International Vegetarian Union (IVU)
IVU logo

History of Vegetarianism - Henry S. Salt (1851-1939)

Henry Salt on the use of eggs and dairy products

From 1847 the Vegetarian Society was largely dominated by members of the Bible Christian Church, Salford, who strongly promoted eggs, dairy products and honey as part of their biblical diet. They had no intention of reducing their consumption of these animal products. Henry Salt took a different view:

from The Humanities of Diet. Manchester: The Vegetarian Society, 1914:

To show, however, that this question of the temporary use of animal products has not been shirked by food-reformers, I quote the following from my "Plea for Vegetarianism," published nearly thirty years ago [1885, probably published as a pamphlet by the London Food Reform Society].

The immediate object which food-reformers aim at is not so much the disuse of animal substances in general, as the abolition of flesh-meat in particular; and if they can drive their opponents to make the important admission that actual flesh-food is unnecessary, they can afford to smile at the trivial retort that animal substance is still used in eggs and milk. . . . They are well aware that even dairy produce is quite unnecessary, and will doubtless be dispensed with altogether under a more natural system of diet. In the meantime, however, one step is sufficient. Let us first recognize the fact that the slaughter-house, with all its attendant horrors, might easily be abolished; that point gained, the question of the total disuse of all animal products is one that will be decided hereafter. What I wish to insist on is that it is not 'animal' food which we primarily abjure, but nasty food, expensive food, and unwholesome food.

Note that the above quote does not use the word 'vegetarian'. The leaders of the Vegetarian Society did not agree with it. By 1886 the London Food Reform Society had been absorbed as the London Branch of the VS. They reprinted a collection of Salt's essays in a hard-back book, but censored the paragraph above. In 1888 London split again, this time as the London Vegetarian Society and probably reprinted the original in full - that was picked up by the young Gandhi in London in 1890.

Salt seems to have accepted that the word vegetarian was first used in 1847 and that it had always had the meaning given to it by the Bible Christian Church. But we now know that it was in use from about 1840 by those connected with the Alcott House community and they used it to mean solely plant food - this history was suppressed by the BCC. The reference to 'vegetus' has also been proved to be a fictitious invention to get round the problem of the obvious meaning of the word.

From The Logic of Vegetarianism 1906 - extracts compiled by David Hurwitz (emphasis added):

The Title Page Reads: "The Logic of Vegetarianism Essays and Dialogues [LOVED] by Henry S. Salt author of "Animal Rights, Considered in Relation to Social Progress" Second Edition Revised 1906". The following are a few highlights from the first half of the book.

Page 4: "The term "vegetarian," as applied to those who abstain from all flesh foods, but not necessarily from such animal products as eggs, milk, and cheese, appears to have come into existence over fifty years ago, at the time of the founding of the Vegetarian Society in 1847. Until that date no special name had been appropriated for the reformed diet system, which was usually known as the "Pythagorean" or "vegetable diet," as may be seen by a reference to the writings of that period."

Page 4: "Whether, from this point of view, the name "vegetarian" was wisely or unwisely chosen is a question on which there has been some difference of opinion among food reformers themselves, and it is possible that adverse criticism would have been still more strongly expressed but for the fact that no better title has been forthcoming."

Page 4-5: "
VERBALIST: Why "vegetarian"?
VEGETARIAN: Why not "vegetarian"?
VERBALIST: How can it be consistent with vegetarianism to consume, as you admit you do, milk, butter, cheese, and eggs, all of which are choice foods from the animal kingdom?
VEGETARIAN: That entirely depends on what is meant by "vegetarianism."
VERBALIST: Well, surely its meaning is obvious-- a diet of vegetable only, with no particle of animal substance.
VEGETARIAN: As a matter of fact, such is not, and has never been, its accepted meaning. The question was often debated in the early years of the Vegetarian Society, and it was always held that the use of eggs and milk was not prohibited. "To induce habits of abstinence from the flesh of animals (fish, flesh, fowl) as food" was the avowed aim of vegetarianism, as officially stated on the title-page of its journal."

