THE VEGETARIAN MOVEMENT IN ENGLAND,
A STUDY IN THE STRUCTURE OF ITS IDEOLOGY
A thesis presented to the London School of Economics, University of London,
for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy,
©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now Professor of Social Policy and Sociology at Kent University, England, and has given permission for this previously unpublished thesis to be published on the IVU website.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.
CHAPTER NINE: THE STRUCTURE OF THE IDEOLOGY
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C: THE.PURE BODY
We can now turn to how the concept of wholeness and. the structure of extraction on which it rests is relevant to some of their other concerns.
The idea of the pure body stands at the heart of the vegetarian ideology, embodying their conception of a profound state of transfigured well-being. The image is sometimes given a directly physiological expression. Thus it is traditionally asserted that the corpses of vegetarians do not rot as do those of meat eaters (a conception that parallels older ideas of the incorruptability of sainthood and the odour of sanctity). (1) Similarly, a vegetarian diet is believed to purify the system so that: 'the foul breath, the humiliating body odours, supporting a vast artificial industry, give way to natural sweetness. It is remarkable how fragrant the skin becomes on such a diet'. (2) It is sometimes said that the excrement of vegetarians is not as offensive as that of human carnivores and dogs. This symbolism is sometimes related to the circumstances of the closely bounded group; thus in the early days of Findhorn, the Caddys were told by the devas that they could use their excrement with the kitchen waste for manure for the garden since their bodies did not have impurities in them, but once the community expanded, and strangers began to come, they abandoned this. (3)
The idea of purity is often focused around ideas of blood. We have already noted how blood traditionally stands for the special living essence and how nature cure in particular picks up older ideas of the state of the blood as embodying the wider state of the person. (4) Thus a vegetarian diet is said to be 'cleansing' to the blood and the blood of vegetarians is believed to be specially pure, particularly by contrast to the 'toxin laden', or even 'corrupt' blood of meat eaters. Because of this symbolism around blood there is a special concern over threats to its purity whether by blood transfusions, or the injection of vaccines, or by the ingestion of animal blood through meat eating.
Lastly among these physiological expressions, the vegetarian conception of illness is one in which bodily purity is central; thus illness is understood as the presence of pollutants in the body, whether meat or additives, or as the retention of waste matter, and treatment is often purgative, focusing on cleansing, washing and fasting.
In their image of the purified body, the structure of wholeness referred to earlier is given a physiological expression: the state of wholeness is also a state of purity, achieved through the extraction from it of the disjunctive aspects,
defined as unreal and outside the integrity of the whole. (5)
These bodily preoccupations, certainly in their more extreme versions, can have an obsessive aspect, and there are elements of this in the natural health tradition. (6) I am aware how the concern over bodily purity and integrity can be interpreted psychologically; but returning to my original remarks, (p23 ) I am concerned here less with psychological interpretation than with the ways in which these basic images – perhaps containing a psychological charge, perhaps not - are used to connect with and build up the wider ideology.
The image of the pure body relates also to a feature of modern vegetarianism which is its rejection of the traditional of Cartesian dualism and its stress on the unity of mind and body. Related to this is the development whereby the body becomes the central social and metaphysical metaphor: 'He who understands the truth of the body, can then come to understand the truth of the universe' , (7) and it is this sense that underlies the cosmical body imagery prevalent from the days of Swedenborg and particularly evident in the writing of Carpenter.
The power of vegetarianism lies in its experiential quality. It carries the unity of mind and body in its nature for the wholeness exists not just in formulations concerning food or spiritual or psychological health, but in the union of inner and outer that occurs in eating according to its principles, and it can thus become the means of enshrining the principles in the very self and in daily life. The Vegetarian Messenger of 1850 wrote of:
vegetarianism’s tendency to keep alive the conscientious principle. If a man abstains from certain types of food 'for conscience sake', it reminds kin' every day of the connection between his outer conduct and his inward feeling – his sense of justice, of mercy, of truth. It leads him to perceive that every action of his life, whether of eating or drinking, thinking or speaking is continually exercising a certain degree of influence over his mind. (8)
Where life is regarded as a whole, all actions can become meaningful and thus capable of completing that whole. F.A. Wilson writing in a zen context, noted the 'sense of profound, exquisite meaningfulness' that comes from:
sensing the inherent sanctity, dignity and cosmic connection of all that is worthy of human doing, which raises the simple act to a high order, physically and spiritually enhancing, and providing a level of satisfaction and joy beyond verbal description. (9)
Eating is made an area of self awareness and a repudiation in particular of the racketyness of modern life. Slow, meditative chewing can be part of this. (10)
Lastly this conception of a purified body sometimes carries the sense of a different sort of body, one formed of light and lightness. (11)
There is a long tradition in the history of vegetarianism in the use of such language of light and lightness. We have already noted this in the context of sunlight and sun imagery, and in the association with light colours. At the level of food, vegetarian food is often described - at times in contradiction to its nature - as 'light', and the editor of the New Vegetarian in 1977 wrote of 'the instinctual belief held by many vegetarians that fresh vital foods lift and lighten (and not only in the physical sense). (12) Some of this feeling may underwrite the popular association of vegetarianism with slimming. Yoga employs a similar language of lightness and clarity in the body; and at the spiritual level vegetarianism is connected both with ideas of rising above the carnal and of refining the spiritual-Cum-physical substance of the body.
