International Vegetarian Union (IVU)
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History of Vegetarianism
Food in England Since 1066 -- A Vegetarian Evolution?
Part 3: From Defoe to Cobbett


In the Eighteenth century town house, breakfast seems to have become vegetarian:

Breakfast usually consisted of tea or chocolate and hot buttered bread, perhaps with cheese, or toast. The German Pastor, Carl Philip Moritz, was delighted by toast, an English invention. "There is a way of roasting slices of buttered bread before the fire which is incomparable," he wrote."One slice after another is taken and held to the fire with a fork till the butter soaks through the whole pile of slices. This is called toast".
[J. Hunt and P. Willis, The English Landscape Garden, 1979]

No bacon and eggs? However, breakfast in the country Inns, where country "sports" were a way of life, had not changed:

There was a low dark room hung with sporting prints; the hat-stand, with a whip or two standing up in it; the blazing fire, with the quaint old glass over the mantelpiece, in which is stuck a large card with the list of the meets for the week of the county hounds. The table bearing a pigeon-pie, ham, round of cold boiled beef cut from a mammoth ox, and the great loaf of household bread on a wooden trencher. And here comes in the stout head waiter, puffing under a tray of hot viands; kidneys and a steak, transparent rashers and poached eggs, buttered toast and muffins, coffee and tea, all smoking hot. The table can never hold it all; the cold meats are removed to the sideboard, they were only put on for show, and to give us an appetite.
[T. Hughes, Tom Brown's Schooldays, 1857]

But at least in the towns there were signs that the total dependence on flesh-eating was beginning to change:

An Irish gentleman travelling in England at the time [mid 18th century] paid only 6d at the Lion, Liverpool, for "a very good supper, consisting of veal cutlets, pigeons, asparagus, lamb and salad, apple-pie and tarts.
[An Irish Gentleman, Journey through England, 1752]

Not quite "meat and two veg", but at least the fruit and veg is now mentioned in the same list as the meat. Meanwhile the exploitation of animals was continuing:

Horses were used mercilessly. Runs of eighty miles and more were not uncommon; and at the end of one run, which lasted for six hours and in which George III took part, the stag dropped down dead before the hounds. Not twenty out of 150 horses were in at the death; several had died in the field; and tired ones were seen limping away to every village.
[Ingram Cobbin, Georgiana,1820]

However, there were some signs of change, particularly amongst the ladies:

By George III's day, however, deer were more often seen as ornamental animals in a gentleman's park than as quarry to be chased and slaughtered. Hare-hunting continued to be popular well into the nineteenth century, yet fox-hunting was gradually gaining ground. Many ladies hunted as enthusiastically as men, though others only dutifully.
[E. Hughes, North Country Life in the Eighteenth Century, 1965]

The conviction of the gentry that all wildlife was for the benefit of their "sport", and their indifference to growing food for the masses caused problems:

An act of 1770 made would-be nocturnal poachers liable to six months' imprisonment; another act of 1803 rendered them liable to hanging if they were armed and resisted arrest; and in 1816, a man, even unarmed, might be transported if caught with a net. By 1827 one seventh of all convicted criminals were poachers.
[R. Porter, English Society in the Eighteenth Century, 1982]

Meanwhile, the masses had their own "sports":

The public taste for violence was also indulged by bull- and bear-baiting. The scarred and battered animals were taken around the country by their leaders and, when a sufficient crowd had gathered, they were chained to a stake and the spectators paid a shilling each to set their dogs upon them. Badgers were also baited by being tied into holes in the ground by means of chains passed through their tails and then being set upon by dogs. As many as five or six dogs might be killed by a badger's strong jaws and sharp teeth before the tormented animal died itself.

But none of these so-called sports was as popular as cock fighting, the widespread practice of which is indicated by the number of words and phrases connected with the it, apart from cockpit itself, which have passed into the language, including "pit against", "cut out for", "scoot" and a "clean pair of heels". As soon as its sex had been determined the owner of a cock intended for fighting would cut off its comb and wattles as well as the tail as far as the rump, clip the neck feathers from head to shoulders, then trim the wings to points and sharpen the beak. The cock's spurs would also be sharpened with a knife, though richer owners equipped their birds with steel or silverspurs.
[W. Sydney, England and the English in the Eighteenth Century, 1892]

Again the women seem to have had different role:

One of the cocks is placed at either end of the small round stage; they immediately rush at each other and fight furiously...they rarely give up till one of them is dead. Ladies never assist at these sports.
[C. de Sausure, A Foreign View of England, 1902]

