Vegetarian Myth

Vegetarian Myth

Recent History

January 1, 1793

The Vegetarian Crusade

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Founder of the Bible Christians Church, William Cowherd, joined the Swedenborgian New Jerusalem Church in Manchester in 1793 and embraced the politics of Christian spiritualism, pacificism, and meatless dietetics.

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The Bible Christians migrating to Philadelphia did so with the full support of the movement’s founder, William Cowherd, who preached that it was only possible to live an authentic religious life in an agricultural society.


In 1793, Cowherd, tired of the sectarian quibbles and professional jealousies that seemed to pervade Anglicanism, left his pulpit and became the spiritual leader of the Swedenborgian New Jerusalem Church in Manchester. He embraced the radical politics of the movement, including its Christian spiritualism, pacifi st worldview, and meatless dietetics. Cowherd quickly realized, however, that even the Swedenborgians were affl icted by interpersonal conflict and power plays. Infl uenced by the radical politics of Thomas Paine and William Godwin, Cowherd decided to start his own movement.  At the heart of the Bible Christian Church were three guiding principles: temperance, pacifism, and a meatless diet.  In the early years of the nineteenth century, Cowherd’s church grew, primarily drawing members of Manchester’s working class with the promise of salvation for their souls and free vegetable soup for their stomachs.

August 6, 1798

John Rollo

Cases of the Diabetes Mellitus

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A total change of diet seemed the only means of preserving this worthy young man from almost immediate dissolution. He commenced the plan without hesitation, abstaining wholly from bread, or other vegetable substances, and from all fermented liquors. For breakfast he took milk, with yolk of egg; for dinner, occasionally fish, but, in general, beef or mutton which had been long kept, sometimes a little ham; for supper, a poached egg, or calve's foot jelly, prepared without wine or acid.

From Doctor Willan, London.

August 6th, 1798. 


A Gentleman about 25 years of age, tall and thin, has been engaged in a fatiguing, though sedentary occupation, but always conducted himself with sobriety and regularity. For more than a year past he had found his health and strength gradually declining ; he became pale, emaciated, and skeletal; his hands and feet were unusually dry and hot; he had sometimes a trifling cough, and was affected with a great shortness of breathing, on going up stairs, or any ascent. 


The case being deemed consumptive, he had been recommended to confine himself to a vegetable diet, and to spend as much time as possible in the country. This plan, however, was not attended with any tangible benefit: on the contrary, the wasting and general debility seemed to be daily increasing under it. 


I did not see this young Gentleman till the middle of May last. In addition to the symptoms above mentioned, he then complained of a clamminess in the mouth, a parched tongue, and an unquenchable thirst. His pulse was from 76 to 86, weak, and unequal. He was in general very costive. From these circumstances, I was induced to examine the state of the urinary secretion, before anything was administered to him medicinally.


The result of the first trial was as follows. He took in 24 hours 11 pints of fluid, consisting of milk, or milk and water, with two slices of toasted bread, and within the same time made 12 pints of urine, a portion of which was evaporated by Mr. Moore, of Apothecaries Hall; the result will be subjoined. The urine was of the highest straw colour, had a faint disagreeable smell, and was sweetish to the taste. His breath had, at this time, an unpleasant acidulous smell, nearly the same as that produced by the effluvia of decaying apples. He observed to me, that for several days past he had felt a pain in the head, and a stiffness, or drawing in of the eyes, with imperfect vision, the letters appearing double whenever he attempted to read or write. 


A total change of diet seemed the only means of preserving this worthy young man from almost immediate dissolution. He commenced the plan without hesitation, abstaining wholly from bread, or other vegetable substances, and from all fermented liquors. For breakfast he took milk, with yolk of egg; for dinner, occasionally fish, but, in general, beef or mutton which had been long kept, sometimes a little ham; for supper, a poached egg, or calve's foot jelly, prepared without wine or acid


On the eighth clay of this course, a second examination was made of the state of the urine, which amounted only to 2 pints in 24 hours, 3 pints of milk, or tnxlk and water, having been drank within the same time. The urine was more high coloured than before, but had not wholly lost its faint smell. A third trial of the same kind was made on the 10th of June. He drank 3 pints of fluid, and made exactly the same quantity of water. It must, however, be remarked, that the day was extremely chilly, and that he did not ride out, nor take any exercise through the whole of it. 


