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now Professor of Social Policy and Sociology at Kent University, England, and has given permission for this previously unpublished thesis to be published on the IVU website.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


We can find this aspect of the ideology written into the style of vegetarian food itself, which has developed, especially in the twentieth century, its own particular characteristics. Thus vegetarian restaurants are not places of waiters, of menus structured into courses, of candles, of dressed-up evenings out they are informal, with trays, benches and a predominantly lunch-time atmosphere. (1) Vegetarian dishes themselves resemble the lunch and supper dishes - the unstressed, informal meals – of conventional cookery. Vegetarianism makes less distinction between the various meals which conventionally structure the day, week and year, thus foods like muesli can be eaten at all meals and even as a snack. The time clock of meals is both made more subjective and individual - free from social rules - and in itself less marked. There is also a less developed language of ‘special' meals, specialness in vegetarianism can be achieved by using more expensive ingredients or greater elaboration, but an informal air tends to remain, vegetarian cookery has not the same grammatical width as has conventional cookery. Conventional cooking can also draw on what are thought to be traditional forms - Christmas is the classic here. 'What do vegetarians eat at Christmas?’, is a question that comes up with a significant regularity. (2)

The directions in which vegetarianism has developed its style of cooking are particularly relevant to this theme. A conventional meat meal is highly structured and centres around a single high-status item, like roast-beef or chicken, which gives its name to the course and which is supported by grades of lower status items - the various vegetables. By contrast, vegetarian food is typically chopped up, mixed together, undifferentiated; it is destructured. This style of presentation implies an egalitarian redefinition of the lowly foods; for example, rice from being a mere fattening fill-you-up becomes, especially for the vegan, a central source of food value. Thus the style in eating can be a daily repudiation of the world of hierarchy and power epitomised in meat.

This dissolution of structures is found also in the vegetarians' religious associations: for it is at the heart of the transcendental/mystical/Indian strain that is recurrent in the milieu. It is most clearly present in the west-coast versions of zen with their blatant assault on the rational structures of the mind, though it lies also behind much of the recent pre-occupation with mysticism as the ultimate in unstructured knowing.

We can observe this ideology of non-structure also at the level of dress. The rational dress movement attacked both the conspicuous consumption of elaborate and restricting clothes, and the use of clothes as an indicator of social hierarchy and as part of the elaborate structuring of the day and week. The vegetarian naturist link celebrates freedom and openness – sun and wind on the body - away from the constraints of society. Naturism can be non-structural in a second sense of being against the structured eroticism of clothes, for ideas of modesty work both ways and what is hidden is also enhanced and - most important - defined. It presents once again the pure body, arguing that nakedness was in fact purer than the false prudery of clothes. The naturist ideology attempts to equalise and de-structure all experience and appearance, presenting the naked self that is beyond institutions and roles; nakedness is, of course, a recurring element in Turner's state of liminality, beyond the structured world of society. (3)

The emphasis on freedom that runs through vegetarian writing draws on this sense of, unconstrained and unstructured existence. In the 1880s it was expressed in terms of throwing off middle-class mores and 'the god Respectability', in the late 1960s and 70s, of 'straight society'. Total freedom, whether social, psychological or spiritual was seen as an attainable goal: there is somewhere a basic, undifferential reality beyond society and its structures, (there are links here with the pre-social social nature). Individuals are regarded as having a basic personality and character and society is something imposed on them and in no sense creative of them. What we should aim at therefore is:  culturally unbiased clarity of an infant . . . This can be done by shucking off many acquired habits and roles, rituals and facades man acquires from his society. Once he can free himself from culturally imposed limitations and repressions, he can perhaps regain the purity and innocence of a child'. (4)

This pursuit of an ethic of non-structure is part also of the association with the English versions of anarchism that would found society on the free and unconstrained choice of individuals. It is a strongly egalitarian ideology; social structure is identified with divisiveness and exploitation. They belong to the socialist tradition that emphasises brotherhood (5) not class war and that puts change in consciousness high in estimation compared with change in the objective structures of society. The classic criticism of this strand in socialism is, precisely, that it is deficient in an understanding of structure. There are - significantly - few Marxist vegetarians. (6)

The ethic of non-structure comes but also in their attacks on formal categories for relationships, for example in the rules that define and distance people as spouses/ parents/ friends/ acquaintances. Vegetarian children are sometimes brought up to call their parents by their christian names. In a similar vein if we look at the communes, their conception of relationships is similarly destructured. Abrams and McCulloch in their study of modern communes (7) had difficulty in eleciting any typifications from respondents; theirs - the respondents' - was an approach that rejected any social analysis, and substituted - where any account was given - an opaque language of being and feeling that rejected any conception of structure or hierarchy that would mediate self and relatedness, stressing instead felt and lived experience. Process not structure is the emphasis, and friendship provides the model for relationships. There is often a rejection of the closed ethic of romantic love, which provides the special area for affective relationships by contrast with cooler and more detached friendships, and a substitution instead of a more open ethic that includes pair bonds and friends in an intense ideal of loving friendship. (8) Sex thus should not necessarily be confined to social structure - in marriage - but become a more general aspect of free and full relating. This freeing of love and sex from the structures of marriage and society comes out also in the older association with free-love unions, or in ideas of relationships that transcend secular marriage, as in the eighteenth-century Swedenborgian conception of 'conjugial' love. (9)

Their ideology of immediate, structureless and unnegotiated intimacy, beyond roles and social structure, comes from the picture of human nature as essentially pure and good (as referred to earlier) for in ideological systems that regard this as the case there are indeed no problems in relating fully and totally to people, and social structures are experienced as barriers. Systems however, that do not eradicate the, as it were, 'impurity' (10) attempt to cope with it by structuring the conflict and stresses that are regarded as endemic. Vegetarianism can aim at unstructured states because of the prior structuring involved in the extraction and in the related construction of a state of wholeness referred to earlier.  Furthermore, the boundary around the pure acts here as an external and unofficial structure, and this brings us to the last theme, that of boundaries.

  1. 47. The lunch-time aspect is reflected also in the opening hours, many vegetarian restaurants do not open in the evenings, and those that do tend to close early.
  2. 48. Usually with a tone of dismay or with heavy humour about nut turkeys.
  3. 49. V. Turner, The Ritual Process, 1969; and 'Metaphors of Anti-Structure in Religious Culture', Dramas, Fields and Metaphors, 1974.
  4. 50. Fox, Between Animal and Man, p20. Note the recurrent image of the child.
  5. 51. This is part also of their internationalist and third-world connections, end their links with anti-racialism, as in the Vegetarians Against the Nazis group, part of the opposition to the National Front.
  6. 52. See p135 for their criticisms. The acceptance - in theory at least - of revolutionary violence is an obvious dividing point, but there is generally in Marxism, certainly that of the middle class, a tough-minded, slightly machismo aspect: 'We are all red-blooded meat-eaters here' was the response of one Marxist to the subject of this thesis.
  7. 53. P. Abrams and A. McCulloch, Communes, Sociology and Society, 1976.
  8. 54. Ibid, p139. This has clear affinities with the ideals of various Romanticist groups in the/past.
  9. 55. See E. Swedenborg, Conjugial Love, 1768, trs W. Clowes. The popular adoption and development of the doctrine among the Swedenborgian congregations was the occasion of a certain amount of scandal.
  10. 56. As it is conceived within the vegetarian system.

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