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Reflecting on "The Vegetarian Crusade"

The Vegetarian Crusade by Adam Shprintzen

The Vegetarian Crusade is a novel that discusses the initiation, persecution, growth, and success of the vegetarian movement from 1817 to 1921. The history of vegetarianism begins with its foundation in Christianity. In the first decades of the 19th century, the term proto-vegetarianism was used to describe the Bible Christians’ abstention from meat when they arrived in Philadelphia. This way of life was also established in the movement of Grahamism, established by Graham in around 1831. William Cowherd founded the proto-vegetarianism movement in order to align Bible Christian views with the lifestyle promoted in the Bible. Bible Christians believed that a meatless diet was discouraged in the Bible as it rejects killing, which applies to the killing of animals for consumption (Shprintzen, The Vegetarian Crusade, 36).* Along with this, they believed eating meat made people violent, angry, and cruel, whilst smiting God. A vegetable-based diet was known to provide ‘mental clarity, a sense of morality, and an adherence to nonviolence.’

Adding onto the views of the Bible Christians, Graham discouraged alcohol consumption, masturbation, and abhorred slavery. He believed that humans should conduct themselves with maximum self-awareness in order to connect with their natural state of being in a vegetable diet. Graham sought to promote a meatless diet not just on the basis of Christianity, but also to improve human physicality, as he claimed meat overheats and overstimulates the body and rots in the intestines. He went on to link his vegetarian diet to political and social reform, claiming that slavery and poverty only existed due to the animalistic tendencies and aggression of meat-eaters.

Grahamites built communities together in urban boardinghouses, allowing the opportunity to discuss their ideas on politics and diet without the persecution of mainstream society. Journals such as the Graham Journal and the Library of Health also attracted a greater following of proto-vegetarianism, but eventually, the latter journal managed to shift from the ideals of just Graham to a more individualized growth and scientific study of vegetarianism.

Come 1850 and the rise of vegetarianism, the American Vegetarian Society (AVS) was founded. This movement encouraged a lifestyle reform, encapsulating not only meatless dieting, but also pacifism and abolitionism. Vegetarians despised violence and encouraged peaceful coexistence, although some of them fought in the civil war in order to try and end slavery. In 1857, the AVS integrated with the Vegetarian Society of England, in which Americans shifted over to reading the British Vegetarian Messenger because it focused more on their ideals of meatless dieting than overwhelming political ideology. This led to the fall of the AVS.

In the 1850s, vegetarians were heavily criticized and mocked by most of society, known as being timid, pretentious, and dissatisfied with the world. This unintentionally spread awareness of their movement among supporters and critics and helped them become more widely recognized by society. In the 1880s, John Kellogg, after having obtained a medical degree, directed an institute known as the Battle Creek Sanitarium, where he created several recipes for meat substitutes that eventually became marketed to society. It attracted much applause and respect from mainstream press. Kellogg’s Sanitarium promoted commercialism of vegetarianism as his products were sold in stores.

Along with this commercialization was British vegetarian Henry Clubb’s creation of the Vegetarian Society of America, which gained a huge following after the creation of meat substitutions. Smaller local societies were also formed in Chicago and New York, the movement rapidly growing with vegetarian restaurants opening. Eventually, the World’s Vegetarian Congress was founded where hundreds of delegates met and further established the role of vegetarians as productive and successful, even attending the Columbian Exposition as like-minded reformers and gaining widespread popularity.

I find the argument of following vegetarianism to be persuasive due to its initial focus on the Bible, adherence to political views, and constant growth in the vegetarian movement. As a Christian, I find the argument that killing animals goes against the word of God to be persuasive, as the Bible commands us not to kill (Shprintzen, The Vegetarian Crusade, 36). In this way, killing animals for personal consumption would be ungodly, as they too are living creatures. Shprintzen also states that a meatless lifestyle was present in the garden of Eden, encouraging Christians to resemble this lifestyle as promoted in the Bible (Shprintzen, The Vegetarian Crusade, 33).

The perseverance of vegetarians throughout the criticism of mainstream society is admirable because throughout the mockery, they continually develop their way of thinking and grow followers through self-improvement. This is shown in Kellogg’s development of meat substitutions, leading to widespread applause from society. Kellogg argues that his substitutions have more protein and a similar texture to meat, while avoiding the toxic effects real meat bares on the human body (Shprintzen, The Vegetarian Crusade, 220). The vegetarians’ constant attempts to advance their lifestyle and provide themselves with more dietary variety persuades me of their will for success and strong intellect.

Lastly, the vegetarian movement argues that the morals of a man who eats meat lie at the basis of abolitionism. Shprintzen writes, “William Alcott argued that ‘abstinence from flesh [lay] at the basis of’ abolitionism. ‘There is no slavery in this world,’ he continued, ‘like the slavery of a man to his appetite…” (Shprintzen, The Vegetarian Crusade, 115). This argument is persuasive to me because according to vegetarians, eating meat disposes you to violence, aggression, and cruelty—all characteristics found in a slaveowner. Their adherence to these political views and comparison of slavery to eating meat showcases the intellect and compassion of the vegetarian. They do not view vegetarianism as strictly a diet—but a lifestyle containing strong morale in terms of social and political reform.

Overall, The Vegetarian Crusade illustrates the struggles, perseverance, and prosperity of the vegetarian movement, demonstrated in the growth and eventual success of its global spread. Seen as more than just a lifestyle, vegetarians persuade society of the healthy mentality and physicality that comes along with abstaining from meat consumption.

* Shprintzen, The Vegetarian Crusade, (North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press,

2013), Retrieved from

Written for Foodways in American History Class. 2020.

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