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The Heretic's Feast: A History of Vegetarianism

By Colin Spencer


Practical Vegetarian
Eastern religions led some toward a meatless diet

Vegetarian Cook Book: Substitutes for Flesh
Health concerns push some to drop meat from their diet

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Skeptic Insists Vegetarians Will Pay Price for Their Folly

Daniel O.Connell was disturbed by the extent to which vegetarian thinking had spread in 1891. He devotes a good deal of his book, The Inner Man, to tearing down some of the theories invoked by those who advocated dropping meat from the diet.

One of the theories held that since the "porters of the East" -- Hindus, Chinese, Irish -- eat little or no meat and yet are muscular and have incredible endurance, they are proof of the superiority of a vegetarian diet.

The Inner Man: Good Things to Eat and Drink and Where to Get Them
By Daniel O’Connell
(The Bancroft Company, San Francisco 1891)

But  O'Connell disagreed. "The flaw in this reasoning," he wrote, "is that it takes too low and material a view of humanity and ignores entirely the fact that although the body can be sustained and kept from dissolution for a considerable period of time on simple fruits, cereals and the like, yet in the history of the world, nothing very great or good has even been bequeathed to humanity by a nation of vegetarians." O'Connell proceeded to rattle off a list of brilliant writers and leaders who were prodigious eaters of meat.: Peter the Great, Goethe, Dr. Johnson, Wordsworth and others.

Students who were giving up meat might be able to do well for a while on a meatless diet. "But pay-day must come with them just as surely as with the poorest and feeblest only it may be longer deferred," O'Connell wrote.

He cited the case of the Harvard rowing crew, which had been led astray into eating mostly vegetables while preparing for a race against a team of meat-eating Brits from Oxford. "I suspect that it was inspired by some of the many popular treatises on diet by which ignorant writers have wrought so much evil," O’Connell wrote. "If the Americans had allowed their rivals to prescribe a dietary for them, they could scarcely have made a worse selection," he concluded. It was no surprise to O'Connell that the Harvard crew lost.

O'Connell thought much more highly of a  world renowned athlete named Weston who apparently was in the midst of a "great walk" when The Inner Man was published.  For breakfast Weston had two rare mutton chops, stale bread and a cup of tea, O'Connell reported.

For dinner Weston would have one or one and a quarter pounds of beef or mutton, toast or stale bread, "a little potato or other vegetables," half a pint of old ale or a glass or two of sherry, or one cup of tea without sugar, or eggs and dried toast. For supper, he had half a pint of oatmeal porridge or half a pint of old ale.

O'Connell spelled out Weston's menu admiringly. Yet his hero apparently failed to complete his "great walk." It seems that he suffered from vertigo. 

In O'Connell's view, a minor adjustment in his diet could have cured that. All he needed was wine or beer instead of tea or coffee.

Copyright 2005 Seasonal Chef