The Th Century

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A. Henry Salt

Great Britain and the United States remained the centers of vegetarian philosophy and practice into the 20th century. In the former, the cause of vegetable diet was promoted with particular eloquence by Henry Salt (Mohandas Gandhi, among others, pointed to Salt as the inspiration for his own vegetarianism). Author of numerous books calling for elimination of social injustices, Salt was nevertheless best known — most notorious — for his advocacy of Animals' Rights, the title of an 1892 volume that subjected every form of exploitation of the brute creation to criticism. There, and in his later The Logic of Vegetarianism (1899), Salt employed a thoroughly unsentimental approach to argue that philosophy and science alike required abstention from meat. Philosophy, his logic of vegetable diet, could not support the common assumptions that human beings have no moral relationship or obligation to other creatures, and that the killing of animals for food is a law of nature. That second belief had become a particularly common justification for meat eating in the years following Darwin's dramatization of nature's rule of survival of the fi ttest. The response of Salt, and other late-century vegetarians, was that cooperation among animals was as common a strategy for survival as competition, and that human cooperation with other species was positively enjoined by Darwin's demonstration that people were the descendants of animal ancestors: How could one defend the slaughter of creatures with whom humans shared a "bond of consanguinity?" (Just such a bond had, in fact, been suggested by Darwin himself in The Descent of Man, where he presented a sizeable body of evidence to show that "there is no fundamental difference between man and the higher mammals in their mental faculties The difference in mind between man and the higher animals, great as it is, certainly is one of degree and not of kind.")35-37

B. John Harvey Kellogg

Evolutionary kinship with livestock was a prominent element, as well, in the case constructed by America's most influential spokesman for vegetarianism in the early 20th century. John Harvey Kellogg placed greater emphasis on medical than on biological theory, and propounded what was clearly the period's most persuasive argument against the consumption of meat. Kellogg was bred a Grahamite, if not born one, by virtue of his family's membership in the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, an institution that gave allegiance to Graham's hygienic system on the basis of the divine, health-related visions experienced by spiritual leader Ellen White.38 He also received training in hydropathy, an alternative system of medical practice that treated all conditions with applications of water, and exhorted all patients to abide by Graham's rules of health (Kellogg's mentor, and the leading figure in American hydropathy, Russell Trall, was a founding member and officer of the American Vegetarian Society, and the author of a work titled The Scientific Basis of Vegetarianism, 1860). Kellogg completed an orthodox program of medical training too, then, in 1875, returned to his native Battle Creek, Michigan to take over the directorship of a struggling hospital and health education facility operated by the Adventist Church. Not only did he quickly turn the Battle Creek Sanitarium into a thriving business, he transformed it into the most famous health institution in the country from the 1880s until World War II. As part of the Sanitarium's dietary program, Kellogg, assisted by his brother Will, invented a variety of meat substitutes and other vegetarian health foods, including the breakfast cereals that have immortalized the family name.39,40

Kellogg also lectured tirelessly, from coast to coast, and wrote voluminously. In addition to editing the popular periodical Good Health, he authored several dozen books, analyzing every aspect of personal health behavior from The Evils of Fashionable Dress, to Plain Facts About Sexual Life, to Colon Hygiene. The last subject, the health of the large bowel, represented Kellogg's most significant contribution to the updating of the nutritional argument for vegetarianism. Here, he worked through the dietary implications of one of the grand pathology fads of the turn of this century — intestinal autointoxication. In the 1880s, laboratory scientists had isolated several substances produced in the intestinal tract through the bacterial putrefaction of undigested protein. The compounds were determined to be toxic when directly injected into the bloodstream in animals, and it was quickly supposed that they might be absorbed from the colon into the human bloodstream and then circulated to play havoc throughout the body. Since these agents of self-poisoning were the result of bacterial activity, the theory of autointoxication could be seen as an extension of medical bacteriology. Thus, hanging onto the coattails of the germ theory, autointoxication swept into professional and popular awareness at the end of the 19th century.41,42

For Kellogg, the autointoxication theory provided enough ammunition to back several book-length attacks on meat eating. In such works as Autointoxication or Intestinal Toxemia (1918), The Itinerary of a Breakfast (1919), and The Crippled Colon (1931), he expounded time and again how the ordinary diet contained so much protein from its flesh components as to foster the growth and activity of proteolytic bacteria in the colon. As the microbes acted on undigested flesh food, the body would be "flooded with the most horrible and loathsome poisons," and brought to suffer headache, depression, skin problems, chronic fatigue, damage to the liver, kidneys, and blood vessels, and other injuries totaling up to "enormous mischief." Anyone who read to the end of Kellogg's baleful list must have been ready to agree that "the marvel is not that human life is so short and so full of miseries, mental, moral, and physical, but that civilized human beings are able to live at all."43

