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How a Meat-Loving Nation Began to
in the early history of the United States was associated with the austere and repressive
Puritans. Leaders of the religious sect taught that eating excessive quantities of meat
turned people into sex-crazed aggressors.
The Puritans "faced an enormous
challenge" in selling this world view to a wider audience because "people on
both sides of the British North Atlantic were carnivores of the first order," notes
Harvey Levenstein in Revolution at the Table, his history of U.S. eating habits. North
Americans in the 17th and 18th Centuries ate enormous quantities of
pork, beef and other meat with bread on the side and little more than a glob of overcooked
vegetable on top.
By the end of the 1800s, however, interest in vegetarianism began to arise from a new
source. Religious convictions still motivated some vegetarians, though the religious
influence was as likely to come from the East as from the West.
The Influence of
Practical Vegetarian Cookery, published
by the Theosophical Society in 1897, is an early example of the influence of Eastern
religion on vegetarianism in North America.
Worries About Unsafe
Health concerns led others to try to cut meat out of their diet. A cookbook published in
1910, Vegetarian Cook Book: Substitutes for Flesh Foods,
illustrates the early influence of food safety concerns on vegetarianism.
Dismissed as a Silly Fad
Skeptics, it needs to be pointed out, abounded in a society where meat was still
undisputed king of the dinner table. A 1891 book, The Inner Man:
Good Things to Eat and Drink and Where to Get Them, illustrates the ridicule with
which many dismissed vegetarianism a century ago.