Carrica Le Favre—a well-known health lecturer, dress reformer and child-rearing expert—was at the center of activities in Chicago. Described by Everyday Housekeeping magazine as “one of the prominent vegetarians in the country,” Le Favre was most renowned as a child expert thanks to the publication of her guidebook Mother’s Help and Child’s Best Friend, aimed at inculcating mothers with the skills to produce moral and industrious children.
Le Favre believed that a turn to vegetarianism was necessary for the moral and physical well being of mother and child alike. Children should be fed a strict diet of only milk and vegetables in order to create strong constitutions in order to meet the moral and physical challenges of modern life. Le Favre utilized the language of modernity and advancement, labeling the human body an “internal machine” and “instrument” upon whose systematic working depends the successful development of our entire body.” Stimulants like meat acted as “brakes,” leading the body to break down.
Le Favre was one of over a hundred presenters at the Exposition, including J.H. Kellogg and suffragist Dr. Juliet Severance (I have a chapter in an upcoming interdisciplinary volume on fairs that goes into greater detail of the conference). Speeches at the fair emphasized vegetarianism as a means for personal success and advancement. Le Favre explained that “our bodies are literally built up of the food we eat, and the kind and quality of the food determines the possible use of the body.” Flesh foods were “shoddy material” that produced bodies of which many “may well be ashamed and conceal beneath a conventional cloak of broadcloth.” Repeating a common theme from the congress, vegetarianism was labeled as being “civilized,” practiced by “refined” men and women. In stark, harsh terms, Le Favre condemned physical imperfections, proclaiming that, “there is nothing so discouraging to look upon as an ugly, sickly body.” Physical imperfections implied personal frailty, qualities least apt to help one prosper in life.
The Columbian Exposition was associated with modernity, progress, culture, civilization and advancement. The fair emphasized technological growth, with an illuminated “White City” that displayed the power and ascendance of electric lighting. By extension, the exhibitors and congresses represented at the exposition were given the tacit endorsement as exuding the same qualities of importance and innovation. Vegetarianism, with its new focus on personal success, health, strength and modernity was being embraced by mass audiences, both those who practiced the lifestyle and those who did not.
The exposition helped further foment American vegetarians’ confidence in their growing cause, witnessing a globalization of vegetarianism. Delegates from diverse locations connected in Chicago, all under the banner of progress. Vegetarians from the United States mingled with cohorts from Switzerland, Germany and India, illustrating that the movement knew few geographical and political boundaries. Vegetarians from a variety of ethnic, religious and national backgrounds all gathered in one central location and expounded on the diversity of good created by vegetarianism. Vegetarians utilized a mixture of the language of American triumphalism and economic development to place the movement amongst the great social changes of the modern world. The Columbian Exposition marked the ascendance of the United States onto the world scene; vegetarians for the first time were visibly included in the celebration.
For context...Meat substitutes became a standard part of vegetarian diets, beginning in the 1880s. Popularized first by J.H. Kellogg (I will highlight Kellogg and his invention of protose, the "vegetable meat" in a subsequent post), meat substitutes expanded the definition of vegetarianism. Whereas the older generation of vegetarians from the 1850s until the 1880s assailed all qualities of meat, a new generation of vegetarians accepted that meat had beneficial properties, particularly as a source of protein (its "blood building" properties as dietary practitioners were apt to note in the late nineteenth century).
A plethora of cookbooks proliferated at the end of the nineteenth century and early twentieth century, exhorting the benefits of these meat substitutes. One such cookbook was Mrs. Rorer's Vegetable Cookery, first published in 1909.
Sarah Tyson Rorer—known as Mrs. Rorer to her throngs of readers—authored over seventy-five cookbooks and cooking manuals during her prolific working years. Mrs. Rorer ran a cooking school in Philadelphia for eighteen years and was the editor of Table Talk magazine, while writing for other domestic, household publications. She was one of the most respected and listened to voices of cookery at the turn of the twentieth century. Rorer’s writings promoted healthy lifestyles, yet she was no vegetarian. However, the continually growing vegetarian movement gained Mrs. Rorer’s attention.