On the health front there were still some odd ideas:

Even those doctors who sensibly emphasized the importance of diet in the maintenance of good health often had strange ideas as to what constituted a proper diet. Derek Jarrett cites George Cheyne, author of "The Natural Method of Curing the Diseases of the Body (1742), as an advocate of the consumption of meat in the winter, of fruit and vegetables in the summer, or milk and turnips all year round for chronic distempers and, for acute distempers, "teasmmade of saponaceous or aromatic seeds".
[D. Jarrett, England in the Age of Hogarth, 1974]

The food at the universities seemed to be more plentiful than in earlier times, but the flesh-eating orgy continued:

At Christ's College, Cambridge, in 1748 Humphrey Senhouse was "very well pleas'd with [his] situation in every particular". Senhouse's meals were "very good and always well done". Those of the Fellows were even better. Dining with the Warden of New College in 1774, James Woodforde had "a most elegant dinner indeed": The first course was Cod & Oysters, Ham, Fowls, boiled Beef, Rabbits smothered with onions, Harroco of mutton, Pork Griskins, Veal Collops, Puddings, Mince Pies, Roots etc. The second course was a very fine roast Turkey, Haunch of Venison, a brace of Woodcocks, some Snipes, Veal Olive, Trifle, Jelly, Blomonge, Stewed Pippins, Quinces preserved etc...Madeira, Old Hocke and Port wines to drink etc. A desert of Fruit after Dinner -- we stayed till near 8.
[E. Hughes, North Country Life in the Eighteenth Century, 1965]

At least there were some non-meat items in there which was a slight improvement on earlier feasts. The attitude towards animals was perhaps not surprising, considering the way people were treated:

Liverpool, where Fuesli the painter, thought that he could "everywhere smell the blood of slaves" -- in 1771, 107 slave ships sailed from Liverpool -- was now one of the largest towns in the kingdom.
[M. Ashley, The People of England, 1982]

and:

Some children began their working life when they were five. They were taken over by mill-owners who lodged them in crowded sheds near the factory gates and kept them at work for as long as they could stay awake. Bishop Thetford, in a sermon, declared that the poor were "necessary for the establishment of Superiority, where there must be Members of Dishonour, as well as Honour, and some to serve and obey, as well as others to command. The poor are the Hands and Feet of the Body Politick... who hew the wood, and draw the water of the rich. They plow our lands, and dig our quarries, and cleanse our streets. Arthur Young concluded that "everyone but an idiot" knew that "the lower classes must be kept poor" or they would "never be industrious". When food prices rose this was not a reason for higher wages but for stricter economy on the part of those who were required to pay the prices demanded.
[R. Malcolmson, Life and Labour in England 1700-1780, 1981]

What chance did mere animals have? The poverty was then exacerbated by the Enclosure Laws at the end of the eighteenth century:

This decline in wages was accompanied by ... hardship occasioned by the continuing enclosure of common lands which, so it was complained, utterly ruined families who for centuries had enjoyed the rights of pasturage, of feeding pigs, of collecting fuel, nuts and berries and of materials for thatching. The diet of the poor consequently became more meagre and for the first time the bread which formed so large a part of it was as likely to be bought in a shop as baked at home.

Some did better, but they were already being persuaded to spend what little they had on processed foods, which naturally made more money for the factory owners:

There was compensation for the vigourous workmen in full employment who might earn as much as 3 pounds per week. On an income like this a man could afford to eat meat fairly regularly, to have white rather than brown rye or barley bread on their tables, to drink tea -- and to indulge in a growing taste for sugar, 5 million pounds of which were consumed in 1760.
[R. Porter, English Society in the Eighteenth Century, 1982]

The historian writing this seemed to see it as progress! Whilst the aristocracy was gorging itself on huge quantities of meat, they did not, apparently consider such a diet necessary for mere servants:

In large eighteenth-century houses, according to the duc de La Rochefoucauld, there was "a supply of cold meat, tea and punch" on the servants' tables "from morning to night". Another observer considered that "servants in great families wantonly" ate five times as much meat as nature really required.
[J. Hecht, The Domestic Servant Class in Eighteenth Century England 1956]

Strange that nature required the rich to eat more meat.... Elsewhere the balance was beginning to improve considerably:

Servants in smaller households also ate well. Mrs. Prinsep's footman described dinners of roast beef and vegetables, dumplings and damson pie, and "very good table ale" of which everyone could have as much as they liked.
[Arnold Bennett, Riceyman Steps, 1923]

This seems to be the first record of someone not complaining about eating a meal with more vegetables than meat!