vegetarianism in western society – 19th century beginnings

Notwithstanding the long history of a vegetable only diet in ancient civilisations, here are two items that provide some insight into the introduction of the concept of vegetarianism into western society.

From the Vegetarian Society’s website comes the story of the Reverend William Cowherd.

The first long-term modern organisation to abandon meat eating was the Bible Christian Church, led by the Reverend William Cowherd in Salford, near Manchester.

Rev William CowherdBack in 1809, Cowherd famously advanced the principle of abstinence from the consumption of flesh to his congregation. His reforming spirit, which encouraged temperance and self-improvement through education, won favour with local people through the practical support he gave them in the form of warm food, medical help, and unusually for the time, free burial. The Rev Cowherd’s emphasis on vegetarianism was that it was good for health and that meat eating was unnatural and likely to engender aggression. Later he is reputed to have said “If God had meant us to eat meat then it would have come to us in edible form, as is the ripened fruit”.

This article from The Vegetarian Advocate appeared in the South Australian Register of 3 February 1851.

VegetarianismThe article continues.

4. Because the blood is the life of man, therefore the purer the blood the healthier the man.

5. Because every constituent of the body of man and animals is derived from plants, and not a single element is generated by the vital principle — man and animals therefore only appropriating the already formed organized productions of vegetable matter.

6. Because it follows from the former fact, that those who partake of the flesh of animals can obtain no additional element in such food ; capable of forming purer blood, on the contrary, they risk the introduction into their system of the elements of various diseases with which the animals might have been infected.

7. Because a vegetarian diet will sustain a man in perfect health at a much less cost than a mixed diet.

8. Because feeding animals for the purpose of killing them and eating their flesh, is a circuitous and extensive way of obtaining food.

9. Because partaking of the flesh of animals as food, gives an undue stimulus to the propensities, which frequently goad persons on to the commission of offences against the moral law.

10. Because the long experience of numerous persons, in most parts of the world, on vegetarian diet, has enabled some of them to endure more than ordinary physical and mental labour, in most uninterrupted good health.

11. Because it is an admitted fact that great physical energy, highly intellectual attainments, and moral purity, are incompatible with gross and diseased organism.

12. Because the chemical analysis of Liebig, Playfair and other modern chemists prove that peas, beans, lentiles, wheat, contain more per cent of the element of nutriment than any kind of flesh.

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