The Vegetarians in the White City

The World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 was originally intended to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the Americas. The massive event ended up becoming a celebration of the United States’ arrival as a world power, national pride, material and technological advancement. At the center of this celebration was the city of Chicago, a shipping, manufacturing and economic center of activities in the United States. Strong enough to overcome a massive fire and reconstruction, the city was promoted by its boosters to exhibit the best qualities of American steadfastness and exceptionalism. As early as the summer of 1890, vegetarians in the United States began planning to contribute to the coming Columbian Exposition. Vegetarians recognized that meat abstainers and other interested parties would visit the fair with a curious sense of exploration.

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.


Vegetarian Turkey from the Early 20th Century

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Whether you're enjoying your Tofurkey or want a historic recipe for mock turkey, check out this recipe for mock turkey from one of the most popular voices of cookery in the early twentieth century.

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."

Meat substitutes changed the nature of vegetarian dietetics. These new, more appealing foods appealed to a wider audience, in the process accepting that meat did, in fact, have some positive aspects to be emulated. Meat substitutes attempted to provide these benefits while also ensuring a violence free diet. Long before there was Morningstar Farms and Boca Burgers, vegetarians sought out faux-meats. Mrs. Rorer, reflecting the rising popularity of the movement in the early years of the new, modern century, emphasized the possibilities apparent in mock meats--even advising curious vegetarians to mold her concoction into the shape of a turkey. Vegetarianism was increasingly becoming embraced by normative society, emphasized as a means to succeed. But the movement was only understandable through a lens of a carnivorous society, one that even expected its vegetarians to manipulate its grains, nuts and breadcrumbs into turkey legs.

Sarah Tyson Rorer, Mrs. Rorer’s Vegetable Cookery and Meat Substitutes (Philadelphia: Arnold & Company, 1909), 18, 42-6, 66, 136.
Google Analytics Alternative