Oxford Theatre. Serving, for old pennies, soups, porridges, and lentil cutlets and pies.

Ian [as narrator]:

Mary fled the USA with her husband at the start of the Civil War. Not that there’s any sign they agreed with slavery, they disagreed with fighting a war over it; a fairly common opinion at the time, even if rare amongst vegetarians.

[on Oxford Street] And as luck would have it, right next door today, there’s Vital, a vegan cafe.

[Chink of metal. Ambient sounds of a cafe]

Server at Vital cafe:

We have soup with lentils, with chickpeas, with mixed vegetables.

Ian:

I’m just looking at the buffet. Lots of beany, chili and spinach and chickpea stews. 

Twigg:

They’re often like club-houses. They sometimes have places where meetings could be held, notices would be put up in them. So again, something that’s a characteristic of vegetarian restaurants still today.  

Ian [on street]:

I’m just in Great Russell Street, five minutes from the Alpha. Passing meeting rooms where Anna Kingsford had talks about mysticism and visions.  And on my left, the British Museum where she spent a lot of time [bicycle bell rings] researching history.

[in studio] As well as her take on spirituality, Anna Kingsford is a formidable vegetarian anti-vivisection activist, so I assume she nipped between the Museum and the Alpha. 

To help arguments against vivisection, she gets a medical degree. Not deterred by the fact that women are barred from British medical schools, she goes to Paris, graduating in 1880, with a thesis arguing for vegetarianism, and becoming the first woman to do so without any experiments on live animals.

Anna Kingsford [read by actor]:

I do not love men and women. It is not for them that I am taking up medicine and science, not to cure their ailments, but for the animals, and for knowledge generally. 

Twigg:

Again it’s not that everyone who’s an anti-vivisectionist is at this period a vegetarian. But many vegetarians are taken up with, and concerned about the cruelty of vivisection, which was in this period relatively uncontrolled. 

Ian [as narrator]:

Her attempts to join Buddhism to mystical Christianity connect her to a new movement called Theosophy that will become strongly pro-vegetarian.

Twigg:

Theosophy’s a very interesting movement that draws on Indian ideas and is inspired by the wisdom of the East in that broad sort of sense. But attempts also to draw into it all sorts of traditions. So mystical Christian ideas are contained within it as well.

Ian:

For Anna Kingsford, the two themes of her life are inseparable.  

Kingsford:

But the disciple of Buddha and of Pythagoras, the preacher of the Pure Life and of the Perfect Way, cries to humanity: 

“Under all your pseudo-civilization lies a foul and festering sore. “Away, then, with the slaughter-houses! Make to yourselves a nobler ideal of life and of human destiny!”

Twigg:

It’s a movement that interestingly crossed between Britain and India. So there’s theosophical activity in India developing in this period as well.

Ian:

Theosophy even tries to link up with the aforementioned Hindu Arya Samaj in 1878, but that doesn’t work out. 

Unfortunately, Dr Kingsford dies young, making herself ill campaigning in the rain.

My next visit is to her moral successor, who’ll lead Theosophy into being more pro-vegetarian.

[Bicycle bell. Hum of traffic.]

Ian [on street in London]:

In the 21st Century, this is trendy East London with lots of people enjoying street food and bargains, amongst the 18th Century Huguenot houses and the modern shopping. 

But it’s 1888 and this is the heart of the poverty-stricken East-End. If I told you in a few months one of Jack the Ripper’s victims will be found just metres from where I’m standing you’ll get a sense of the period. 

But I’m here for an old French Huguenot chapel that’s become by now a social centre. There’s a blue plaque on the wall saying amongst other things that in 1888 Annie Besant held the matchgirl strike meetings here, helping establish British trade-unionism.

[in studio] Annie Besant is currently known as a scandalous promoter of birth control. A court has even ruled her, because of her atheism, an unfit mother. 

She’s also a socialist agitator of oppressed workers like the matchmakers, one of the first women to be elected to a local school board, and a vegetarian activist.

[in chapel – sounding echoey] this is a substantial space with a curved balcony that looks every inch an old chapel. A plain, Protestant chapel. And this is where Annie Besant organised some of the first strikes in Britain.

[in studio] In 1889, she’ll convert to Theosophy, and that’s what she’ll become best known for.

[Traffic noise. Bicycle bell tinkling]

[on Farringdon Street, London] I’m just on Farringdon Street. I can see the glorious red of Holborn Viaduct. But if I was here in 1888 I might have passed a lanky Indian student, looking for somewhere to eat.

Mohandas [read by actor Harish Bhimani]:

I launched out in search of a vegetarian restaurant.

Ian [as narrator]:

This is Mohandas in his own later words, a law student striving to stay vegetarian because of a vow he’d made his mother before a Jain monk back home in Gujarat, India.

Mohandas:

I would trot ten or twelve miles each day, going to a cheap restaurant and eat my fill of bread. But would never be satisfied.  

