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The Ethics of Diet - A Catena
by Howard Williams M.A., 1883

Jean Baptiste Pressavin b.1734
(text from the 1st edition, 1883)

An eminent Surgeon of Lyon, in the Medical and Surgical College of which city he held a professorship, and where he collected an extensive Anatomical Museum. At the Revolution of 1789 he embraced its principles with ardour, and filled the posts of Municipal Officer and of Procureur de la Commune. On the day of the Lyon executions, under the direction of the revolutionary tribunals, Sept. 9, 1792, Pressavin intervened and attempted to save several of the condemned. In the Convention Nationale, to which he had been elected deputy, he voted for the execution of the King; in other respects he was opposed to the extreme measures of the violent revolutionists, and in Sept., 1793, he was expelled from the Society of the Jacobins. In 1798 he was named Member of the Council of Five Hundred, for two years, by the department of the Rhone. The date of his death seems to be uncertain.

His chief writings are :-

Traité des Maladies des Nerfs, 1769. Traité des Maladies Vénériennes, où l'on indique un Nouveau Remède, 8vo., 1773. Last, and most important, L'Art de prolonger la Vie et de Conserver la Santé, 8vo. Paris 1786. It was translated into Spanish, Madrid, 8vo., 1799.

Pressavin thus expresses his convictions as to the fatal effects of Kreophagy :-

"We cannot doubt that, if Man had always limited himself to the use of the nourishment destined for his organs, he would not be seen, to-day, to have become the victim of this multitude of maladies which, by a premature death, mows down (moissone) the greatest number of individuals, before Age or Nature has put bounds to the career of his life. Other Animals, on the contrary, almost all arrive at that term without having experienced any infirmity. I speak of those who live free in t he fields; for those whom we have subjected to our needs (real or pretended), and whom we call domestic, share in the penalty of our abuses, experience nearly the same alteration in their temperament, and become subject to an infinity of maladies from which Wild Animals are exempt.

"Men, then, coming from the hands of Nature, lived a long time without thinking of immolating living beings to gratify (s'assouvir) their appetite. They are, without doubt, those happy time which our ancient poets have represented to us under the agreeable allegory of the Golden Age. In fact Man, by natural organisation mild, nourishing himself only on vegetable-foods, must have been originally of pacific disposition, quite fitted (bien propre) to maintain among his fellows that happy Peace which makes the delights of Society. Ferocity, I repeat it, is peculiar to carnivorous animals; the blood which the imbibe , maintains that character in them . . . .

"But if this faculty (reflection), which is called Reason, has furnished Man with so great resources for extending his enjoyments and increasing his well-being, how many evils have not the multiplied abuses, which he has made of them, drawn upon him? That which regards his Food is not the one of them which has least contributed to his degradation, as well physical as moral. . . . .

"Among other evidences of this, country-people, who subsist upon the non-flesh diet, are exempt from the multitude of maladies which engender corruption of the juices of the blood, such as humoral, putrid, and malign fevers, from Apoplexy, from Cachexy, from Gout, and from an infinity of miserable disorders - their offspring; they arrive at a very advanced age, free from the infirmities which early affect our old Sybarites. On the contrary, the inhabitants of towns, who make flesh their principle food, pass their lives miserably, a prey to all these maladies which one may regard, for that reason, endemic among them.

"Another very evident proof that Flesh is not a food natural to man is that, whoever has abstained, during a certain time, when he goes back to it - it is rare that this new regimen does not soon become in him the germ of a disease, the graver in proportion to the abstinence from that of food. We have the opportunities of observing this after the Fasts of the Catholics - in the majority of those who have faithfully practised abstinence from flesh."

He admits that there may be some constitutions, whose organs of digestion have been so corrupted by the long use of flesh, that a sudden change may be unadvisable; but a gradual reform cannot be always beneficial :-

"I do not doubt that Apoplexy, that fatal Malady so common among the rich people of the towns, might be escaped by those who are threatened with it, by entire abstinence from flesh. A Sanguine or humoral plethora is always the predisposing cause of this disease. A sudden rarefaction of the blood or of the humours in the vessels is the proximate cause of it; this rarefaction takes place only by the predisposition of the juices of the body to corruption.

Pressavin devotes a considerable proportion of his Treatise to the arguments from Comparative Physiology. - While firmly persuaded both of the unnaturalness, and of the fatal mischief of the diet of blood, (1) he expresses his despair of an early triumph of Reason and Humanity by means of a general dietetic reformation. (2)


    1. Among living enlightened medical authorities of the present day, Dr. B. W. Richardson, F.R.S., perhaps the most eminent hygeist and sanitary reformer in the country now living, has delivered his testimony in no doubtful terms to the superiority of the purer diet. In his recent publication Salutisland he has banished the slaughter-house, with all its abominations, from that model state. See also his Hygieia.
    2. L'Art de prolonger la Vie et de Conserver la Santé : ou, Traité d'Hygiène. Par M. Pressavin, Gradué de L'Université de Paris; Membre du Collège Royal de Chirugie de Lyon, et Ancien Demonstrateur en Matiere Medicale-Chirurgicale. A Lyon, 1786.

Howard Williams, The Ethics of Diet - index