On the 12th of June, he informed me that his thirst was nearly removed, but that he felt a soreness of the stomach, and great oppression of it after eating, with sickness. These symptoms continued the three following days, which he spent in the country, and then ceased. From that time his stomach became reconciled to animal diet; his appetite and strength increased; he eat with a proper relish, and was not troubled with thirst. 


On the 18th of June he drank 3 pints of liquid, and discharged only 2.75 pints of urine, which had the usual smell and colour. He stated that he had begun to perspire at night, which had not been the case for some time before; alfo, that he felt his hands and feet more moist and comfortable. The complaint of his head and eyes was likewise removed.


June 20th his pulse was more firm; and he found himself recovering strength, so that he could walk a mile or two without fatigue. He eat heartily, slept well, and seldom drank between meals.


On the 12d June some family concerns obliged him to set off for Yorkshire. He went, however, with the resolution of adhering to the plan of diet which had already so much relieved him, without the use of any medicine, excepting a little castor oil, as an occasional laxative. On Saturday Iast, August 4th, in a letter, he informed me, that he bore the journey very well ; but that fome fatigue, and agitation of mind since, had much depressed, and enfeebled him. From this state, however, he recovered in two or three weeks; and he is now able to take considerable exercise either by walking or on horseback. He hopes to be in town soon, and thinks himself qualified to undertake business with as much activity as usual.

January 29, 1809

The Vegetarian Crusade

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On Sunday 29 January 1809, the Reverend William Cowherd stepped into the pulpit of his Salford church to issue his sermon and changed the world forever. "Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things. But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat."

Cowherd's meat-free movement

On Sunday 29 January 1809, the Reverend William Cowherd stepped into the pulpit of his Salford church to issue his sermon and changed the world forever.

Surprisingly, his subject wasn't one of the hot topics of the day - industrial change, the Napoleonic Wars or the abolition of slavery – but animals and, in particular, the eating of them.

Reading from his King James Bible, he read to the congregation from the book of Genesis and, in particular, chapter nine verses three and four:

"Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things. But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat."

With these words, Rev Cowherd began the first formal vegetarian movement in Britain. There had been many vegetarians before him - the Ancient Greek philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras and famous writers Mary Shelley and Voltaire for example – and religions such as Buddhism and Zoroastrianism held vegetarian beliefs, but his sermon set in motion a chain of events that would lead to an abstinence from meat becoming separate from any religious beliefs and traditions.

Of course, Rev Cowherd's motivations were spiritual and religious – he saw the eating of meat as a symbol of man’s expulsion from Eden (where Christians believe humans had lived harmoniously alongside animals) – but they also came from his egalitarian ideals.

His belief that 'all men are created equal' had been simply stretched to the idea that 'all species are created equal' – something that would ring true with many modern vegetarians.


Opposition to the movement

It didn't, however, ring quite so true with his fellow churchmen. The minister’s church, Christ Church on King Street in Salford, was part of the Swedenborgian New Church (a Christian movement which developed from the writings of the eighteenth century Swedish theologian Emanuel Swedenborg), who regarded the idea of vegetarianism as "a pernicious doctrine".


In fact, another local Swedenborgian minister, Reverend Richard Hindmarsh, who set up a chapel on nearby Bolton Street, said that if Cowherd's followers died, it would be precisely because they weren't eating meat, and referred sarcastically to the vegetarian church as the "Beefsteak Chapel".

Such was the rift between Cowherd's ideals and that of his church, that in the summer of 1809, he made the decision to leave the Swedenborgians behind and set up his own order, that of the Bible Christians, made up of his own congregation and those of three other churches (in Hulme and Ancoats).

January 1, 1817

Reverand William Metcalfe sails to Philadelphia from England with 40 members of Bible Christian Church

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Rev Metcalfe brings 40 Englishmen to Philadelphia with vegetarian ideals tied to their faith

From The Development of the Movement by The Vegetarian Society UK:
Two followers of the Reverend Cowherd, the Reverend William Metcalfe and the Reverend James Clark, set sail for the United States with thirty-nine other members of the Bible Christian Church in 1817. Some of them remained vegetarian and provided a nucleus for the American vegetarian movement.