Ian [on street in London]:

I’m looking at a big office building, glass and mock-marble and plastic. But this is where the central vegetarian restaurant was. 

And I brought a photo of what it looks like: a complete Victorian building, rather like the present day neighbours. Red brick with white plasterwork, pretend neo-classical columns. 

Words on the windows, saying “Vegatarian Dining Rooms” and, one floor up, “Breakfast Dinners Teas Soups Porridge”.

Mohandas:

The sight of it filled me with the same joy that a child feels on getting a thing after its own heart.

Twigg:

And these are important points of contact, where people can meet others and can find a diet that they can eat. 

Mohandas:

Before I entered I noticed books for sale exhibited under a glass window near the door. I saw among them Salt’s Plea for Vegetarianism. This I purchased for a shilling and went straight to the dining room. This was my first hearty meal since my arrival in England. 

Ian [as narrator]:

I can’t mention every leading reformer who embraces vegetarianism, but Henry Salt stands out for his wit.

Henry Salt [read by actor]:

The motive that you’ll find most strong,

The simple rule, the short and long,

For doing animals no wrong,

Is this: that you are one.

Mohandas:

From the date of reading this book I may claim to have become a vegetarian by choice. I blessed the day on which I had taken the vow before my mother. 

Ian [as narrator]:

Mohandas is bringing the Indian arguments about meat-eating with him; and Western reformers are helping him make up his mind.

Mohandas:

I had all along abstained from meat in the interests of truth, and of the vow I had taken. 

But had wished at the same time that every Indian should be a meat-eater, and had looked forward to being one myself freely and openly someday, and to enlisting others in the cause. 

The choice was now made in favour of vegetarianism, the spread of which henceforward became my mission.

Ian [to Twigg]:

So when Mohandas stumbles into the vegetarian scene, how would you describe it?

Twigg:

I’d describe it as small, urban, organised around personal contacts, but also around cafes. 

Ian [as narrator]:

Mohandas gets swiftly recruited into vegetarian activism. There are various overlapping groups. For example, Greater Manchester has the original Vegetarian Society. 

Mohandas is on the executive of the London Vegetarian Society, which is stricter – though that means it’s against dangerous stimulants, alcohol and tobacco, rather than being against eggs and milk.

He meets Annie Besant who encourages him to take an interest in his own Hindu scriptures. 

Other comrades are industrialists whose impact still echoes today, though not unlike today, arguments about other issues can take over. The same kind of issues that divided Concordites last episode. Mohandas notes:

Mohandas:

The President of the Society was Mr. Hills, proprietor of the Thames Iron Works. He was a puritan. 

West Ham football fans chanting and singing:

We’re forever blowing bubbles! [fades]

Ian:

Mr Hills is best known to posterity for this – founding and funding his Works football team, West Ham. 

[Football fans chanting fades back in, then ends]

[Bicycle bell tinkles. Sound of car driving past]

Ian [in studio]:

Dr Thomas Allinson, on the other hand, wants to reform food and family planning. And in the East End, my voice is getting worn out.

Ian [in London]:

I’m in East London outside the old Bethnal Green town hall. And they’re blocks of flats now, but back in the 1890s Thomas Allinson bought a flour mill here and converted it to make wholemeal flour.

Twigg:

And diet reform is particularly concerned with a more wholemeal diet, with more in the way of fresh foods, raw foods. It’s a reaction against the kind of heavily cooked, processed foods of the 19th Century.

Ian [as narrator]:

And on contraception. [bicycle bell tinkles]

Mohandas:

He was an advocate of the then new birth control movement, and preached its methods among the working classes. Mr. Hills regarded these methods as cutting at the root of morals. 

[bicycle bell tinkles]

Ian [in studio]:

Mohandas records how, despite his protestations, Dr Allinson was thrown out of the society, basically for not being Victorian enough.

[on street in London] I’m in the quiet of Fitzroy Square. 18th & 19th Century buildings. Embassies with flags outside.  

And there’s a beautiful rectangular dark plaque on the wall of the building saying, “George Bernard Shaw lived in this house. From the coffers of his genius, he enriched the world”.

[in studio] Vegetarianism even boasts two of the biggest writers of the age – the young socialist satirist Shaw, and the venerable Russian Tolstoy, who we’ll meet next episode.

But as well as esoteric Theosophy, vegetarianism also spreads into several Christian groups; such as the Quakers. Dr Samantha Calvert is an expert in Christian vegetarianism.

[to Calvert] We’re in the restaurant at Friend’s House, the British headquarters of the Quakers. The restaurant isn’t itself vegetarian, but they are one of the more vegetarian-friendly Christian denominations.

Dr Samantha Calvert:

Well, there’s a long tradition of concern for animals within the Quaker tradition. There are a number of texts within Christianity which are very much pro-meat consumption. As well as some which very clearly aren’t. But I think that the Quakers are very much freed of that. They’re very much guided by a personal experience and by a personal testimony, and by what they call the light within.