Page 5: "...
VEGETARIAN: If you appeal to etymology, that raises another question altogether, and here, too,, you will find the authorities against you. No one has a better right to speak on the matter than Professor J.E.B. Mayor, the great Latin scholar, and he states that, looking at the word etymologically, "vegetarian" cannot mean "an eater of vegetables." It is derived from vegetus, "vigorous," and means, strictly interpreted, "one who aims at vigour..."

Page 5: "...
VEGETARIAN: a "vegetarian" is one who abstains from eating the flesh of animals, and whose food is mainly derived from the vegetable kingdom."

Page 6: "...The fact that some individual abstainers from flesh have also abstained from all animal substances is no justification of the attempt to impose such stricter abstinence on all vegetarians on peril of being deprived of their name."

Page 6-7: "...Now, as then, there are some few vegetarians who abjure all that is of the animal, but the rule of the Society [the Vegetarian Society] now, as then, is that the use of eggs and milk is permissible. At the third annual meeting, held in 1850, it was stated by one of the speakers that "the limits within which the dietary of the Vegetarian Society was restricted excluded nothing but the flesh and blood of animals."

Page 11: "
SUPERIOR PERSON: But in this case I understand that it is quite possible to be consistent. There are individuals, are there not, who live upon a purely vegetable diet, without using milk or eggs? Now, those are the people whose action one can at least appreciate and respect.
VEGETARIAN: Quite so. We fully admit that they are in advance of their fellows. We regard them as pioneers, who are now anticipating a future phase of our movement.
SUPERIOR PERSON: You admit, then, that this extreme vegetarianism is the more ideal diet?
VEGETARIAN: "Yes. To do more than you have undertaken to do is a mark of signal merit; but no discredit attaches on that account to those who have done what they undertook. We hold that "the first step," as Tolstoy has expressed it, is to clear oneself of all complicity in the horrible business of the slaughter-house..."
SUPERIOR PERSON: Well, I must repeat that, were I to practice any form of asceticism, I should incline to that which does not do things by halves.
VEGETARIAN: Of course. That is invariably the sentiment of those who do not do things at all."

Page 42: "
"His purpose [speaking of vegetarians] is not to exhibit himself as spotless Sir Galahad of food reformers, but to take certain practical steps towards the humanizing of our barbarous diet system."

Page 42-43: "...but as they do not aim at moral perfection, but merely at rational progress, the charge of inconsistency hurtles somewhat harmlessly over their heads. But here let the consistency man have his say:
CONSISTENCY MAN: But what I want to know is this--how you can think it consistent to use milk and eggs?
VEGETARIAN: "Consistent with what?
CONSISTENCY MAN: "Why, with your own principles, of course.
VEGETARIAN: Or do you mean with your idea of my principles? The two things are not always identical, you know.
CONSISTENCY MAN: You condemn flesh-eating because of the suffering it causes, but is seems to have escaped your notice that the use of milk and eggs is also responsible for much. It is strange it has never occurred to you--
VEGETARIAN: My good sir, it has occurred to us years and years ago. The question is as old as the movement itself. The cock-and-bull argument, I presume?
CONSISTENCY MAN: I ask, what would become of the cockerels and bull-calves under a vegetarian regime? At present your supply of milk and eggs is easy enough, because the young males are killed and eaten by us carnivorous sinners. But are you not, to a certain extent, participators in the deed?
VEGETARIAN: Yes, frankly, to a certain extent (a very limited extent) I think we are. We are content to get rid of the worst evils first."

Page 43: "
VEGETARIAN: ... I prefer to take the bull-calf argument "by the horns," and admit that, under present conditions, we are indirectly responsible. Call it inconsistency, if you like. If it be inconsistency not to postpone the abolition of the greater cruelties until we also abolish the minor ones, we are willing to be called inconsistent."

It seems to me if Salt wasn't a vegan he was certainly leaning in that direction. With today's greater nutritional information and greater availability of vegan choices, it does seem likely based on the above he would be a vegan today, if he wasn't already during his time. - David Hurwitz.

Salt earned his living from writing, and he was dependent on ovo-lacto-vegetarians as both publishers and readers, so had to work within their current view while diplomatically pointing to a different future. In the last section quoted above it reads more like Salt is himself the 'consistency man' ...