This post is by Tammy Kiter, Manuscript Reference Librarian.
The pursuit of a vegetarian lifestyle is certainly not a new concept. On the contrary, ancient civilizations in India, Asia, Southern Europe and Egypt explored meat-free diets long before the veggie burger was invented. Throughout the Age of Enlightenment and spanning into the early 19th century, England also saw an increase of people who chose to abstain from eating meat.
In the United States, there was a resurgence of interest in vegetarianism during the mid 19th through early 20th centuries. Advocates ranged from humanitarians to physicians, religious groups to anti-vivisection supporters. The American Vegetarian Society was founded in New York, in 1850, and the International Vegetarian Union was subsequently founded in 1908. Even homemakers shared tips for meatless dishes, such as this recipe for Oatmeal Bread, dated 1871.
Of course, one of the most well-known proponents of a vegetarian diet was John Harvey Kellogg. A medical doctor and member of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, Kellogg promoted proper nutrition, holistic healing, and “common sense” religion. Along with inventing numerous medical contraptions and operating the controversial Battle Creek Sanitarium, Kellogg and his brother, Will Keith Kellogg, also created the popular breakfast cereal, Corn Flakes. Like many vegetarian supporters at the time, Kellogg believed that diets high in whole grains and fiber were much more beneficial for digestion than the consumption of meat. Here, we see two early advertisements for similar products being produced by other companies that shared the same goal. It is important to note that proponents of vegetarianism were not just advocating the lifestyle for adults, but also very much in favor of raising children with a meat-free diet.
During this period, vegetarianism was often connected with other social reform movements, including the struggle for women’s rights. In the spring of 1912, Minta Asha Philips Beach embarked on a personal journey from New York City to Chicago. Her objective was to prove conclusively that hard labor could be performed on a strict meat-free diet and that women had the strength and stamina to complete such a strenuous feat — on foot, no less! Declining all advertising promotions or product endorsements, she remained steadfast that the goal was to challenge her endurance and more importantly, to promote healthy, humane living. Beach completed the 1, 071 mile walk in just 42 and 1/2 days, at an average of 25 to 30 miles per day, and her accomplishments were covered by the New York Globe and Chicago Daily News. She documented this journey in her book, My Walk from New York to Chicago.
As with any social movement or personal crusade, vegetarians were (and still are) often met with criticism, resistance or confusion. This parody from 1861 mocks a young lady who seems to be more fond of her greens than her suitor.