The late 19th century was an interesting time in American culture where a number of things were developed that are still around today. Many of the concepts and even the styles of the hippies in the 60s. Formal exercise, vegetarianism, fad diets such as the low carb diet, cold cereal, peanut butter, books like “Frankenstein”, “The Island Of Dr. Moreau ( both great accidentally vegan/animal rightish stories ), etc.
Vegetarian ideas figured prominently in 19th-century intellectual circles. Though practicing vegetarians remained outside the mainstream, as they do today, vegetarianism itself was intriguing, its arguments compelling. Thoreau, for instance, was not a strict vegetarian, but he did believe that the vegetarian diet was “the destiny of the human race.” Not because animals were cute and fuzzy and therefore ought to be saved from brutality, but because they were dirty and difficult and expensive. “The practical objection to animal food in my case was its uncleanness,” he wrote in Walden, “and besides, when I had caught and cleaned and cooked and eaten my fish, they seemed not to have fed me essentially. It was insignificant and unnecessary, and cost more than it came to. A little bread or a few potatoes would have done as well, with less trouble and filth.” You can stand around in the forest, waiting to spear, skin, and roast a bunny for your next meal, but…why?
As vegetarianism grows in popularity, vegetarians remain America’s kooks and outsiders. Even Thoreau, who now is considered a giant of American letters, was a kook in his lifetime. In Emerson’s eulogy, he chided Thoreau for allowing his friends to fish him out of jail by paying his taxes, calling him “the captain of a huckleberry party.” But he also knew that big ideas had to fail for a long time before they succeed. “The scale on which his studies proceeded was so large as to require longevity,” he wrote, “the country knows not yet…how great a son it has lost.” So while America’s kooks are doomed to failure, they are often its greatest experimenters. Even as they fail, vegetarians continue to promote ideals that most Americans share: the power of the individual to be radical, to be disobedient, to change the world. I salute you, kooks and outsiders, glorious failures, O Captains of huckleberry parties. Fail on.
In regards to the quotes picked out by Joe, I think if these radicals were alive today, aside from scratching furiously at the lids of their coffins, they would also be vegans not vegetarians.
Reality has changed a bit in the last few hundred years. Progressive thinkers of the 19th century became vegetarians to help reduce animals living in uncomfortable conditions and then being slaughtered. There were no factory farms in the 19th century. Now, even animals used to produce milk and eggs still end up living in horrible conditions before being slaughtered just the same.
Sometimes it is worse for these animals, as they are made to live longer in horrific conditions in order to extract the maximum product out of them.
For more information about this I recommend Meat Market by Erik Markus
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