Adam D. Shprintzen received his PhD in History with distinction from Loyola University Chicago in May 2011, where his studies focused on nineteenth century America. Currently, he serves as Digital and Archival Historian (see, Digital Encyclopedia of George Washington) at Mount Vernon, where he manages digital history projects as well as the institution's archival holdings.
Shprintzen's new book is The Vegetarian Crusade: The Rise of an American Reform Movement, 1817-1921.
From his Q & A with Michael Gebert at the Chicago Reader:
Michael Gebert: Basically, your book says that vegetarianism not only goes back to the 18th century, but that it parallels a lot of other reform movements of the time—the Great Awakening, abolition, temperance, the first stirrings of feminism. How did vegetarianism fit into that whole picture?Learn more about the book and author at Adam D. Shprintzen's website.
Adam D. Shprintzen: Vegetarianism starts out as this small religious reform group that imports itself to the United States from England, the Bible Christian Church. They come to the U.S. with this idea that religion can actually be understood through science. Which is sort of a remarkable idea through our modern eyes, but wasn't so strange at the time. Part of their ideology was the notion that vegetarianism—they didn't use that term at the time—but that abstaining from meat can sit at the center of a total reform ideology. So meat is one way that the body kind of becomes overheated and overexcited and apt to make people act in improper ways. Whether it be violence, or holding slaves, or oppressing women.
Sylvester Graham—who is remembered wrongly as the inventor of the graham cracker, which would have horrified him with all its sugar and other things—spreads these ideas and sort of connects them with the idea of the healthy body and the healthy mind. Again, the idea is that what someone eats can help predict how they will act. So [eliminating] a violent diet will ensure that an individual will not be violent him- or herself.
And that continues up through the establishment of the American Vegetarian Society in the 1850s, which goes out of its way to place vegetarianism at the center of a total reform ideology. So that's certainly abolitionism, pacifism, women's suffrage, even the idea of economic equity, that a vegetarianism lifestyle is actually cheaper than meat, but then also that cooking vegetarian meals is a way to liberate individuals from the kitchen, that it's less time consuming and, again, not dealing with the effects of violence by touching something firsthand that was killed by violent means.
That phase comes to a climax with the Civil War, and at this point vegetarianism is sort of like the 60s and 70s—once the big cause is settled, ironically in part because vegetarians take up arms to fight for it, vegetarianism turns inward and kind of has a few Me Decades.
That's a great line; I hadn't thought of that but you're exactly right. The Civil War becomes the splitting point for vegetarianism in the 19th century...[read on]
The Page 99 Test: The Vegetarian Crusade.