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.