|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now Professor of Social Policy and Sociology at Kent University, England, and has given permission for this previously unpublished thesis to be published on the IVU website.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 EIGHT THE MODERN PERIOD
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VEGETARIANISM IN THE SEVENTIES (1)
The division between the London Vegetarian Society and the Vegetarian Society continued in the post-war era, though this had become largely of a geographical nature, reinforced by individual loyalties. In 1959, the two journals of the societies were amalgamated, and through the sixties movements were made towards a reunification, which was eventually achieved - to the approval of most - in 1969. (2) The Society's headquarters are now in Altringham, with a London office and information centre. Despite the continuation of a certain separateness between north and south, these reforms have aided the society's effectiveness. Membership roughly doubled in the seventies and now stands at about 8,000. This figure does not approach the number of committed vegetarians in the country, which has been estimated at about a quarter of a million, (3) for the society has always had difficulty in getting representative numbers of vegetarians to join, the nature of the commitment lacking an official focus. The society's most effective contribution has been as a source of authoritative information and comment.
The society tends to be slightly conservative in tone with a preponderance of older members, (4) and despite its youth section has not gained as fully as it might from the upsurge of interest in vegetarianism among the young in the seventies. In particular, it failed to capture the more alternative, counter-cultural aspects, which have been better represented in magazines such as Seed.
With regard to the attitudes of dominant society, there was in the seventies a significant shift in opinion, evidenced in the steady growth in coverage in the media: newspapers and women's magazines carried articles on vegetarian cookery; events organised by the Vegetarian Society were by the late seventies regularly reported in The Times; (5) and Vegetarian Society spokesmen began to appear on radio and television. In 1976, the Vegan Society produced an Open Door programme on BBC which elicited some 300 phone calls and 9,000 letters of enquiry. (6)
The rise in the popularity of vegetarianism is perhaps most clearly evidenced in the spread of vegetarian restaurants. In 1968, the Vegetarian Society Handbook listed 16 names in London, and 18 in the rest of the country; by 1977-8, there were 52 in London and 80 in the rest of the country. (7)
This expansion was marked by a new approach in the restaurants. The arrival of Cranks in 1961 and its establishment in Marshall Street in 1967, set a new style; and its solid oak benches and tables, hand-woven hangings and craftsman-made pottery were widely influential. Cranks assumed the pre-eminent position among vegetarian restaurants that Shearns had previously occupied. Cranks' particular emphasis on raw and wholefood was, according to one of its founders, David Canter, relatively new in the 1960s; Shearns, when it closed in 1961, was still serving white sugar and pastry. (8) Cranks was highly successful, and branches were established during the 1970s in such likely sites as Heal's, Totnes, Dartington and Guildford. There is no waitress service, for ideological as well as commercial reasons; and there is a conscious commitment to good staff relations, with profit-sharing schemes. Since Cranks, many vegetarian restaurants have been established In a similar style (as well as many more directly commercial ventures in the 1970s, not committed to vegetarianism, though providing food of a similar type). Many of these vegetarian restaurants tend to be rougher in style, cheaper and often more committed to particular ancillary interests; Cranks Is now felt by some to be too smooth and 'middle class' in tone. As has always been the case, vegetarian restaurants are widely used by non-vegetarians, especially for lunch. (9)
Hand In hand with this expansion of vegetarian restaurants went an expansion in vegetarian and health-food shops. The health food shops tended to be more commercial in nature (many are owned by a major retailing group) and not fully committed to vegetarianism. Their clientele tends to be older, and frequently, drawn to health foods by a desire to alleviate minor or chronic ailments. Though such shops are found in most major towns, there is a particular concentration in the coastal retirement towns, where there are now also a number of vegetarian restaurants. Many vegetarians express reservations about these shops, with their banks of pills, vitamin supplements and elixirs, which they feel are contrary to true diet-reform principles and give the impression to the public that the diet is in need of such supplementation. (10) The high profit margin on such goods is part of the explanation for their prominence, though there is an element of hypochondria in health-food circles: most of the remedies are aimed at minor, often psychosomatic ailments, or at the attainment of greater energy and joie de vivre. Not all vegetarians are as averse to pills and supplements as is claimed. These shops tend also to carry more in the way of made-up, packaged foods. Sometimes these vegetarian foods are processed and artificial in nature; and those belonging more clearly to the organic or wholefood lobbies complain of such an approach. Seed, for example, attacked the Vegetarian Society for endorsing an artificial food produced from bacteria grown on crude oil; and Marika McCausland spoke with disapproval of vegetarian margarines and spreads as not whole, natural foods. (11)
Major change in style between old and new vegetarianism came with the arrival of the wholefood shops and co-operatives. These were consciously much rougher and more basic in appearance, with bare wooden boards, sacks of beans and nuts, bin of herbs and trugs of organically grown fruit; there was a conscious appeal to the images of the cracker-barrel store and of Mother Earth. (12) Goods are often sold more cheaply, with no pre-packing; and there are no supplements or processed foods. They are usually run and owned by groups of relatively young people, sometimes members of the Divine Light Mission, with a broadly alternative approach to life. They are much more committed than the health-food shop managers; and the shops act as centres for information concerning the local alternative scene. Some of these enterprises are not just committed to wholefoods but to the macrobiotic diet, which became influential in vegetarianism in the late 1960s. The diet is not necessarily vegetarian, though it is strongly inclined that way, and in its stricter forms (there are a number of grades in the diet) is so. It is based on the teachings of the Japanese, George Ohsawa, who developed his system of diets in the late 1940s, though it is informed by the ancient idea of a balance between foods which are divided into Yin and Yang (5:1 is a frequently used ratio) and these categories have wider cosmological significances. The stress is on cereals, particularly brown rice, as the staple food, with the addition of organically-grown foods, preferably native to the locality. (13)
Certain shifts at the level of food habits in this period have aided the acceptance of vegetarianism. The first is the general movement away from red meat. John Burnett notes the decline in meat consumption, which, were it not for the increase in the eating of broiler-produced chicken and pork, would now stand at less than the 1950 ration level.
