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6th World Vegetarian Congress 1926

London, England

From The Vegetarian News (London), July 1926:


(President, Danish Vegetarian Society.)

THE subject that I have chosen to bring before the Congress is one of outstanding interest, not only because of the importance of the subject itself, but also because of the international reputation of the distinguished man with whose work I am proposing to deal. No doubt most members of the Congress are aware that the Danish Government maintains a laboratory devoted to research in human nutrition. This was established in 1911, with Dr. Hindhede as head, and since then by reason of its remarkable success it has given a tremendous impetus to nutrition research all over the world. While not a strict vegetarian as we understand the term, Dr. Hindhede yet assents to its theory, and not only does he commend it in his writings, but he himself practises it, except on very rare occasions. Dr. Hindhede has proved by scientific methods what many of us have been led to accept instinctively, and to confirm by personal experience, namely, that in order to have a sound mind in a sound body, it is not necessary to eat the flesh of animals.

Dr. Hindhede's helpers in his laboratory work were, naturally, under close observation throughout the period during which the experiments were carried out, these experiments consisting, in the main, in living upon certain ascertained quantities of different kinds of foods over specified periods. For a year or more, potatoes and margarine wese the sole nutiiment of some of his helpers, who for three months were engaged in hard work for fourteen hours daily. For a further six months they lived upon barley-porridge, sugar and margarine. For yet another nine months their food was oatmeal-porridge, sugar and margarine, while for the space of two years it consisted of cabbage-soup, potatoes and bread - mostly whole rye and whole wheat only - without fats of any kind. The results have been tabulated and go to show that health and strength were not only well maintained, but actually improved in each case on what must be considered to be a very low-protein diet. You will recall that the standard of protein set up by Liebig and Voit, which was generally accepted as correct for many years, was that of 118 grammes per day. In more recent years, however, there has been a reaction, led by Hindhede and Chittenden who claim to have proved that the standard put forward by Liebig and Voit was far too high.

At this point I should like briefly to allude to the story of Denmark's rationing experiences during the war. In 1917-1918, Denmark was practically isolated from other corn-producing countries, from which more than half of the corn,etc., used by her people, and also that given to her cattle, had formerly been imported. Dr. Hindhede and Professor Mollgaard were asked by the Government for their advice, as a result ot which a system of strict rationing was adopted. This meant that very little flesh food was allowed to each person, less butter, no margarine very little sugar, practically no coffee, still less tobacco, and almost no alcoholic drink. By comparison, however, plenty of potatoes and cereal food was allowed. The results were not surprising to vegetarians who know the value of food, but they were sufficiently startling so far as the general public were concerned. The death-rate fell to 10.4 per thousand, which is the lowest figure ever recorded in a civilised country. Different causes may be assigned for this - the fact that there was less meat, less butter and sugar, less coffee, less food on the whole - but Dr. Hindhede believes that the relatively increased consumption of coarse whole-meal rye and wheaten bread and of potatoes played the chief part. We are fortunate in Denmark in that our national bread is the "black" rye bread, though I am sorry to say that during the last thirty years the consumption of white bread has increased rapidly, especially in Copenhagen, and not least among elderly women, whose principal food, unfortunately, too often consists of white bread and coffee. During the rationing pemiod, we were compelled to live almost entirely on potatoes, porridge, bran bread and "coffee "made from cereals.

In England, Dr. Hindhede thinks, vegetarians are often afraid to live without taking large quantities of milk and eggs. One reason fcr this perhaps, is that too often even they take so much of the bad white bread. A diet consisting chiefly of whole-meal bread, potatoes (and potato-soup), barley- or oatmeal-porridge, with margarine, seems to be sufficient for one's needs. The diet, however, would be still better if fruit and vegetables, and perhaps a little milk, were added; but Dr Hindhede finds such large quantities of milk and eggs as English vegetarians consume superfluous. Personally, I think that he is right though perhaps a little one-sided, seeing that he looks at the question too much from the point of view of cost. The true vegetarian will take as much fruit as possible, even if it is a little more expensive than cereal products, and he will, of course, take the former uncooked, so far possible. This, indeed, represents the next step in vegetarian practice for which one looks to Dr. Hindhede to find scientific data.