"Civilized" referred to the fiber content of the ordinary diet, too. Modern people, Kellogg chided, ate too concentrated a diet, with too little bulk to stimulate the bowels to action. A vegetarian diet, he added for the unaware, was high in roughage. Its other advantage was that it was low in protein. The high protein diet common to flesh eaters was ideal fodder for the putrefactive microorganisms of the colon, while its low fiber content slowed its rate of passage to a crawl that gave the microbes time to convert all unabsorbed protein to toxins. In the meat-eater's sluggish bowels, Kellogg believed, could be found "the secret of nine-tenths of all the chronic ills from which civilized human beings suffer," including

"national inefficiency and physical unpreparedness," as well as "not a small part of our moral and social maladies."44

Morality could be merged with medicine in other ways. In Shall We Slay to Eat, Kellogg applied a bacteriological gloss to the age-old objection to the cruelty of slaughter. Reminding readers of the gentleness of unoffending cows and pigs (animals with whom humans were bound by evolution), Kellogg then forced them, Oswald-like, to gaze upon the "tide of gore," the "quivering flesh," the "writhing entrails" of the butchered animals, and to listen to their squealing and bleating as they died. What he counted upon ultimately to move his readers, though, was the abominable filth through which the tide of gore flowed. The Augean nastiness of the typical abbatoir (here nauseatingly detailed a year before Upton Sinclair's much more famous The Jungle) guaranteed that meat would be infested with every germ known: "Each juicy morsel," Kellogg revealed, "is fairly alive and swarming with the identical micro-organisms found in a dead rat in a closet or the putrefying carcass of a cow."45,46

The physical superiority of a meatless diet was demonstrated by the extraordinary success of vegetarian athletes. Indeed, as early 20th-century society became captivated by competitive sports, vegetarians turned to athletic conquest for practical proof of the nutritional advantages of their regimen. As a result, a remarkable record of vegetarian victories in all sports was compiled in the 1890s and early 1900s, from the cycling records established by England's perfectly named James Parsley, to the championships won by the tug-of-war team of the unfortunately named West Ham Vegetarian Society. Carnivore competitors refused to acknowledge vegetarians' athleticism, however, attributing their triumphs not to diet, but to the dedication and competitiveness bred by fanaticism.47

C. "The Newer Nutrition"

If full-fledged vegetarianism was still being taken lightly, the early 20th century did foster a new respect for the nutritional value of vegetables. Though few accepted vegetable foods as wholly sufficient for a healthful diet, all did come to see more vegetables as necessary to health. The critical development was the growth of understanding of vitamins over the first two decades of the century, accompanied by the realization that vitamin-rich fruits and vegetables were largely ignored at most tables. The most prominent representative of the so-called "newer nutrition," vitamin discoverer Elmer McCollum, estimated that, in 1923, "at least 90 per cent" of the food eaten by most American families was restricted to the old standards of white bread and butter, meat, potatoes, sugar, and coffee. His call for nationwide "dietary reform" aimed at educating and converting the public to replace much of the traditional diet with what he called the

"protective foods." The resultant dietary education campaign truly made the 1920s the decade of newer nutrition, as of bathtub gin and jazz. Food educators bombarded the public through lecture, newspaper, magazine, textbook, and comic strip, and were gratified to see national consumption of fruits and vegetables increase markedly. (To note one of the more extraordinary examples, between 1925 and 1927 the spinach intake of schoolchildren in Fargo, North Dakota increased tenfold.)48

