What is an Archimedian Lever Anyway?

It seems only logical that I should start from the top...the very literal top, in fact. Specifically, why did I choose to title this site "The Archimedian Lever" and what does it tell us about American Vegetarian history?

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.

Nineteenth Century Vegetarians on the Attack, Looking to Place a Beet Down

Vegetarians during this time period had the luxury of literally defining what the term (first popularized with this very group in 1850) would mean. Operating in a social structure filled with opportunities to expand notions of liberty and freedoms, vegetarians took a distinctly radical approach to their dietary theory...the notion that dietary choice could lead to political empowerment. By choosing to abstain from flesh foods, vegetarians felt as if they could change a variety of social injustices. Given vegetarians' involvement in the other, successful and more well-known reform movements, it is difficult to ultimately question the accuracy of their self-analysis.

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.

A Vegetarian Song,” American Vegetarian and Health Journal 2, no. 4 (April 1852): 64.

Vegetarian History Considered...

Welcome to my blog on American Vegetarian History. On this site you will find historical recipes, images from the early vegetarian movement, as well as bits of insight into the formative years of the movement.

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.

Ad for Protose, the first mass marketed meat substitute, 1908

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.

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