International Vegetarian Union (IVU)
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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now Professor of Social Policy and Sociology at Kent University, England, and has given permission for this previously unpublished thesis to be published on the IVU website.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]


There runs through vegetarianism a vein of sexual eccentricity. It takes two forms, one centred around the advocacy of freedom and liberation, often with deviant or semi-sacrementalist associations, and sometimes involving highly eccentric theories of sex; (1) the other, much the predominant, around ideas of purity and sexual abstinence.

The theme of sexual purity turns up in a number of spheres, whether overtly in the common association of meat eating with sexual stimulation, or less openly in repudiations of 'low materialism.., and the idolisation of the body'. (2) 'Materialism throughout the context of vegetarianism is used equivocally; it can mean the gross pursuit of worthless possessions; it can mean the denial of the higher spiritual realm; but it can also mean the rejection of the physical, with its central meaning the denial of sexuality and pleasure in sex. The issue relates in some degree to the question of pleasure in food, where the vegetarian tradition is similarly divided. One can find passages that extol the pleasures of vegetarian food, what Clubb had earlier called 'gustatory delights’, (3) or recipes aimed to make the diet enjoyable, but one also finds, perhaps predominating, the tradition that rejects this, that reduces food to the barest minimum, that recommends plainness and blandness, and that castigates any elements of luxury in eating. Certain of the vegetarians - Shaw and Beatrice Webb among them - seem almost to dislike food; for Beatrice Webb this was part of a rigorous curbing of the pleasure-loving or passionate side of her nature in favour of a life of dedication and hard work, 'Man will only evolve upwards,' she wrote, 'by the subordination of his physical desires and appetites to the intellectual and spiritual side of his nature. (4) Lady Gwendoline Herbert was to have direct experience of the strength of this tradition of asceticism in the disturbance and agitation in the hall that ensued when she, addressing the May Meeting of 1896, asserted that vegetarianism involved no self denial. (5)

The vegetarians of this time were associated with a number of social purity movements, aiming to refine and de-sensualise human nature. Lady Paget expressed the predominating tone:

Since I have adopted the diet, I have experienced a delightful sense of repose and freedom, a kind of superior elevation above things has a decided effect on moral character, rendering people docile arid more spirituelle and if spread among the masses would make them less coarse and brutal. It refines the lower instincts...and reduces sensuality. (6)

The older static model of man in terms of higher and lower natures, and of rising above the latter, continues, though for some in this period, influenced by evolutionary ideas and in particularly spiritual versions of these, this model is given a dynamic aspect and the movement translated into a temporal sphere, involving a cosmic and individual advance to a higher less fleshly plane.

The old belief in meat's stimulating effects was widely held. 'Keep your body in temperance and soberness', advised the Reverend C.H, Collyns, 'and you will find it far easier to keep it in chastity'. (7) In a similar vein a vegetarian diet was often recommended to boys in the fight against self abuse. Canon Lyttleton, (8) a head master of Eton, wrote of its benefits, and Eustace Miles, a vegetarian sportsman and public schoolmaster, wrote a number of books for boys which advocated a low, non-flesh diet for the problem. (9)

Among the Tolstoyans, there was a more open idealisation of total chastity, and the theme is echoed in some of the 'spiritual' circles. Spiritual advance and sexual purity were closely linked and associated with images of rising and of the purification of the body through cleansing foods and washing techniques. Just in the context of nature cure presents total chastity as the goal: 'If entire abstinence is to be the goal outside the married state, I do not see why this beautiful goal should not be striven for by married people and finally attained'. (10)

Not all subscribed to this view, and in an account left by Gandhi, we have hints of conflict over the issue. (11) Gandhi had arrived as a law student in alien England in the 1880's, and made contact with the London Vegetarian Society, and he recounts a conflict between Hills, whom he describes as a puritan, and Dr T.R. Allinson, described as an advocate of birth control, especially among the working classes. (12) Hills in his own writings makes it clear that sex is for procreation only: 'It has been given for its own special purpose, and for no other. It may not be abused for pleasure; it may not be indulged for passion'; (13) and he was able to force Allinson out of the Society over the issue, an action Gandhi deplored though he shared Hills' attitude to sex.

  1. 158. See for example, under the later period, the writings of H'anish, though he is not alone in such ideas. This polarity is also sometimes found in the context of deviant religious groups.
  2. 159. A. Just, The Jungborn Dietary: A New Vegetarian Cookery-book nd, p12.
  3. 160. VM, Dec 1849, p24.
  4. 161. Quoted in Beatrice Webb, K. Muggeridge and R. Adam, 1967, p167. Beatrice Webb's vegetarianism was part of a general pre-occupation with diet and exercise. She pursued a regime of extreme frugality; even Shaw spoke of the 'ravenously plain meals' served at the Webb's cottage near Dorking. Mrs. Kitty Muggeridge - for whose help on this point I am indebted - sees the key as lying in her 'passionate distaste for self indulgence'.
  5. 162. DR, June 1896, p171.
  6. 163. Quoted in Forward, p114, reprinted from The Nineteenth Century
  7. 164. DR, May 1880, p96.
  8. 165. Lyttleton had been converted by Eustace Miles in the early years of the century. See VM, July 1919, p79.
  9. 166. See his A Boy's Control and Self Expression, Cambridge, 1904; and Better Food for Boys, 3rd. ed, 1922. Miles recommended exercise, cold baths and avoiding flesh food, savoury sauces and pepper.
    EUSTACE MILES: born about 1870, public school and Cambridge. Noted tennis and rackets player - winner of Wimbledon. Became a vegetarian in his late twenties, found it lifted depression of spirits and made him more alert mentally, (see his Muscle, Brain and Diet: A Plea for Simpler Food, 1900). He was a master at Rugby, and later owner of a well known vegetarian restaurant that bore his name. He was a controversial figure in vegetarian circles, see VM, Feb, 1934, p34.
  10. 167. Adolf Just, The Return to Nature, trs 1912, p226
  11. 168. M.K. GANDHI, The Story of My Experiments with Truth, Ahemedabad, 1927. Gandhi had been persuaded briefly as a schoolboy to eat meat by a friend who told him that it gave strength and that this lay at the root of British domination of India. On leaving for England, he vowed to his mother that he would keep to their vegetarian diet; at first he was desperate for food that he could eat, but he came by chance upon a vegetarian restaurant in the city, in which he found a copy of Salt's A Plea for Vegetarianism. Reading this turned him into a vegetarian 'by choice' as well as background. Gandhi believed strongly in the connections between meat and sexual desire, and advocated vegetarianism as an aid to a purer life. His own health ideas were reinforced and influenced by his contacts with the vegetarian and nature-cure circles of the eighties, and later in particular with Just; and he synthesised their ideas with the Indian tradition in his own Guide to Health. See also for his visits, James D. Hunt, Gandhi in London, New Delhi, 1978.
  12. 169. Allinson in his A Book for Married Women, 1894, states that to confine sex to procreation would be to 'limit considerably one of our pleasures'. He also believed that 'Big feeders, drinkers of intoxicants, smokers etc. are more sexually inclined than simple livers and abstainers but the simple liver retains the capacity longer', p14.
  13. 170. A.P. Hills, Vegetarian Essay, 1897, p119.

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