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The Vegetarian World Forum


Vegetarian Diet
by W. A. SIBLY, J.P., Glos., M.A. Oxon.
Headmaster of Wycliffe College

The word ''vegetarian" is used to denote an abstainer from flesh, fish and fowl, but not necessarily from milk and its products.


It is nearly forty years since this tale began. In some ways, indeed, its beginning goes back for sixty-five years, for from the time when Wycliffe was founded in 1882 until the present date its headmasters have been vegetarians, and a few vegetarian boys, attracted by this fact and example, have always been found in the School. In September, 1909, these boys were brought together in a separate House, named Springfield. This then consisted of two semi-detached villas, at first rented, but soon purchased by the School. To this House large additions were made in 1927 and again in 1938, making room for fifty boys and the staff.

An informal Springfield group taken during the war when the School was moved temporarily to Lampeter, Cardiganshire.
(click for larger version)


In 1946 the range of the experiment was increased by the acquisition of another House for thirty vegetarians in the Junior and Preparatory Schools. Thus altogether there are some eighty boys at Wycliffe on a vegetarian diet, but it should be made clear that there are nearly three hundred others, in eight more Houses, whose diet is a normal meat one.

The eighty boys in the vegetarian Houses come from all over Great Britain, and sometimes from overseas, but most are from England and Wales. They may be divided into three classes:

1. The "pukka" vegetarians - often life vegetarians - who come from homes where no meat is eaten, their parents being of the same persuasion.

2. The "natural" vegetarians. These are boys who have been born into a meat-eating family but who, for some reason, have had a pronounced dislike for meat and whose parents, wisely as we think, have always allowed them to follow their natural taste. There are generally quite a few of these boys in the School.

3. Some who have joined the vegetarian Houses for other reasons, and who probably eat meat in the holidays, but all Springfield boys possess the vegetarian ration books with the meat and bacon coupons cancelled, and consistency is required from all during term-time, or for nearly three quarters of the year.

This segregation of vegetarians and meat-caters not only much simplifies the problems of catering and cooking, but also prevents the comparisons and the occasional heart - or stomach - ache which would arise on both sides, for not all vegetarian boys inherit their parents ardour for fleshless fare, and meat-eaters often envy the larger provision of fruits and salads and nuts given to the vegetarians. As things are, with all one's immediate fellows in the same boat, regrets and comparisons are absent, and practically all boys, whether vegetarians or meateaters, thoroughly enjoy the meals provided.

Since Springfield became a vegetarian House, two great wars have desolated the world. Both have brought food rationing, with some modification of the normal diet, but on no occasion has there been any recourse to flesh, fish or fowl, nor have health, vigour and development been affected, as far as one can judge, by the present restriction in the quantity of nuts, dried fruit, and dairy foods available.


Ordinary cooks, trained in the use of conventional dishes, cannot be expected to provide a balanced food reform diet. A solution has been found in the employment of lady-cooks and caterers who are themselves keen and experienced vegetarians, and in both the Senior and Junior Schools all the staff of the vegetarian Houses take the same diet as the boys.

This diet may be described as lacto-vegetarian, inasmuch as milk and its products, and more particularly the twelve-ounce weekly ration of cheese, are included, with occasional eggs also. A case may possibly be made out for what is sometimes called the Vegan Diet, based entirely on the products of the vegetable kingdom, but those at Wycliffe who have the responsibility for feeding nearly four-score boys during their years of greatest growth and activity have yet to be convinced of the entire adequacy and attractiveness of a diet from which not only all meat foods, but also all forms of animal produce, are excluded. In any case, the majority of vegetarian parents and boys, in the present stage of experience or enlightenment, would not regard as adequate and sufficiently attractive a diet from which, in addition to all meat foods, cheese, eggs, butter and milk are also banned. Possibly with the development of the soya bean and its products such a diet may become feasible and appetizing to the majority, but as a practical schoolmaster I hesitate to attempt the experiment with other people's children, and as a countryman I should be sorry to see the countryside without its herds and flocks. "They make a wilderness, and call it peace," as a Latin poet wrote long ago.


For the last six years vegetarians have been allowed a special ration of twelve ounces of cheese a week, an extra allowance of vegetable margarine and a first claim on imported nuts, but even so the shortage of dried bananas, figs and dates, and the almost total temporary disappearance of Brazil nuts, almonds, and pine-kernels has led to some modification of the normal diet; In this diet, wholemeal bread is preferred to white or standard bread, demarara sugar to white sugar, vegetables are cooked conservatively, and potatoes in their skins, salads are provided as far as possible all the year round (shredded cabbage and sprouts and carrots and beetroot, especially if served with olive oil, grated or flaked cheese, and a baked potato, make an excellent dish even in mid-winter). Fruit is given freely and muesli (raw oatmeal, honey and grated apple) is often given instead eli other breakfast cereals. In general, tea and coffee are not drunk.


Subject to such limitations, there can be no question as to the success of the vegetarian experiment at Wycliffe. The boys concerned develop well physically, their vitality is good and their complexions are clear. On the average, taken over a long term of years, they hold their own in games and other physical tests, and in endurance races, such as cross-country running, they have been conspicuously successful.

On the average again, they have been outstanding in the Debating Society and in Sixth Form and Scholarship work, though every House has its dullards as well as its bright sparks. They are not wholly exempt from the infections of childhood and adolescence, as some ardent food-reformers think they ought to be! In fact, it seems to me, after forty years of close observation, that there is very little relation between susceptibility to the germs of chicken-pox and measles and a boy's health and vitality. By reason of their diet, though, these boys seldom suffer from constipation (purgatives are practically never given or required) and appendicitis is a very rare complaint. On an average, they are little subject to influenza, and - when treated with fasting or fruit juices - their recovery from illness is rapid. (A cynic might say, "Whose would not be with such a regimen? ")


A reasonable reader may even so enquire whether the game is worth the candle. Personally, and writing as one who, in more than sixty years of remembered life, has never eaten meat at home or school or university, in travel or anywhere else, I believe it is. The "total abstainer" of this sort usually reaps his reward in radiant health, a clear mind, a wholesome and placid yet vigorous and disciplined outlook upon life, and in the contribution which he can more naturally and wholeheartedly make to that "sacred kinship we may not forgo" which "binds us to all that breathes." Occasionally one may be reduced to very simple living, but no one is the worse for that and what is the good of having principles unless one is prepared to suffer for them?

But, in general, there is far more gain than "sufferance," especially if one avoids the danger of diet monomania, knows the value of humour, and realises the worth of all the other factors - and they are not a few - which make for full and abundant life.

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