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Vegetarians vs Meat Eaters

Jul 27, 2010 12:00 PM | 5 comments

One of our readers some time ago suggested we explore the subject of vegetarianism, and so Brooklynology eagerly takes up the challenge. 

In its early years the Brooklyn Daily Eagle treated vegetarianism as a joke, summing up vegetarians as inauthentic and bloodless bores. One of the first references to vegetarianism appears in 1851 in an article on angling, in which those objecting to the sport on grounds of cruelty are termed "canting vegetarians," a phrase that sets the tone for the next fifty years. An 1853 article suggest that a vegetarian diet is all very well in the summer, or for those of sedentary lifestyle, but "the man who will carry a hod for twelve hours with the thermometer at ninety, will require something more substantial than beets or mashed turnips."

Fruit and vegetable stand

Still in jocular vein, a poem on the subject published in 1897 points to the inconsistency of refusing meat yet wearing leather shoes. It begins:

If you'd be a vegetarian of the very strictest creed, 

It is not enough on parsnips and on cabbages to feed;

It will not suffice to revel in a plethora of roots

No; you must, please, in addition walk in vegetarian boots!

The tone begins to change though in the late 1890s, perhaps in part because the Eagle's editor, St Clair McKelway, was himself probably sympathetic to the cause.  A speaker at a dinner of the "V" Club in May 1894, McKelway considered the subject of "Vigor," while  Swami Vivekananda  spoke on "Vegetarianism in India." Other speakers touched on Vanity, Virtue and Vice, and the bill of fare was printed on V-shaped cards.  It included "Various farinaceous crusts," stuffed mangoes, asparagus on toast, baked spaghetti and celestine of chestnuts.

V-Club dinner menu

But reports on the V Club, which seems to have had a small sense of humor, soon give way to more sober reports of meetings of the Vegetarian Society. This was an earnest organization, and, like the V Club,  teetotal.  1901 was a banner year for the society, which doubled its membership and saw the establishment of a vegetarian restaurant (called the Tabloid Restaurant) at 170 Fulton Street, by proprietor Carl Rasmussen.

tabloid bill of fare

Mr Rasmussen, who immigrated from Denmark in 1888 at the age of 23, served meat substitutes known as "protose" and "bromose," but dressed them up with gravy and dubbed them "Compressed beef steak," or  "Compressed fricassee" or "Protose hash."  In November of 1901 he advertised a "Vegetarian Roast Turkey" dinner for 25 cents, with vegetables, pudding and "all the fixings." It is not clear how long the restaurant lasted, but Mr Rasmussen was still in the restaurant business in 1910.

Tabloid Restaurant in 1904 atlas, 170 Fulton co. Fulton and Cranberry

The association of teetotalism with non-meat-eating may not have been in the best interests of the vegetarians, but there were those who would have gone still further. One Eagle correspondent in 1902 thought that  condiments such as pepper, mustard, Worcestershire sauce and spices cause the food to "lose the benefits derived from a purely unstimulating vegetarian diet." 

A gentleman by the name of Samuel Donniss was yet more militant, urging his anti-meat ideas on the patrons of local butcher's shops. This behavior was so unpopular that he was arrested eighteen times, before finally being jailed for two years.

Given the reputation of Park Slope now, we should not be surprised that as early as 1902 a family near Union St was advertising for vegetarian boarders. Today vegetarians no longer have to settle for protose and bromose if they wish to eat out. And if they wish to eat in, they don't have to make do with a tired potato and a can of peas, unless they want to. Back in 1923, the Eagle's household manual recommended the following boiling times for some common vegetables:

Beans, string or shell--1 to 2 hours

Beets, old--4 to 6 hours

Carrots--1 hour or longer

Celery--2 hours or longer

Spinach 15-20 minutes

No wonder eating greens didn't look too attractive! Today, farmer's markets, food co-ops, supermarkets with fine produce counters and Community Supported Agriculture arrangements are making life much easier for vegetarians. 

And for the very pure, nothing could be easier today than finding a pair of vegetarian boots.




7/29/2010 5:22:08 PM #

I would love to learn more about Swami Vivekananda in Brooklyn and/or NYC!!!!


7/29/2010 8:40:07 PM #

Great post; many thanks!

"Canting vegetarians," indeed!  Whatever one disagrees with is always "cant".  Nowadays for example Brooklynites are assailed with the arguments of "canting" bike lane advocates.

Have to check the Park Slope Food Coop to see if we carry "protose!"

Save the Slope

7/29/2010 8:52:57 PM #

It should be noted that the doggerel concerning leather boots is a classic example of the ad hominem logical fallacy.

Jabir ibn Hayyan

7/30/2010 6:03:46 AM #

This wonderfully researched posting found its way to the shores of Lake Erie in Ohio.

I thought vegetarianism was an outgrowth of the '60s cultural revolution.

Nice knowing it stretches back to the days of Whitman, at least.

Thanks for a very informative piece.

But I'll pass on the fish balls.

Our perch sandwiches are much better.

Kurt Landefeld

7/30/2010 10:34:22 AM #

Samuel Donniss, who was arrested 18 times and ultimately imprisoned for 2 years for "urging his anti-meat ideas on the patrons of local butcher's shops," got off easy by today's standards.

Today, such interference into the commerce of meat shops in the name of a political or environmental cause might actually be considered "eco-terrorism" and trigger extra "sentencing enhancements" in the courts.