What vegetarianism presents therefore is a risen, Blakean picture of the body, an immortally youthful temple of the spirit. It substitutes for the heavy, carnal, neat-fed body, epitomising the realm of death and decay, a spiritual, vegetable-fed body that rises above and sloughs off the unreality of corruption.
- 34. See for example, VM, Hove 1850, p154, though it is a recurringly expressed theme.
- 35. F.A. Wilson, Food Fit for Humans, 1975, p96. note the association of artificial with corruption and the assertion of natural sweetness. See also, for example, comments by Dr Archibald Hunter, VR, July 1895, p231.
- 36. The Findhorn Garden, p15.
- 37. See p233 for the tradition of nature cure. Alderman Harvey testified in DR, Oct 1862, p103, to the toxic state of his blood stream when a meat eater; Carpenter and Forward both attested to the ease with which wounds healed through the purity of their blood streams; Sir George Trevelyan wrote of how 'it is essential... that there is a cleansing of the blood of the many impurities which are put in by denatured food'. (Foreword to Wrekin Trust pamphlet, Food for Happiness and Health, Margaret Brady, n.d.).
- 38. Some of the current popular psychology movements can also be related to this, with their ideas of 'hang ups' as something to be got rid of as unreal and not part of true personality, resulting from distorting parental and social demands; though wholeness here also means integration.
- 39. Evidence for a Freudian account of vegetarianism is stronger here than in the more obvious area of sadistic feelings. There are some individuals who seem superficially to conform to the anal personality, and its themes are strong in the natural health tradition. Interestingly however, the cultural ramifications of vegetarianism - at least in Britain - tend not to confirm the hypothesis, for it is linked with the repudiation of rules and authority, and the belief in unstructured freedom. (Mazdaznan is, however, a significant exception here).
For a psychological interpretation of the natural health movement in terms of fears of disintegration and threats to bodily intactness, see J. Marmor, V.W. Barnard and P. Ottenburg, 'Psychodynamics of Group Opposition to Health Programs', American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 1960, though the wider social and ideological associations in America are significantly different.
- 40. Prospectus of the White Cross Society p4.
- 41. VM, Nov 1850, supp. p26.
- 42. Food Fit for Humans, p91; The preparation of food, especially the baking of bread, has taken on these aspects, see for example, 'The Sacrament of the Kitchen Sink', in Food for Happiness and Health, Wrekin Trust.
- 43. Eating slowly has been an element in vegetarianism since the days of Swedenborg. The Herald of Health recalled how: 'Swedenborg relates that when eating alone one day he was startled by the Lord appearing in one corner of the room, saying, "eat slowly".' (Quoted in the DR, Feb 1884, p63) Hills also recommended slow steady chewing to a 'generation that bolts its victuals like of boa constrictor'. (Vital Food, p3). The connection between dyspepsia and the tensions and pace of modern life feature from the late nineteenth century and are connected with what American diet reform called the 'gobble gulp and go' habits of modern eating (see Gerald Carson, The Cornflake Crusade, 1959, p34). The most famous advocate of this was Horace Fletcher with his 'Why Worry Clubs' and his advocacy of chewing (he was not a vegetarian though is referred to with some approval) see his obituary, VM, March 1919, p31). The slow meditative chewing required of whole and macrobiotic foods is also part of this tradition.
- 44. The account given by Eileen Caddy expresses this well. In the context of their vegetarian diet: 'We were told that we were purifying the atomic structure of our bodies, transforming the dense physical substance into light and lightness that would be more receptive to absorbing energies from the sun, sea and air. . . Previously we had thought of food in terms of calories or energy needed for maintaining solid physical bodies. Now we were told what actually nourished us was a more subtle energy. Through our diet we were absorbing the light that made the vegetables and fruit grow – the light of the sun and. the light of our conscious. Our bodies were becoming light'. p42. The imagery of light and clarity was expressed also in the fresh, cold aspects of raw food: and she goes on to recall how they were told:' "Water is the medium which is to be used to energies these forces [forces now being released on the planet]. Water on the body. Water all around you. That is one reason why you are living surrounded by water on three sides".
'I did become more deeply aware of water - the feeling of rain on my face, the tingling sensation, like electricity, as I put my hands in water.
'Still, we didn't understand exactly why we were being asked to transform our bodies. When I asked for clarity on this, I received "My beloved child, when you really believe with your whole heart and at all times, that man was made in My image and likeness, you will have found the greatest secret of life. Try to understand this question of a light body and a dense body, to understand about the physical and the spirit body".
'I certainly knew that God wasn't saying he had a physical body like ours. Because of my upbringing I had thought that the body was like a shell to be worn for a short time and cast off, and that the spirit alone is like God. But it seemed that this was saying something quite different. “Man was made in my image and likeness, then he abused his body so much by eating the wrong food, by drinking the wrong drinks, by thinking the wrong thoughts!
'What did food and drink have to do with the image and likeness of God? . . . Perhaps the body is to be seen not just as a temple to contain God, but every cell is light, is spirit, which reflects God'. The Findhorn Garden, p44.
- 45. New Vegetarian, Jan 1977, p1, Mike Storm.
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