This shift from red to white meat echoes that found in vegetarianism.
There is also an increased tendency to take fats in the dairy forms of butter, cheese, and cream, rather than as meat fat; this tendency, which is based on taste and texture preference, and not on health arguments, reinforces the shift away from meat. (15) There is also evidence for a growing squeamishness over buying meat. An increasing number of people, prefer to buy it, neatly wrapped from the supermarket fridge, rather than watch the chopping and cutting of the butcher's shop. There has also been a decline in the display of animal's heads in butcher's windows and of carcasses hanging in view in the shops. (16)
The rise in the cost of meat, particularly in the early seventies, has also contributed to the more favourable milieu through the development of interest among the status-conscious middle class in non-meat meals. 'Vegetarian Cookery’, as a style in itself, offered an acceptable aegis under which to introduce cheaper dishes. Economic stringency and the high cost of meat do not make people vegetarians, though breaking the expectation of meat at every meal does undermine habit in such a way as - perhaps - to allow the moral arguments a better hearing. (17)
Are the vegetarians of the 1970s and today, as writers like Angela Carter and others have suggested, (19) essentially different from their predecessors? There are, as we shall see, some important differences; however, this popular perception is essentially mistaken and in large part derives from the changed social status of vegetarianism Itself. The expansion of the sixties and seventies was mainly among the young, and this new generation of recruits formed a contrast to the older, perhaps a little dowdy) survivors of the lean post-war period. Age was important, for the fact that it was young people who were interested in vegetarianism – or spirituality, or fringe medicine - gave these movements a great lift in public esteem. (20) As vegetarianism - for various reasons - became a more familiar and tolerated social option, so it lost some at least of Its negative and humorous labelling, and was perceived to have become, less cranky. (21)
Many of these new vegetarians were not attracted to the old vegetarian network, and groups like the Theosophical Society, the Order of the Cross, and, as we have seen, to some extent the Vegetarian Society itself, failed to capture the new enthusiasm thrown up by the counter culture. It was not that the Ideas or beliefs were essentially different, but that their social atmosphere was unappealing to the young. New groups thus emerged.
In terms of social class, vegetarianism remains broadly the same - almost exclusively middle class, and drawing differentially from the 'educated' middle class and the minor professions. It benefited in particular from the expansion of the welfare and public sectors.
A second area of change was in attitudes to pleasure in food. This was an old area of conflict, and some of the traditional attitudes have lingered on. Roth in his study of natural therapies found a strong belief amongst the participants that natural diets were lacking in pleasure and that this was part of their therapeutic role. (24) But increasingly writers of vegetarian cookery books emphasise the delights of vegetarian food and of its great variety, and there is a quite new stress upon gourmet vegetarian food. This partly echoes general changes in post-war British attitudes to food, though it is also a repudiation of the old gaunt image of asceticism. Diet reform and vegetarianism in the nineteenth century had disapproved of spices and seasonings, regarding them as overheating to the blood and leading to overstimulation, and a bland, cool diet was recommended. Now, however, partly through the influence of Indian vegetarian food, vegetarian cooking makes considerable use of spices and stronger tastes (though the disapproval of salt and pepper continues to some degree). There was a sexual meaning in the nineteenth-century vegetarian avoidance of hot and spicy foods, and their gradual acceptance in the later twentieth may cross-relate to the changes in attitude to sexuality.
Drink as an issue is almost completely dead, most vegetarian restaurants with any pretentions are licensed. It remains true however that vegetarians are by and large modest drinkers. (25)