Ian [as narrator]:

They set up an anti-vivisection group in ’99, and a veggie group in 1909, and they’ll play a bigger role of the 20th Century.

A couple of other new Christian sects promote vegetarianism for reasons besides animals. The Seventh Day Adventists in America, who’ll feature next show. And the Salvation Army, who begin with social work in the Victorian slums.

Calvert:

It was very much held up as the ideal, partly for the health of the officers of the Salvation Army. It was also a very frugal diet, it was felt to be a much cheaper diet. 

And there was a very strong link in the 19th Century to alcoholism. So it was felt that a vegetarian diet was in some respects a cure for alcoholism.

Ian [as narrator]:

Though this tenet won’t long outlive the Salvation Army’s first generation.

Calvert:

So I think it’s almost a lost history of Salvationism, that there was this strong link to vegetarianism. It was promoted to its officers, and now somehow it’s been lost completely.

Ian:

By the turn of the 20th Century, socialism is becoming less radical, more practical, and a little less associated with vegetarianism.

But the loudest voice against eating animals is a cross-denominational Christian group – the Order of the Golden Age. The name harks back to Christian vegetarianism’s recurring theme – The Garden of Eden.

Calvert:

The Order of the Golden Age, for example, was almost like another vegetarian society at various points in history. 

They had a large fundraising concert at the Royal Albert Hall for example, that had an attendance of 6000 people. 

They had 300 poster sites on the London Underground, advertising a vegetarian diet and the work of their organisation. 

These are things that even today, any animal welfare or animal rights group would still be proud of. 

Ian [as narrator]:

I feel as if we’ve forgotten just how big the Victorian vegetarian movement is, and how it’s set the image for the later movement, from lentils to sandals.

And this is becoming a global movement. New vegetarian groups are spreading around the globe. 

[A montage of different voices and accents announcing new vegetarian societies]

“La France… Australian Vegetarian… Switzerland… The Punjab Vegetarian Society… The Bombay Humanitarian…” [etc]

Ian:

The world’s vegetarians gather in 1893, as part of the Colombia World’s Exposition.

Shprintzen:

The Colombian Exposition is a celebration of America’s movement towards, sort of, a world power on the global stage. It’s the first electrified World’s Fair, so it’s just this incredible spectacle of technology. 

Ian [as narrator]:

There’s a three day World Congress of Vegetarians, where they take their place alongside other reform movements.

Shprintzen:

It’s a moment in which vegetarianism as an ideal is recognised as a true global movement for the first time. On par with the other, sort of, large-scale reform movements that are being promoted at the World’s Fair. Some of these are strictly religious, but others include… the women’s rights movement gets a fair hearing at the world’s fair. 

Ian [as narrator]:

It brings together not just Henry S Clubb and Arnold Hills, but vegetarians from across the world.

Shprintzen:

You have Indian vegetarians, a group of Punjabi Indians speak at this event. You have people from Switzerland. Literally from all over the globe. 

But the United States and Great Britain are the two places that are most represented in terms of numbers of speakers at the event.

Ian [as narrator]:

Next episode, we’ll take a look at some of these movements, such as the vegan anarchists of France, or the German Lebensreformers. 

[Traffic noise. Birds singing]

[in studio] My tour of Victorian vegetarian London has shown me that it’s at the international crossroads of vegetarianism. On my way home I come across a familiar face.

[in London] I’m in a part in a nice London square, opposite what was once the headquarters of the theosophists. There’s a statue of Mohandas. But old, naked, apart from a piece of cloth, cross legged. And on the stone under it, it doesn’t give his first name, it just gives his surname. Gandhi. And the title India has given him, Mahatma: Great Soul.

[in studio] So next episode, we’ll meet Mohandas Gandhi again, in India.

[Traffic noise fades out]

With the music of Robb Masters, and the US Army Band. And the voices of Chetan Patak, Amy Saul, Ian Russell, Matthew Arenson, Orna Klement and, as Mohandas Karamanchand Gandhi, Harish Bhimani.

This episode is generously sponsored by Kickstarter backer Ashik Shah. Thank you Ashik.

[Theme starts: music with sound of gongs]

And please follow on facebook and twitter dot com slash veganoption, and discover more at the veganoption dot org. 

Please, if you like the show, help get the word out. Particularly with reviews on iTunes or your podcast provider; it really does help. And thank you very much for listening.

[Theme ends]

END OF EPISODE 13. This transcript was posted August 6 2019, but dated so that it appears after the show itself in listings. Featured image is a close-up of “50 Years of Food Reform”. Many thanks to Amy Carpenter.

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About Ian McD

I'm a British new media person with a passion for radio, and interested in the kind of stories best told when we see humans as part of the world of animal minds. I blogged about why I'm producing The Vegan Option.

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