Public consciousness of the nutritional virtues of plant foods was not confined to vitamin awareness. Another dominant health theme of the 1920s was the lack of bulk in modern society's diet of refined and processed foods. Bulk foods were needed, of course, to prevent constipation, and ultimately autointoxication, still an unsettling threat in the public mind. Kellogg, Post, and other manufacturers of bran-containing breakfast cereals, fostered popular anxiety over torpid intestines with grossly exaggerated advertising warnings, giving the '20s as pronounced a fiber consciousness as any more recent decade. But there was also a disinterested promotion of a higher fiber diet, carried out by altruistic health reformers, some of them physicians and scientists. At the head of this group was Britain's arch enemy to autointoxication, the renowned surgeon Sir William Arbuthnot Lane. Convinced that the upright posture and soft life-style of civilized people weakened the colon and produced "chronic intestinal stasis," Lane surgically removed the colons of hundreds of patients during the 1910s in order to save them from autointoxication. The risks of surgery, as well as criticism from his professional colleagues, forced Lane to stop doing colectomies in the 1920s. But he remained convinced that constipation was the fundamental disease of civilization, and was responsible for a host of illnesses, including colon cancer and other neoplasms. Consequently, in 1926, he organized the New Health Society in London, and dedicated the last 17 years of his life to lecturing and writing on the dangers of intestinal stasis. Through Lane, the New Health Society and the magazine New Health, British and American consumers were repeatedly harangued about the importance of fruits and vegetables for maintaining bowel regularity and preventing more-serious diseases.49

A regular part of Lane's presentations was anecdotal reports of the relative freedom from autointoxication diseases enjoyed by the vegetarian populations of less developed nations. It was not until the late 1940s, though, after Lane had died and autointoxication had disappeared from orthodox medical theory, that epidemiological studies of so-called Third World cultures began to verify Lane's anecdotes by demonstrating statistical correlations between a high intake of dietary fiber and low incidences of hemorrhoids, gallstones, colon cancer, and various other "Western diseases."50 Although some of the specific conclusions associated with the dietary fiber hypothesis have sparked debate, not to mention controversy, among nutritionists and other health scientists, fiber has been formally recognized as a necessary component of the diet, and the general public has clearly been impressed with the health benefits of a diet high in unrefined vegetable foods.

Highly publicized studies linking cholesterol and saturated fats with cardiovascular disease have similarly conditioned society to associate vegetarianism with health, and have motivated physicians and nutritionists to study heart disease and longevity in vegetarian groups such as Seventh-Day Adventists and Trappist monks. Those studies, conducted from the 1950s onward and too numerous to cite specifically, have largely confirmed what early 19th-century vegetarians initially proposed, that a vegetable diet not only is adequate to sustain health, but may actually improve it.51,52

D. The Revival of Animal Rights

Running parallel to the 20th-century growth of medical support for vegetarianism has been the expansion of the diet's moral rationale. Until recently, this argument has been directed, almost exclusively, at the pain inflicted on animals at the time of slaughter, and the injustice of depriving them of life. Some attention has been directed also to the discomforts endured by livestock being driven or transported to market; this issue was introduced into discussion in the mid-19th century, as animals began to be shipped in crowded boxcars and ship holds. But while both types of objections continue, criticism has broadened since the middle of this century to take in the treatment of animals throughout their lives. The transformation of farming into agribusiness included the adoption of economies of scale in stock raising, fostering a system of more-intensive rearing methods — "factory farming" — that confines animals in unnatural environments from birth. Ruth Harrison's 1964 Animal Machines first called public attention to the raising of chickens in overcrowded coops and the packing of pigs into "Bacon Bin" fattening houses. Photographs of veal calves penned in narrow wooden cages all the days of their short lives soon became a regular feature in vegetarian appeals (outdone in emotional impact only by the pictures of bludgeoned baby seals used in anti-fur advertisements). The maintenance of hens under similar conditions has encouraged lacto-ovo-vegetarians to give up eggs; some have abandoned milk products, as well, in protest of the dairy industry's practice of separating calves from their mothers soon after birth (and the subsequent transformation of those calves into veal). The ranks of vegans thus have grown considerably in the later 20th century (vegans are sometimes referred to as pure vegetarians, but there is some question about the applicability of the term, since the word "vegetarian" was coined to refer to a diet that includes eggs and milk). Even meat-eaters have been affected by the critique of factory farming, a sizeable number now selecting "freerange" animal products whenever they are available.53