The current and increasingly publicized debate over the vegetarianism of Jesus Christ, brought to the mainstream largely by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, has a history in the United States. In 18th-century America various Christian sects practiced ascetism that included the "self-denial" of vegetarianism. However, it wasn't until the 19th century (as far as this historian has thus far been able to discern) that vegetarians took their contention about Jesus and vegetarianism public. It began in 1817, when Reverend William Metcalfe of England brought a small group of Bible-Christians, members of a church established a decade before by the Swedenborgian Reverend William Cowherd, to Pennsylvania.

Once settled in America, Metcalfe and his wife, Susanne, tried to teach their neighbors in Philadelphia about pacifism, temperance, abolitionism and vegetarianism--major tenets of their religion. His church did not enjoy widespread success, but what it lacked in size it gained in loyalty.

Metcalfe's little group of loyal vegetarians and their leader not only abstained from meat, they believed that Jesus had been a vegetarian. On account of teaching such a belief, Reverend Metcalfe, a congenial, pious and well-liked man, was unable to build a large congregation and sometimes suffered the slings of opposition to vegetarianism. Metcalfe's wisdom as a preacher and a person was attacked in the newspapers, and he was called "Infidel."

As a result, Metcalfe constantly had to struggle to keep the church financially stable. When he wasn't preaching, he was busy teaching in the church's tiny school, or writing and publishing two newspapers that reported on issues such as slavery, temperance and, it can be assumed, vegetarianism. Metcalfe's legacy of vegetarianism doesn't end at the church gate, for he was a force that brought together two other determined and courageous vegetarians. Those two individuals were Sylvester Graham and William Alcott, M.D. Together, Metcalfe and the two renowned vegetarian advocates formed the first national vegetarian organization in America.

March 29, 1817

The Vegetarian Crusade

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Reverends William Metcalfe and James Clarke lead forty-one members of the new Bible Christian Church to Philadelphia aboard the Liverpool Packet.

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It was the early morning of March 29, 1817. A cool breeze waft ed through the foggy Liverpool air along with an overriding sense of excitement, anxiety, and anticipation. The Reverends William Metcalfe and James Clarke gazed out on their gathered flock, surveying the situation before them. Inspired by the providential timing—it was, aft er all, near the time of the year when the ancient Israelites made their exodus from Egypt—forty-one followers of the fledgling Bible Christian Church boarded the majestic Liverpool Packet . 1 For months church members had discussed rumors of religious freedom and abundant providence in the new American republic. With a radical religious and political spirit that had led to isolation and intimidation in England, Bible Christians saw the nascent American experiment as fertile ground where their independent lifestyle could flourish. The fear of political persecution combined with a burgeoning industrial society pushed Bible Christians westward to Philadelphia.  


The Bible Christians’ decision to leave England for the United States would eventually have larger social and cultural implications than the group could have imagined. The activities of this small band of dissidents would lead to the development of a much larger movement in the United States, focusing on one particular component of the church’s doctrine, the abstention from meat. Proto-vegetarianism—the individuals and groups who would lay the foundations of a vegetarian movement in the United States— began with the arrival of the Bible Christians.  


The group was the first to adopt meatless dietetics at the center of its members’ lives while also advocating for this lifestyle in American society at large. The Bible Christians, however, were not the only group to introduce the principle of meat abstention to Americans in the early years of the republic. Within years of the group’s establishment in Philadelphia, another movement, known popularly as Grahamism, inspired larger groups of interested reformers to abandon their carnivorous practices.  


In the first decades of the nineteenth century, multiple groups and individuals experimented with meatless diets, driven by a desire to create moral, social, and political reform. Proto-vegetarian movements in the United States were marked by outreach to meat-eaters through speeches, publications, newspapers, and public meetings that sought to illustrate the larger social and political implications of dietary choices. These early developments set the stage for a larger movement to mature outside of Philadelphia and eventually gave rise to American vegetarianism.  The Bible Christians migrating to Philadelphia did so with the full support of the movement’s founder, William Cowherd, who preached that it was only possible to live an authentic religious life in an agricultural society.

