|International Vegetarian Union (IVU)|
A thesis presented to the London School of Economics, University of London,
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now Professor of Social Policy and Sociology at Kent University, England, and has given permission for this previously unpublished thesis to be published on the IVU website.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.
CHAPTER SEVEN: THE GREAT WAR AND THE INTERWAR PERIOD
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VEGETARIANISM BETWEEN THE WARS
During the interwar period, the established pattern of the vegetarian societies continued, though by the time of the death of Hills in 1927 there are signs that the rivalry between the two societies had largely ceased.
With regard to the pattern of rise and fall, the picture is less clear than in previous periods; though there are signs that the immediate post-war years and the early 1920s were lean ones for the vegetarian societies: the post-war climate was not favourable to their aspirations. (1) From the late twenties, however, there are indications of a quickening of interest in the vegetarian magazines, (2) though the evidence for an upswing comes also from the rise in the late twenties and early thirties of a series of cultural movements favourable to vegetarianism. To some degree these represent once again the re-running of familiar themes from Romanticism, though in this period its influence is much more modified than was the case in the 1880s and '90s (or indeed in the 1970s). This period of the late twenties and thirties is of course dominated economically by the Depression; the relationship of this to the context of vegetarianism is not clear. Northern vegetarianism does not appear to have been seriously eroded by the economic crisis, indeed certain groups such as the Mazdaznans may indeed have flourished in this context. For those of the middle class, particularly in the expanding parts of the south, the thirties, especially the later thirties, were a period of rising real incomes and expanding circumstances: (3) again the relationship to vegetarianism remains unclear.
With regard to the social background: of vegetarianism, the tendency towards an almost exclusively middle- and lower-middle-class base continues. Testimonials and references to working men are now almost completely absent. Fenner Brockway, recalling his journey through England in the early 1930s gathering material for Hungry England and staying with working-class people, can remember no fellow vegetarians among them. (4) Leo Price, a vegetarian miner in South Wales who went to fight in the Spanish Civil War, reports that he knew of no other vegetarians in the mines. (5) In the same vein, the recommendation of the diet for working people in particular largely ceases.
With regard to the attitudes of dominant society in the interwar years, though many vegetarians reported that they now met with an 'easier response' (6) and Ernest Bell asserted that they were no longer regarded as cranks, (7) ignorance remained the predominant response and the diet continued to be disparaged: cartoons of the period suggest a scarcely veiled hostility behind the humour, and Aldous Huxley's account of a vegetarian couple in his short story 'The Claxtons', though perceptive, is essentially malicious in tone. (8) Many shared Orwell's celebrated exasperation with such groups and the continuing fame of that passage is itself significant. (9) Shaw was vegetarianism's most famous figure in the period and his position as both the Grand Old Man and Enfant Terrible of English letters brought wide publicity to the cause. In the literary world the vegetarians engaged in running battles with G.K. Chesterton – for they were, not surprisingly, among his pet aversions (10) – and with Dean Inge, a much quoted pundit of the period. Inge had argued in his Outspoken Essays of 1922 that: 'Sir Leslie Stephen’s remark that no one is so much interested in the demand for pork as the pig, is surely quite valid,' and this aroused a storm of objection from the vegetarians that lasted well into the 1930s. (11)
The work to establish the healthfulness of the diet continued and much publicity was given in vegetarian magazines to the work of G.W. Sibley [editor's note] at Wycliffe College, a boy's public school where the performance in sport and health of the boys from a vegetarian house was compared favourably with those conventionally fed. (12) Similarly the publishing of cycling and other records continued, and the society had some success in getting the BBC to drop its insistence on. the necessity of meat for children. (13)
Certain changes occurred at the level of food. In line with general trends in retailing, manufactured vegetarian foods became increasingly available. Companies like Mapleton's and Pitman's had been founded before the First World War, though it was the interwar period that saw the steady expansion of the market and of the health food companies. These companies were often more than just commercial enterprises and had been founded by people committed to the vegetarian cause – Hugh Mapleton had been a friend of Carpenter - and Wallaces' Pure Food, Pitman's and Allinson's were all products of a wider concern. Often the food factories themselves followed idealistic standards with a stress on hygiene and staff welfare. (14)
Among the restaurants, Shearns of Tottenham Court Road, deserves a mention, since it was the most famous vegetarian restaurant of the period and was often used for celebrations. (15) Lady Emily Lutyens ordered her nut rissoles from there, which arrived with a neat piece of macaroni stuck in the end to form a bone. Not all vegetarian food had this mimicking aspect, and from this period onwards, vegetarian cooking begins to develop a more distinctive style. A major aspect in this, evident from the middle years of the First World War, was the growing popularity of raw food, often termed in the twenties and thirties 'sun-fired' food. (16) The discovery of the role of vitamins aided this development, (17) though as we have seen the idea was itself older and drew on other perceptions than just the scientific-nutritional. The German Bircher-Benner was particularly influential here, as was the American Bengamin Gayelord Hauser. Hauser's system was essentially that of nature cure, stressing elimination, raw food, fasting and the creation of a 'radiant blood stream'. (18) 'Radiant, life giving foods build vital and healthy bodies. Do not expect to keep young and healthy', he advised, 'if you build with coarse, poor, dead materials', (19) and the Beverley Hills tone of his advice and his own good looks (20) endowed the books with a wide appeal in the period, beyond just traditional vegetarian circles.
The 1930s saw a steady expansion in the number of people taking holidays, between 1931 and 1939 those entitled to paid holidays grew from one and a half million to eleven million, and twenty million people were visiting the seaside by the late thirties. (21) This general trend was reflected in the vegetarian magazines, which from the early thirties feature advertisements for vegetarian guest houses, (22) though many vegetarians found a happy solution to the problem of holidays through the vegetarian summer schools which flourished in the interwar period. Ernest Bell was a popular figure at these events, taking the role of 'headmaster' and organiser. (23) A wide range of activities was available including walking, folk dancing, concerts, slides, lectures, and fancy dress balls, though by the mid-thirties the organised programme had given way to a freer approach, whereby the schools were essentially holiday centres. The schools sometimes lasted six to eight weeks, and the annual photographs reveal about a hundred people attending at one time, with about sixty per cent women.