Monday, December 3, 2012

Antiquarian Vegetarian

Can you believe the first book on vegetarianism was written in 1838?! Yea, we've been around for awhile. It's about time we're finally getting some mainstream attention.

Anyway, the book that started it all was called Vegetable Diet: As Sanctioned By Medical Men, and By Experience In All Ages by William A. Alcott. Sure, it sounds a little sexist, but vegetarians were  around before women's lib. The same author also penned books called Young House-Keeper and Young Wife ... ugh.

Sexism aside, Alcott was a founding member of the American Vegetarian Society. In his book, he published letters from medical experts on how a vegetable diet can support health and help people recover from disease. Alcott believed he cured his own tuberculous consumption by "abandoning spirits," "stimulating food" (read: meat), and sleeping on a straw bed instead of his usual feather bed (sounds uncomfortable, but at least straw is vegan).

Now we all know medical knowledge was shaky back then, and some of the so-called medical findings in this book are sort of out there. But hey, I still have weird new-age friends who wave crystals over their food to ward away negativity (seriously ... I have some weird-ass friends), so I can't really judge.

What's really cool about this book is how so many patients and doctors extol the benefits of giving up meat in their letters to Dr. North (Alcott's partner in the veggie diet study, who died before the research was complete). Some claimed that a vegetable diet cured their ailments, and others just raved about how much better they felt since giving up meat. One writer —Eleazar Parmly, a resident of Park Place in New York — said "the system of ultratemperance has had the happy effect of filling the mind with inward joy and spreading delight through all its faculties."

So why am I reviewing a 174-year-old book? Well, Andrew McMeel Publishing's American Antiquarian Cookbook Collection has just re-released Alcott's book. The cover is made from soft green cloth and its trimmed in gold. And the pages are gold when you view the book from its side. It even has a green ribbon sown into the binding to use as a bookmark. Oh, and it has a new intro written by Anna Thomas, author of the 1970s-era Vegetarian Epicure (which I recently got as a housewarming gift). It's a lovely volume. The book is one of 100 antique cookbooks (or in this case, food books that don't contain recipes) that Andrew McMeel is republishing (some in print, some as e-books). As far as I can tell, Vegetable Diet is the only vegan one.

9 comments:

ALONETANU94 said...
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Amey said...

What a cool book! Our forefathers in the world of compassionate eating!

Dave said...

Alcott is an important figure in vegetarian history, but he wasn't the first to publish on the topic. That distinction goes to Thomas Tryon for his 1691 tract A Bill of Fare of 75 Dishes of Noble Food or his Wisdoms Dictates of the previous year. There isn't much in the next 100 years, but things pick up in the early 19th century.

JL said...

Great review, Bianca - I ordered a copy! :)

Barb@ThatWasVegan? said...

How interesting!! Too bad it didn't start catching on back then...

Babette said...

Interesting! And it looks like a beautiful object with the gold binding and all. I like that.

Was he singing the praises of veggies only or did he also include grains and legumes?

You made me laugh with your comment on the straw bed =)

Anonymous said...

Clinical studies have found that casein, a protein in all dairy products, blocks the absorption of antioxidants and renders them useless to our body. Get healthier by going vegan! http://nutritionfacts.org/video/nutrient-blocking-effects-of-dairy/

Allysia said...

That is...so awesome. I was going to use more words but then I had none. Weird! So yeah. Awesome.

Luis Tovar said...

Vegetarianism has always accepted explicitly animal ingredients like milk, eggs and honey. If this book rejects all that comes from other animals, then it´s not a book about vegetarianism but about vegetable diet or vegetalism. It´s not the same.