Ancient History

Province of Crotone, Italy

500

B.C.E.

On the Sociology of Ancient Sport

One report states that a trainer named Pythagoras recommended a meat diet to the Olympic athletes he trained.

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A lack of animal-derived protein seems to have been rectified early in history, as there are two reports of the introduction of meat into the athletes’ diet. One report states that a trainer named Pythagoras recommended a meat diet to the athletes he trained. https://www.omicsonline.org/open-access/a-comparison-of-ancient-greek-and-roman-sports-diets-with-modern-day-practices-2473-6449-1000104.php?aid=69865



8 He [Pythagoras] is said to have been the first to train athletes on a meat diet. The first athlete he did this with was Eurymenes. Formerly they had trained on dried figs, moist cheese, and wheat. Some say that it was a trainer named Pythagoras and not the philosopher who was responsible for this innovative diet. For our Pythagoras prohibited killing, not to mention eating, life which possessed souls like our own. 


Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Philosophers 8.12

Sport and Recreation


To all appearances medical knowledge in general and nutrition in particular was widespread in Pythagorean circles in Southern Italy, especially in Kroton. Burkert has pointed out that the fmaous doctor Alcmaeon came from the Pythagorean center of Kroton. From the akousmata (secret doctrines), which doubtless contain old religious traditions, we learn that the Pythagoreans were not originally strict vegetarians; the consumption of meat was permitted, with the exception of lamb and the meat of draft oxen. Burkert considers there is some likelihood that Pythagoras introduced a meat diet for athletes. He believes this tradition arose when Pythagorean vegetarianism had not yet been completely developed. In later times, when vegetarianism had prevailed, a second tradition has possibly been invented, in which it was not Pythagoras, the philosopher from Samos and Kroton, but a homonymous person who wrot the great 'trainer's recipe book'.


57: There are similar issues regarding the transmission in later sources of Pythagoras advising the successful heavy athlete Eurymenes of Samos to use a special meat-based diet instead of the dried figs and cheese he had previously been eating. 


On the Sociology of Ancient Sport - page 43.

Books

The Vegetarian Myth: Food, Justice, and Sustainability

Published:

May 1, 2009

The Vegetarian Myth: Food, Justice, and Sustainability

Could It Be B12?: An Epidemic of Misdiagnoses

Published:

January 1, 2011

Could It Be B12?: An Epidemic of Misdiagnoses

The Meat Fix: How a lifetime of healthy eating nearly killed me!

Published:

February 2, 2012

The Meat Fix: How a lifetime of healthy eating nearly killed me!

Defending Beef: The Case for Sustainable Meat Production

Published:

November 24, 2014

Defending Beef: The Case for Sustainable Meat Production

The Vegetarian Crusade: The Rise of an American Reform Movement, 1817-1921

Published:

August 1, 2015

The Vegetarian Crusade: The Rise of an American Reform Movement, 1817-1921

Letter To A Vegetarian Nation: We Need Livestock For Sustainable Food Production And Environmental Restoration

Published:

February 7, 2016

Letter To A Vegetarian Nation: We Need Livestock For Sustainable Food Production And Environmental Restoration

Vegetarianism Explained: Making an Informed Decision

Published:

May 17, 2017

Vegetarianism Explained: Making an Informed Decision

The Bloated Belly Whisperer: See Results Within a Week and Tame Digestive Distress Once and for All

Published:

December 24, 2018

The Bloated Belly Whisperer: See Results Within a Week and Tame Digestive Distress Once and for All

Sacred Cow: The Case for (Better) Meat: Why Well-Raised Meat Is Good for You and Good for the Planet

Published:

July 14, 2020

Sacred Cow: The Case for (Better) Meat: Why Well-Raised Meat Is Good for You and Good for the Planet

Ravenous: Otto Warburg, the Nazis, and the Search for the Cancer-Diet Connection

Published:

May 25, 2021

Ravenous: Otto Warburg, the Nazis, and the Search for the Cancer-Diet Connection