In this connection it is interesting to compare the vegetarian diet given at an English school of high standing and that provided at a training college in Denmark. It so happened that Mr. W. A. Sibly, the Headmaster of Wycliffe College, Gloucestershire, was one of the English representatives at the International Vegetarian Congress held at Stockholm in 1923, and the Danish Vegetarian Society took advantage of the fact that he was passing through Copenhagen to put Mr. Sibly in touch with Dr. Hindhede - a circumstance, I think, which may prove to be of some value to international vegetarianism. Readers of Mr. Sibly's well-known pamphlet entitled "Vegetarianism and the Growing Boy," will be familiar with the fact that the vegetarian boys at Wycliffe College are fully able to hold their own in competition with their meat-eating fellows, whilst in certain respects as in cross-country running, for instance, and in freedom from influenza, they have shown themselves to be, on an average, distinctly superior. As compared with the Danish dietaries, however, those of the English schoolboys are very uneconomical and cost more than three times as much. This, is partly due to the fact that the English schoolboys eat 17 per cent. more per unit (in calories), and also to the fact that, at the time the comparison was made, the English prices of several products were higher than in Denmark. The main factor, however, is that the English dietaries are differently composed, more animal products, and also rather more of the expensive vegetable products, being taken. The English schoolboys, if these tables may be used as a criterion, take three times as much animal protein and more than three times as much animal fat (in the form of butter, cheese, etc.) as the Danish youths. In Denmark we do not think that the animal proteins are more valuable than the vegetable ones. Indeed, may we not say that the Danish youths who take so much less of animal products, are more truly vegetarian than their English colleagues, notwithstanding that the diet of the former includes a certain proportion of lard which, I, for one, should like to see omitted ?

One factor that makes the English dietary more expensive than the Danish is the greater consumption of fruits, but this is rendered the more necessary since the white bread so frequently taken in England is so far inferior to that consumed in Denmark, where the "black" rye bread is very rich in vitamines and also in organic salts. If it may be claimed as an advantage that at Wycliffe College twice the quantity of fruit and vegetables is used as compared with the training college in Denmark, I venture to think that the general composition of the Danish dietaries is, on the whole, distinctly preferable, and, by reason of its simplicity, nearer to vegetarian ideals.

It must not be inferred from the foregoing that Dr. Hindhede has any desire to condemn the dietaries adopted by Mr. Sibly. On the contrary, it is conceivable that, had the latter adopted any other method, his very interesting experiment might have failed. It must not be forgotten that in the Danish college, the students themselves started their boarding-house on as cheap a basis as possible, and not at all with any idealistic motive, and, under such conditions, Dr. Hindhede's brilliant, though simple, bill-of-fare proved to be the 'best one.

Thus it has been proved that efficiency can be obtained from both on a cheap dietary, as in Denmark, and on an expensive one, as in England; but it has not been shown that the expensive one is really better than the cheaper one. On the contrary, the cheaper one, in my opinion, is the better because most of the foods used are simpler and more natural. For the purpose of propagating our ideas, it is reasonable to claim that we may, with advantage, sometimes base our methods on the experience of Mr. Sibly, and sometimes on that of Dr. Hindhede. But the standpoint already reached is not to be regarded as the final one. Our aim must be to continue to evolve towards the perfect diet, that is to say a diet of uncooked fruits, nuts and vegetables, without the addition of any animal products. How best to do so will, I am convinced, be the burning questions for vegetarians before long.

This article is a summary of a paper read at the International Vegetarian Congress, May 28th, 1926. As the report of the Congress (published elsewhere in our present number) shows, Mr. W. A. Sibly, who was in the chair when Mr. Egerod's paper was read, took occasion to criticise some of Dr. Hindhede's conclusions, as also did Mr. Henry Light during the discussion that followed. We hope to publish some correspondence relating to Mr. Egerod's paper in our next issue. - EDITOR, The Vegetarian News.

