VegHist Ep 14: Diet Reform. On consumerism, lebensreform, and Gandhi; with Ramachandra Guha; at Sabarmati Ashram, India

In the nineteenth century, in America and Germany, new forms of vegetarianism emerge – from the individualistic consumer vegetarianism of America, to the back-to-nature European “life reform” movement.

Episode 14: Diet Reform

As animal agriculture industrialises and meat consumption rises, the ways that food reformers respond are familiar to people today – the plant-based meat, the celebrity athletes, and the reformers who worship nature, sunshine, and fresh air.

Ian goes to the shops to discover just how many vegetarian staples he owes to pioneers like John Harvey Kellogg. In Sabarmati, northwest India, he visits the Ashram of Mahatma Mohandas K Gandhi.

Play or download (62MB MP3 44min) (via iTunes) or read transcript



See also the Henry Salt Archive:

John Edmundson runs the Henry Salt Archive and the Ernest Bell Library, and blogs a lots about early organised vegetarianism for Happy Cow, including:

Production Diary


The peanut loaf that Kellogg sold as “Nuttolene” (and Granovita sell as “Nut luncheon”) is opened like old-fashioned tinned meat. You open both ends, loosen it with a knife, push it out, and slice it. Here’s what I was eating.


This is one episode where I wanted to find a bit more “colour”, particularly about Lebensreform.  But for once, I couldn’t get past the language barrier – I don’t speak German, and was unlucky in terms of finding someone to talk in English, particularly when I avoid recording over the Internet.

The orchard settlement Eden still exists near Berlin (link in German) and has open days. (I regret that I didn’t manage to arrange a visit.)

Nevertheless, I hope the combination of interviews, background music, and readings tells the story engagingly.

It’s hard not to be moved by the vegetarian leaders who seem to be trying to gauge how much they can get away with before they fall foul of the regime. I’m indebted to the German speakers who helped me understand some of the sources. If you want to delve and can read German, Frizten looks fascinating.

With respect to Hitler, I’ve read Rynn Berry’s “Hitler: Neither Vegetarian Nor Animal Lover”, and checked his sources, which are more robust about the 1930s. But when it comes to the 1940s, there is substantial eyewitness evidence. I think the best answer to folk who consider that Hitler’s diet, alone amongst murderous dictators, somehow relevant to animal ethics today is comedian Jamie Kilstein’s hilarious rant on the subject (YouTube).


I had to skip over just how long the French have had a word for a vegan diet.

All the English-language sources I’ve read take at face value Fred Rothwell, who credited the word to the physician Jules Lefèvre in his introduction to his 1920 translation of Lefèvre’s extensive essay (c. 1904) on the vegetarian diet. But Rothwell seems to be wrong.

Lefèvre was one of the “rationalist” vegetarians, who thought that meat was toxic, a gateway drug to worse things like alcohol and tobacco, and even likely to inflame disorderly conduct like going on strike (for these rationalist vegetarians tended to be conservatives).

The word “Végétalisme”, however, was reportedly in the 1890 edition of the venerable French dictionary Larousse. There, it was defined the way Lefèvre used it (and the way it’s used today) – purely as a question of diet.

But I haven’t been able to check Larousse 1890 directly, so I don’t know if it began as purely a dietary term (as it is now), or if it always had the political ascetic flavour associated with the anarchists.


Background advice came from Judith Baumgartner, Renate Brucker, and James Gregory, as well as some archive material from the Ernest Bell Archive.

French translations were by Elisabeth Lyman; German by Annelie S & Anami N. I recorded the health food shop scenes in The Grocery, London.

The theme music is by Robb Masters; “Nature Boy” is written by Eden Ahbe and performed CC-BY Jennifer Orna. The incidental music was John Philip Sousa’s Gladiator March performed by the US Air Force band, Scott Joplin’s Maple Leaf Rag performed CC-BY Stefano Ligoratti,  “Russian Easter Festival Overture” by Rimsky-Korsakov performed by the Musopen symphony orchestra, and Wagner’s Siegfried performed by the US Marine Band.

The actors were Brian Roberts, Ian Russell, Guillaume Blanchard, Orna Klement, and – as Mohandas K Gandhi – Harish Bhimani.

The cover picture is a public domain photograph of Mohandas K Gandhi.

This episode was originally broadcast on Resonance FM May 2nd 2017.


Crossley, Ceri. 2005. Consumable Metaphors: Attitudes towards Animals and Vegetarianism in Nineteenth-Century France. New York; Oxford: Peter Lang.
Ehrenberger, Kristen, Peter A Fritzsche, Mark S Micale, Leslie J Reagan, and Tamara Chaplin. 2014. The Politics of the Table: Nutrition and the Telescopic Body in Saxon Germany, 1890-1935.
Fritzen, Florentine. 2006. Gesünder leben: die Lebensreformbewegung im 20. Jahrhundert. Frankfurter historische Abhandlungen, Bd. 45. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner.
Heyll, U. 2007. “Der „Kampf ums Eiweißminimum”.” DMW - Deutsche Medizinische Wochenschrift 132 (51/52): 2768–73.
Redlich, Fredrick C. 2000. Hitler: Diagnosis of a Destructive Prophet. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Shprintzen, Adam D. 2015. The Vegetarian Crusade: The Rise of an American Reform Movement, 1817-1921. Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press.
Speer, Albert. 1970. Inside the Third Reich: Memoirs / Erinnerungen. Translated by Richard Winston and Clara Winston. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson.
Thoms, Ulrike. 2010. “Vegetarianism, Meat and Life Reform in Early Twentieth-Century Germany and Their Fate in the ‘Third Reich.’” In Meat, Medicine, and Human Health in the Twentieth Century, edited by David Cantor, Christian Bonah, and Matthias Dörries, 145–58. London: Pickering & Chatto.
Twigg, Julia. 2001. “The Vegetarian Movement in England, 1847-1981: With Particular Reference to Its Ideology.”

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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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