International Vegetarian Union (IVU)
IVU logo

1847-1981 :

A thesis presented to the London School of Economics, University of London,
for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, by Julia Twigg
©AUTUMN 1981 - Thesis Index

The author is now Professor of Social Policy and Sociology at Kent University, England, and has given permission for this previously unpublished thesis to be published on the IVU website. The ownership and copyright remain hers and no part of this thesis may be used elsewhere without her express permission.

[Numerical links are to the author's footnotes, use your back button to return to the same point in the text. Text links are to relevant items on the IVU website, all open in new windows]

[a. Definition]

Certain terms will be used, and some explanation of them is needed. 'Vegetarianism' involves avoiding flesh, fish and fowl, and veganism, the avoidance in addition to these of all animal products (ie: eggs, cheese and milk). In this study, vegetarian, as applied to diet, will be taken as an inclusive term that covers vegan, though in cases where specific distinction is made, the term lacto-vegetarian will be used to differentiate. Many in both groups extend the avoidance to include animal-derived products such as leather or some house-hold cleaning substances, though this is always less central than the question of eating. (1)

Though the word vegetarian is known to date from the early 1840's, it only gained a wider currency with the founding of the Vegetarian Society in 1847. (2) There have been recurring debates over its suitability ever since. Many have felt that the word was off-putting and implied that vegetarians live off vegetables. (3)

Though its original derivation is obscure, the vegetarians have vigorously defended the etymology put forward by Professor Mayor which derives the term from vegetus: vigorous, lively. (4) At different times other names have been suggested, for example VEM, which stands for vegetables, eggs and milk, and which Frances Newman put forward in the 1880's as a better, less faddy sounding term, although it was of course unacceptable to those who disapproved of all animal produce, and it never achieved popular success. Howard Williams about the same time suggested akreophagy, although this hardly solved the problem of the public's failure to understand the definition. The difficulty has been to fasten upon a name that will unite all vegetarians - which implies a negative term, conveying abstinence from meat - and yet also conveys the positive aspects of the appeal. Suggestions like Humanitarianism, or the Higher Phase of Temperance were both too vague, and stressed too heavily certain ancillary interests. (5) Disagreement has focussed in particular on the titles of the two main societies' magazines. (6)

Of the greatest influence on vegetarianism has been what is called diet reform. The two movements have been intertwined throughout the modern history of vegetarianism, and are to a large extent indistinguishable. Diet reform stresses a more unrefined diet, one using brown bread, raw vegetables etc., and it has often been associated with the avoidance of tea, coffee, alcohol, sugar and artificial additives. There are diet reformers who do not abstain from treat, though the majority would restrict its use; and there are vegetarians who eat sliced white bread and refined packet food, however they are in the minority, and the overlap of the two movements is such that they cannot be understood apart.

In addition to these basic terms there are particular categories of the diet such as macrobiotic (see p309) and the fruitarian. This latter term is used ambiguously. Sometimes it implies quite literally a diet of fruit alone, (7) but it can also include, for example 'grains, sprouting seeds, herbs and nuts'. (8) One rationale put forward for the distinction among plant food is that eating vegetables in the form of root and. leaf crops involves the destruction of the plant, and that it is thus better, and more in harmony with nature, to eat only fruits (9) – though other reasons are also given; Seed Regards 'health' as the principle aim of the diet, though it emphasises also that in eating fruit one is eating food with 'higher spiritual vibrations'. (10)

Of these forms of diet, all but the macrobiotic, have been current in vegetarianism from the start of the period studied.

  1. Eating is always the most potent focus because it involves an actual incorporation of the animal and an intimate identification with it and with the deed, Even Henry Salt who stressed the issues of exploitation and cruelty admitted that eating, was the issue. Vegetarian Messenger, Jan 1934, p6.
  2. Before then the term Pythagorean was frequently used.
  3. 'The term "Vegetarian" at once brings into a person's mind the image of an insipid and tame individual who exists, and that is all upon cabbages and garden greens'. Stomach Worship: A Growl, by 'A Vegetarian', Liverpool, 1881. This is still a complaint.
  4. Henry Salt, The Logic of Vegetarianism, 1899, p4; Charles Brandt, 'What is Vegetarianism' in [1957] IVU Congress report, gives a fuller account of the derivation. [and much disputed for the last 100 years, there now seems to be some consensus that the 'vegetus' derivation was an invention of the late 19th century - ed]
  5. See for example the Dietetic Reformer (hereafter DR), Nov 1878 p226 and July 1882, p148, and more recently, The Vegetarian, Dec 1976, p5, for this issue.
  6. In 1861 the Vegetarian Messenger became the Dietetic Reformer in the hope of widening its appeal. A similar situation has arisen at other times, most recently in 1978, when on advice of the distribution trade, the Vegetarian Society changed the title of its journal from New Vegetarian to Alive.
  7. Seed regards this as the goal of the diet, Vol 4 No5, p20.
  8. New Vegetarian, Nov 1977, p25.
  9. Seed reports how some feel 'uncomfortable about eating plants as there is a life force permeating the plant kingdom, just as surely as there is one (the same one!) permeating the animal  kingdom'.
  10. Seed, loc cit.

Previous: Why Vegetarianism? | Thesis Index | Next: Vegetarianism as a United Ideology