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Vegetarians in Paradise

Vegetarian Essays/Vegan Essays


John Davis, Manager of the International Vegetarian, has devoted considerable time to his research on vegetarianism and veganism. The results of his research appears in his e-book World Veganism--past, present and future. A free download of the book is available at www.ivu.org/history/Vegan_History.pdf.

For an interview with John Davis, click on 24 Carrot Award.


The Vegan Food in Vegetarian Paradise

By John Davis

This website is called "Vegetarians in Paradise," and I do hope that Zel and Reuben keep it like that, and do not change it to "Vegans in Paradise"--but to explain that I have to go back about 170 years.

We now know that the first people to call themselves "vegetarian" were, in every respect, what we now call "vegan." Before they invented the "V word," the most common phrase was the "vegetable diet"--but that included fruit, nuts, grains, etc. The word "vegetable" had a wider meaning in those days (think of "animal, vegetable, or mineral"). John Davis

Some added other things to the vegetables--a few Americans referred to their "milk and vegetable diet," which was accurate enough. It was the British who started the confusion. A group in the North of England, known as the Bible Christian Church, added eggs as well as milk, but the first cookbook they produced, back in 1832, was just called Vegetable Cookery-- but a lot of the ingredients were eggs or dairy products. By 1817 they had opened a branch in Philadelphia, exporting the confusion across the Atlantic.

Possibly to get away from this, another British group, who really did just eat vegetation, started to call themselves "vegetarians", and referred to their vegetarian diet. We now know that this group was all closely connected with the Alcott House Academy, a boarding school near London.

For Alcott House it was never just about food. They objected to the use of animals for any purpose: clothing transport, entertainment, etc.--what we now think of an "animal rights" or "ethical vegan." So when they invented the word "vegetarian," they meant all that too.

Alcott House Their dietary ideas had been developed from books by Dr. William Lambe, a very highly esteemed Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians. Back in 1806 Lambe had changed his diet, stating: "My reason for objecting to every species of matter to be used as food, except the direct produce of the earth is founded on the broad ground that no other matter is suited to the organs of man. This applies then with the same force to eggs, milk, cheese, and fish, as to flesh meat. (emphasis added).

Dr. Lambe was in his early 40s when he adopted what we now call a plant-based diet, or "vegan" food. He is reported as remaining healthy until he died at 82, a good age in the 19th century, and was able to visit Alcott House himself in his later years.

Alcott House ran for 10 years, 1838-48, but for the second half of those years, they struggled to keep open. Meanwhile the Bible Christian Church was flourishing, with a wealthy industrialist and a member of parliament on board.

In early 1847 someone close to Alcott House suggested forming a Vegetarian Society, but they really were struggling by then, so they invited the Bible Christians to a preliminary meeting, in their four acres of grounds in June 1847.

Then on September 30, 1847, they formally launched the new Society, but with the obvious problem of their differences over eggs and dairy products. The compromise was to set the society's objective as "to abstain from the flesh of animals" --anything other than flesh was left to individual choice. It wasn't long before the appearance of the definition of "vegetarian" as "with or without eggs/dairy."

The confusion continued for the rest of the 19th century As late as 1886 we have one significant figure, Anna Kingsford, MD, writing that she had not eaten "flesh-meat" for 15 years, but was not vegetarian because she used milk, cheese, and eggs.

William Lambe By the early years of the 20th century, the vegetarian movement in Europe was much bigger than many imagine, almost up to the level we have today. Between 1909 and 1914 the discussions in the Vegetarian Society journal about the eggs/dairy problem increased -- with many wanting to return to the original meaning of "vegetarian." However, the First World War intervened, and the violence which was unleashed destroyed much of the movement.

With the vegetarian movement in decline the priority was simply to survive, and as there were always more ovo-lacto-vegetarians, that became the common understanding of the word. In the early 1940s, during the 2nd World War, a small group tried to persuade the Vegetarian Society to allow a sub-group, called "non-dairy vegetarians," to have their own page in the journal.

When this was refused, in November 1944, a group of 25 decided to form another society and invented the word "vegan"--the beginning and end of "vegetarian"-- to give a name to The Vegan Society. They soon clarified their definition of "vegan" as avoiding any use of animals in any way at all--for clothing, entertainment or research, not just for food.

Since then of course the word "vegan" has also become confused, with some using it to mean just food, whilst others insist it must have the full ethical values. Ultimately words mean whatever people use them to mean, and dictionaries just try to keep up, but if "vegetarian" means "with or without" eggs/dairy--as all the dictionaries now say, then there is a need for those "without" to stand up and be counted--as vegetarians.

So I look forward to many more years of Vegetarians in Paradise, with, of course, all of Zel's fabulous food being suitable for vegans.




Click here for past Words from Other Birds Articles


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