Bentham's suggestion that slaughtering an animal for food rescues it from a more painful and protracted death in the wild has lost its cogency in the age of the factory farm; now an animal's entire existence might be seen as one long death. The morality of sentencing any creature to so wretched an existence has been raised to a higher level of discussion, moreover, by the animal rights movement of the last quarter century. Peter Singer's 1975 work, Animal Liberation, is the primary catalyst of the movement. The book is a work in which the heavily sentimental tone of traditional vegetarian moralism is set aside in favor of a rigidly philosophical analysis that recognizes animals as sentient beings, capable of experiencing pain and pleasure, and concludes that they should therefore be granted the same respect as humans in areas where their interests are affected. Many violations of those interests are attacked by Singer (and they are much the same as the ones assailed by Salt nearly a century before): the use of animals in experimental research, for example, and the raising of animals for fur. But because of the sheer numbers involved, the worst example of "speciesism," of moral discrimination purely on the basis of biological species, is the raising and killing of animals for food: "the most extensive exploitation of other species that has ever existed."54,55 The most significant element in such exploitation, however, is regarded not as the unnatural conditions of life imposed on livestock, or even their physical suffering. Fundamental to the animals'-rights analysis is the affirmation of a right to life for every creature. Thus, even if the animal is allowed a free-range existence and slaughtered painlessly, the simple act of killing it for food constitutes an unjustifiable moral offense.

The arguments of Singer, Tom Regan, and other advocates of equal moral consideration for animals have elicited a serious response from the philosophy community. Over the past two decades, professional journals and conferences have given an extraordinary amount of attention to the issue of animal rights and its practical applications, including vegetarianism. To be sure, much of the reaction among philosophers has been critical, the Singer analysis being faulted on grounds of logic, and even attacked as a trivialization of civil rights, women's rights, and other movements promoting more moral treatment of fellow human beings.56 Yet, a good bit of the discussion has been supportive, endorsing both the abstract proposition of an animal's right to life, and older sentiments, such as an intuitive appreciation that eating animals with whom people sense a bond of kinship is wrong.57 Speciesism has acquired an odious taint as well, from the human exploitation of wild animals that has pushed many species to the brink of extinction, and by research on communication in other mammals that has strengthened our feeling of relation to the animal kingdom.

E. Environmentalism And Vegetarianism

Not only have the moral and medical defenses of a vegetable diet individually grown stronger over the 20th century, they have been buttressed in recent decades by environmental arguments. This is not an entirely new approach — 18th- and 19th-century vegetarians occasionally pointed out that less land would be needed for agriculture if people were fed on grain rather than meat. But with this century's rampant growth of population, the ceaseless conversion of arable land into housing tracts and strip malls, and the dramatic expansion of industry and spread of industrial pollution, degradation of the environment has become an object of grave scientific and public concern. As attention has been focused ever more sharply on the multitudinous threats to the fragile environment of our shrinking globe, the flesh diet has been recognized as a significant contributor to environmental decline. The ecology of meat eating was first explored thoroughly by Frances Moore Lappe, whose 1971 best-seller Diet For a Small Planet examined livestock farming's toll on the land, water, and air. Since Lappe, it has become commonplace for vegetarian literature to detail the soil erosion associated with the cultivation of livestock food crops; the excessive demands on water supplies to irrigate those crops; the pollution of waterways by field and feedlot runoff; the vast amounts of fossil fuel energy expended in raising meat animals; even the contribution to global warming made by the methane released into the atmosphere through cattle flatulence. Lately, the destruction of the tropical rain forest to provide more grazing land for beef cattle has been singled out as the flesh diet's greatest threat to the viability of "spaceship earth." And, in the end, ecology has returned to ethics. In the 20th-anniversary edition of Diet for a Small Planet (1991), Lappe concentrated her criticisms on the immorality of growing grain for the fattening of cattle while millions of people worldwide starve.58

F. Asian Influences on Vegetarianism

A final characteristic of contemporary vegetarianism is its joining of East and West. Westerners' fascination with Asian religious traditions (Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism all encourage abstention from meat to some degree) has been an important stimulus to the growth of vegetarianism over the past 25 years, with vegetarian religious sects such as the International Society for Krishna Consciousness now being widely distributed through North America and Europe. So even as the scientific foundation for vegetarian nutrition expands and solidifies, converts come into the fold for reasons additional to physical health, and too often lack a sound understanding of nutritional principles. (Zen macrobiotic dieters, in particular, have become notorious for self-injury.)59-61

The history of vegetarianism is of considerable interest for its own sake, regardless of any applications it might have to the practical dietary questions of the present. History does offer a modest moral, nonetheless. By demonstrating the difficulty of separating science from sentiment in questions of humane diet, it validates the concern of modern-day nutritionists that the moral fervor that has long activated so many vegetarians has to be informed by cool-headed science. If the vegetarian missionary is to be kept out of hot water, he has to read and understand that text of good nutrition himself, and not just brandish it before his detractors.

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