In Mrs. Rorer’s Vegetable Cookery and Meat Substitutes, the domestic guide promised to illustrate “how to cook three meals a day without meat” using “vegetables with meat value. Vegetables to take the place of meat.” Mrs. Rorer explained that a practical vegetarian cookbook was “universally needed” given the “over-eating of meat” that “has left us as a reminder much sickness and sorrow.” Other vegetarian cookbooks provided “unhygienic, indigestible, tasteless and unattractive dishes.” Mrs. Rorer’s cookbook aimed to “present clearly, concisely and simply in a logical fashion, the best meat substitutes and their artistic and hygienic accompaniments.”
The cookbook included an entire chapter on items to be used “in the place of meat.” Sausages could be made with farina, pecans and breadcrumbs. Lentils combined with breadcrumbs and peanuts comprised a mock veal roast. Hominy grits mixed together with nuts, eggs, onion and parsley could be baked into a mock fish filet. As this blog and site expand, I will attempt to create some of these historic recipes and will report back on the results. In the meantime if anyone else is inspired to try the recipe, I would be quite curious to hear the results. Here is one of Mrs. Rorer's recipes, for "Mock Turkey."
Sarah Tyson Rorer, Mrs. Rorer’s Vegetable Cookery and Meat Substitutes (Philadelphia: Arnold & Company, 1909), 18, 42-6, 66, 136.
You can watch the video here.
President Wilson’s resolution explaining the meatless program was bathed in the language of patriotism, duty and honor. Meatless and wheatless days were necessary because of reduced productivity and agricultural harvest in Europe, as well as the interruption of long distance trade routes. Wilson described dietary restriction as being “one of the most pressing obligations of the war,” and necessary because it served “the national interest." The President called on “every loyal American” to follow the guidelines of the Food Administration, and emphasized the role of women in ensuring that households follow the new rules.
The cookbook Wheatless and Meatless Days made the connection between vegetarian victuals and American nationalism explicit through nomenclature, giving meat substitutes patriotic sounding titles. The authors—home economics teachers from a San Diego high school—explained that conservation of food was part of the “battle array” in empowering housewives to help win the war. The “practical self-denial” of meatless days helped ensure success both at home and on the battlefield, “strengthening the arms and hearts” of all Americans. Most importantly, substituting for meat was a sacrifice possible to all who “follows the flag” with sincerity in their hearts.
A section of the book explicitly labeled foods as “meat substitutes,” in the same way as previous years’ vegetarian cooking guides. Recipes for common meat substitutes were provided, including a peanut loaf, as well as a bean and nut loaf. Unusual meat substitutes, including a mock crabmeat made of stale bread, mustard, flour and eggs expanded home cooks’ meatless repertoires. However, many of the recipes went further in their appropriation of vegetarian foods for the war effort. Recipes were given explicitly patriotic names, implying that the act of cooking and consuming were rife with political meaning. Combining walnuts, rice, breadcrumbs, cheese and Worcestershire sauce one could bake a “Liberty Loaf,” a meatless meal associated with democratic freedom. The McAdoo sauce mentioned was made of water, spices and pimientos.
Baked beans cooked with breadcrumbs, eggs, ketchup, onion and a mustard sauce produced a “Navy Loaf” with a “Gunner Sauce” that could make any midshipmen proud. Utilizing such names made the point explicit; food had political, social and cultural meaning, a point that American vegetarians had been expressing for nearly one hundred years. However, it was a far departure for vegetarians who in generations earlier proposed their diet specifically as a means to avoid war. A new vegetarianism (or at least components of its cuisine), attached with an ethos of self-improvement was seen as a patriotic act of self-sacrifice. Quite the interesting social shift.
This remarkable cartoon (which was reprinted in Democratic newspapers throughout the country), offers insight into popular fears of the newly formed reform-minded Republican Party. The new party was an amalgam of social and political interest, the first true national coalition. While the Republicans failed in their first attempts on a national level (Fremont, running under the campaign of free soil and free labor, barely lost the electoral college), the group's combining of interests--ranging from Eastern business speculators to social reformers--caused quite the political stir almost immediately. At the same time the drawing also provides an accurate summary of the state of American vegetarianism in the mid-1850s.
