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Book Reviews : Of Victorians and vegetarians: the vegetarian movement in nineteenth-century Britain

Medical History
Cambridge University Press
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Popular perceptions of vegetarianism often stipulate that its attractiveness as a dietary choice is essentially a recent phenomenon, with its recognition being mostly stimulated by the counter-cultural movements of the 1960s. Yet, as James Gregory rightly stresses, the complex interrelationships between abstinence from meat and modernity date much further back, especially in the British context. Gregory insists that the significance of the role in British vegetarian ideals and its organized activities throughout the nineteenth century was striking, paving the way for a movement that would ultimately attract thousands worldwide. Accordingly, one of the primary arguments of this book is that vegetarianism has not played such a marginal historical role as might be expected. From the 1840s onwards, a well organized national network of meat abstainers developed whose members were often highly vocal in persuading the community at large to join their cause, promoting what they perceived to be the ethical, hygienic, moral and aesthetic benefits of a meat-free life. Notably, the Vegetarian Society formed branches throughout Britain and Ireland, organized campaign meetings, banquets and published a sophisticated series of publications, newspapers and pamphlets. Vegetarianism ultimately developed into a very vocal movement, attracting serious responses from various sectors of the community. This might take the form of the incorporation of vegetarian recipes in cookery books, support from scientific men and prominent adherents such as George Bernard Shaw and Annie Besant. Yet Gregory is careful not to overplay the movement’s relevance. Certainly, the form of vegetarianism presented here is one that was never going to win over the public to a significant degree. In particular, the failure of the movement to attract much working-class support is noted. However, it is portrayed as holding a more successful function in helping to shape public education on dietary matters, a role that was not insignificant given the

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