A comment on the Vegetarian Cycling and Athletic Club from the same issue (following from their regular monthly report by S. R. Barron):

By the good offices of Messrs. H. Light and H.B. Amos, the Vegetarian C. and A.C. came in for quite a deal of "limelight" at the recent International Vegetarian Congress, the first-named reading a very interesting paper in the club's work and its value as practical propaganda. He also pointed out that the experience of forty years had proved the absolute necessity of a high-protein diet for athletes and such hard workers, a statement which the cases of at least two of our members, who have this season been experimenting with low-feeding, have emphatically confirmed. Martin's is the more notable. During the winter he determined to keep down to his racing weight by limiting his food consumption, the consequence being that when he again came to take part in strenuous competition he had no reserve upon which to draw, and failed miserably ( for him). After nearly three months without a success, he decided to make a change, adopted his old high protein diet, and a fortnight later put up the finest ride of his career, as mentioned above. The other case was my own. Working on the same lines as Martin, I found I could do nothing and was hard put to it to finish in each of my races. I then altered my diet and have since been riding better than ever before. Theorists please note!

From The Vegetarian News (London), August 1926:


[Mr. W. A. Sibly, M.A. (Oxon), Headmaster of Wycliffe College, also sends the following comments on Mr. Egerod's paper, published in our July issue. - EDITOR, "The Vegetarian News."]

"I am grateful to Dr. Hindhede for devoting so much attention to the experiment in food reform at my 'House.' I do not for a moment suppose that this experiment has reached finality, or is incapable of further improvements, and Dr. Hindhede will be glad to hear that, during the past twelve months, our consumption of whole-meal bread has been greatly increased. At the same time I may fairly point out that, in contrasting Springfield with a Danish hostel, he is dealing with two very different conditions and groups of people In the one case we have some young Danish school-masters who, for a very limited period and for reasons of economy, lived of their own choice upon an extraordinarily restricted diet. At Springfield we have an experiment which has been in continuous operation for seventeen years. The parents of the boys at that House pay the same fees as those of meat-eating boys at other 'Houses' and schools, and would reasonably be dissatisfied if their sons, in addition to being forbidden meat, fish, and fowl of all kinds, were also denied dairy products, fresh fruits and cereal preparations, because one or two investigators say that equal nutriment can be obtained at much less cost from brown bread and potatoes.

"It is perfectly certain, also, that an average boy at Springfield, however favourable to food reform, would very strongly object to being the subject of an experiment on these lines, even in the interests of Science. He has already given up a whole host of foods which are commonly consumed by boys in other 'Houses' and other schools, he has no press of poverty to spur him on to yet greater heights of self-denial, and he may reasonably think that he may follow his tastes and appetite in the case of the foods which remain. As I said at the Congress, 'Even if the boys obtained the necessary nutriment from the diet favoured by Dr. Hindhede, it is quite certain that I should not get the boys,' and a practical English schoolmaster must be excused if he looks upon the problem rather differently from a Danish scientist. I may further point out that most authorities do not as yet agree with Dr. Hindhede in his recommendation of a low-protein dietary, especially for adolescents. As things are, the Springfield diet succeeds in providing the same amount of calories as the ordinary public-school diet, but avoids all carcase consumption, and, as a possible consequence, seldom leads to constipation and its attendant evils. In my experience growing boys, engaged in all the activities of school life, can hardly eat too much between the ages of 14-18, provided only that the foods supplied are plain and wholesome. If, therefore, the foods rich in protein are crowded out by an over-abundance of fruit, then blood-colour and circulation both suffer. This is a very important matter, and it is too often disregarded by food reformers.

"Sometimes, too, one step at a time is true wisdom. The immediate object of the Springfield experiment was to convince sceptical doctors and a critical general public that, despite all pronouncements to the contrary, English schoolboys can and do thrive equally well without meat. In years to come the scope of this experiment may conceivably be extended. For the moment we can rest content in the belief that, after seventeen years of good health, combined with athletic and intellectual triumphs, our first object is in a fair way to being realised."