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The Vegan Option

39 episodes in the feed.


Ian McDonald brings you "Stories, science, and analysis from vegan perspectives."

VegHist Ep 12: Radicals & Romantics. Bible Christians, Grahamites, and Transcendentalists; with Adam Shprintzen and Derek Antrobus; at Deerfields, Fruitlands, and Salford
28 Apr 2017 at 5:48am

In the 1800s, overlapping circles of utopians, mystics, and romantics in both Europe and America develop arguments against meat until “vegetarianism” finally becomes a real movement. 


Episode 12: Radicals & Romantics

In the aftermath of the American and French revolutions, the sects and philosophies that embrace a “vegetable diet” multiply – from ecstatic cult to puritan crusades, to utopian community to public-spirited congregation. No longer are they isolated groups – they connect with each other in books, magazines, and letters. Until a single word catches on – “vegetarianism”.

In the United States of America, Ian discovers the the vegetarian sword and shoes of a 1790s “free love” vegetarian sect in a local Massachusetts museum, and visits the failed vegan commune where Louisa May “Little Women” Alcott lived as a child.

And in Salford, NW England, he walks in the footsteps of a nineteenth century vegetarian church, with local historian Derek Antrobus and the vegetarian history specialist Dr Samantha Calvert.

It’s a story that also takes in the French bohemian “cult of the bearded men”, the man who invented the modern idea of Robin Hood, the woman who invented Frankenstein and his creature, Sylvester Graham, and, finally, the creation of modern vegetarianism.

Play or download (65MB MP3 47min) (via iTunes)

Contributors: Timothy Neumann (Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association & its Memorial Hall with 1790s veggie shoes), Massachusetts USA Pierre Serna (French Revolution Institute at Panthéon-Sorbonne Paris) (Modern & Contemporary History Institute, ENS) Dr Samantha Calvert (@SamCalvert) Cllr Derek Antrobus (Salford Council [local government]) (@CllrAntrobus) See his Radical Manchester interview, History Today article & book A Guiltless Feast, all on Salford’s role in vegetarian history Dr Mike Volmar (Fruitlands, Massachusetts USA) (@Fruitlands) Dr Adam Shprintzen, (Marywood University, Scranton PA) (@VegHistory) Readings Charles Nodier, on Les Bardus, letter to Charles Weiss, Alphonse Lamartine, on Jean-Antoine Gleizes, in 1846 Joseph Ritson, An Essay on Abstinence from Animal Food as a Moral Duty, 1802 Dr John Lambe, Water and Vegetable Diet in Consumption, Scrofula, Cancer, Asthma, and Other Chronic Diseases, 1815 Percy Bysshe Shelley, Queen Mab, 1818 Mary Shelley, Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, 1818 further discussion of Mary Shelley’s work Anon (but probably Shelley’s friend Peacock), The Medical Advisor, and Guide to Health and Long Life, “Dinner by the Amateurs of Vegetable Diet“, 1824 Emmanuel Swedenborg, Divine Love and Wisdom, 1763 (with tweaked translation) Sylvester Graham, Lecture on Epidemic Diseases Generally, and Particularly the Spasmodic Cholera, delivered 1832-3, published 1838 Asenith Nicholson Advert in Graham Journal of Health and Longevity, 1838 Boarding House Rules in Nature’s Own Book, 1835 (1st edn 1832) Prof William Tyler (Amherst College), on his stay in a Grahamite boarding house, 1833 William Alcott, Boston Surgical & Medical Journal (now the New England Journal of Medicine), 1836 Martha Brotherton, advert for Bible Christian cookbook “Vegetable Cookery”, in The Manchester Guardian, 1821 Joseph Brotherton introduction to “Vegetable Cookery”, 1833 edition speech on Corn Laws, 1842 (transposed by me from Hansard back into the first person) speech recorded in Vegetarian Messenger, 1847 (transposed by me back into the first person) Louisa May Alcott, diary, 1843 published as part of “Louisa May Alcott, her Life, Letters, and Journals” 1898 Geek Reference of the Month

The debates amongst a medical profession stumbling towards usefulness are a big part of this episode, and although the Victorian Dr William Lambe (and other “water cure” fans) were wrong to think distilled water can heal, the converse is true. Polluted water can be very harmful indeed.

Dr John Snow is widely known as the man who identified sewage-contaminated water as the cause of the 1854 London cholera epidemic, and removed the handle of the water pump to halt it; and as the father of epidemiology who mapped cholera cases to show this. But he was also a follower of Dr William Lambe and spent many years of his life on a vegan diet.

It would have taken too long to describe all that in the show. But I wonder (and it should be possible to check) what part his belief in the importance of pure distilled water played in forming the idea that polluted water could transmit epidemic disease.

Production Diary

Back when this series was just an idea, the Messy Vegetarian Cook, Kip Dorrell, mentioned to me at London Vegan Meetup that she had a distant relative who ran some kind of American vegetarian sect long ago. Little did I know I’d end up photographing his shoes next to mine.

It was a stroke of luck that my life took me to New England in 2015 – I hadn’t originally planned to visit anywhere in America for the series. We did try to find the hill where the Dorrelites once lived, and though we ran out of

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