The caricature discusses the first Republican Presidential candidate John C. Fremont (led by his famous slogan of "Free soil, free men, Fremont and victory!"), and features a series of reformers a attempting to have their particular reform principle noted and acted upon by the new party. Included within this group are representatives from well-known reform movements, including a women’s suffragist, a socialist, abolitionist, free lover and a Catholic (Fremont was accused by some Democrats as being a closet Catholic). Fremont responds by promising each of the representatives what they desire if elected. To the far left stands a frail and weakened vegetarian--a constant source of popular mockery in the antebellum age--asking for a law banning the consumption of flesh, tobacco and alcohol. It is important to note that vegetarians did not seek any actual legislation regarding meat production in the United States; in this sense the lithograph is misleading. However, the inclusion of this request reflects the irrational fear of vegetarians felt by many American meat eaters, as well as the radical political ideology of the era's dietary reformers.
The vegetarian’s inclusion in this image does, however, speak to the movement’s recognized role at the time in formulating a reform critique in the antebellum era, placed along side the more well known movements of the era. Why have vegetarians become lost in the time period's history? Particularly as reform movements ranging from abolitionism through even spiritualism have garnered significant study? Perhaps this can be explained by a certain tendency to frame history within starkly positivist ideas. In other words, movements such as abolitionism and women's rights are worthy of study because they ultimately were successful in achieving a practical, tangible goal.
Vegetarians, on the other hand, sought no singular goal of legislative success or social equity. Rather, the group hoped to gain converts while simultaneously criticizing social evils such as slavery and gender oppression, through a dietary lens. Given the active role of vegetarians in these other organizations, the group still fits within a positivist historical model--helping accomplish these other movements' goals. On the flip side, vegetarians also helped expand dietary and medical consciousness throughout the nineteenth century; by expanding our notion of historical "success" it is possible to understand just how much the group accomplished. A source of mockery in the public eye throughout history, vegetarians were successful in having their identity and ideology recognized by society at large in the antebellum age, threatening enough to be mocked and discounted. A similar recognition of the group's historical role by scholars is needed as well.
The phrase is one of my favorite descriptors utilized by the founders of the American Vegetarian Society (AVS), the country's first national vegetarian organization. The society was established at a meeting in May of 1850 in New York City's Clinton Hall (at Astor Place and 8th Street). Members of the AVS celebrated a vegetarian diet as the reform movement, from which all other reforms (abolitionism, women's suffrage, economic equity and general temperance) could derive success. Only through a vegetable diet could individuals make morally clear decisions. For example...vegetarians believed that only in a violent society supported by a violence-based diet could a system such as slavery exist. A turn towards vegetarianism, it was argued, would morally and physically cleanse a corrupted society that relied upon a morally compromised system of labor (vegetarians assailed both Northerners and Southerners alike for benefiting from the system). Vegetarianism was a route for total social reinvention, what the group labeled an "Archimedian Lever, by which to move the world."1 A source for total, complete and necessary social reform and change.
What do you think, dear reader(s?)...are there any lessons for the modern vegetarian movement to be learned from this dynamic?
I leave you with this for consideration, and perhaps insight into the style of these vegetarians. This is "A Vegetarian Song" popularized in vegetarian publications at the time:
How many both feast and grow fat to excess
On the flesh and the blood of brutes:
Nay! Stain not your lips with such food, but come feed.
Alone as man ought, upon fruits
We’ve tasted your flesh-meats of yore, it is true,
But ne’er mean to taste them again.
Because now resolved, and determined for us
No creature shall ever be slain.2
1. “Anniversary of the American Vegetarian Society,” T.L. Nichols’ Water-Cure Journal 20, no. 1 (Jul 1855): 1.
2. A Vegetarian Song,” American Vegetarian and Health Journal 2, no. 4 (April 1852): 64.
Why take up such a venture? Currently I am writing my dissertation on the formation of vegetarian identity in the United States in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. I have spoken on the subject at a variety of academic meetings, as well as gatherings of vegetarian organizations. In addition I have authored three articles on the subject for the forthcoming Cultural Encyclopedia of Vegetarianism, available in September from Greenwood Press.
On this site I will post vegetarian recipes, ephemera and other history-related items in an attempt to broaden general awareness of the movement's long history in the United States, a topic that many (vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike) are not aware even exists. Vegetarianism is attractive precisely because it is a movement of personal choices, which perhaps helps explain why little is conventionally known of the movement's history. Yet the history of vegetarianism is complex, constantly evolving, and offers much insight into society and its cultural/political/social developments. My research (and in its own way, this blog) will try to fill in these gaps.
Any questions, comments or requests are always welcome. It is my ultimate goal for this site to facilitate interactive exchange between interested parties, no matter what your dietary choices.