The word “vegetarian” derives from the Latin vegetus, which means “whole, sound, fresh, and lively.”1 The term in the twentieth century, however, was used as a blanket term to describe a person who followed an ovo-lacto-vegetarian diet, meaning, they did not eat meat but they did consume milk and eggs.
Although modern cultural stereotypes connect vegetarians with a hippie counterculture lifestyle, vegetarian diets have existed for thousands of years. The popularity of vegetarianism is rooted in health and ethical tenets. The moral tenet of vegetarianism is embedded in the connection between happiness and compassion for others, while the belief that vegetarianism was a healthy dietary option dates back to the sixth century B.C. in which Pythagoras encouraged a plant-based diet to recover one’s relationship with the natural world.2 More recently, however, Jacksonian health reformers in the 1800s were responsible for paving the way for the North American vegetarian movement. Since then, vegetarianism has become a way of life for many people, each with varying reasons for avoiding meat.
In the postbellum years, the movement for vegetarianism changed course. John Harvey Kellogg finished his education in medicine in 1875, and shortly after, began advocating for vegetarian diets. He believed that to avoid illness, one had to follow the fundamental essence of natural and healthy living, which meant breathing fresh air, exercising, drinking clean water, and abstaining from meat.3 His call to action attracted mass audiences and shifted the vegetarian movement toward a more scientific-based doctrine. As a passionate health reformer, Kellogg’s Battle Creek Sanitarium began selling foods that would give people “permanent good health.”4 His food was available through mail orders, allowing vegetarian products to be readily available to consumers. Kellogg’s meat substitutes contributed to the proliferation of vegetarianism for health benefits. He warned that those who consumed meat were ingesting “the dead matter and waste matter of another animal,” and as a result, were contracting secondhand impurities and diseases.5
In addition to Kellogg’s promotion of vegetarianism for health reasons, cookbooks also allowed the vegetarian movement to shift at the turn of the twentieth century. While plant-based lifestyles formerly relied on blandly preparing vegetables, cookbooks such as Edward Fulton’s Substitutes for Flesh Foods: Vegetarian Cookbook in 1904 redefined the flavors associated with vegetarianism. Focusing on replicating the taste of meat, a vegetarian diet became more appealing in the culinary realm.
One meat substitute present throughout Fulton’s cookbook was protose, and the leading seller of it was none other than John Harvey Kellogg. Made out of wheat, gluten, peanut butter, and cereal, protose was marketed as “vegetable meat.” It became the most popular meat substitute in the twentieth century, and nuttolene, a vegetarian loaf made from peanuts, was second.6 Advertisers emphasized the health benefits of these substitutes, one advertisement from 1900, for example, explained that protose “contains the same nutritive properties as meat, is more digestible, and is an absolutely pure product of the vegetable kingdom.”7 Vegetarian food retailing in the early twentieth century was a result of a product-driven market that promoted the consumption of goods that were newly available.
The popularity of protose and nuttolene could be seen through the menu at The Laurel, a vegetarian restaurant that formerly existed in New York City. Founded in 1902, The Laurel served many plant-based meals and meat substitutes that were accompanied with animal products. The Laurel was a particularly interesting restaurant because in addition to including vegetarian dishes exclusively, their menu also incorporated reasons for vegetarianism. Not only was it in their best interest to draw the attention of vegetarians with varying ideologies, but they also wanted to convince people to abstain from eating meat so that those who came from different backgrounds would join them for dinner. Refusing to stick to one rationale, The Laurel referenced moral reasons, health reasons, and even cited the Bible to advocate for plant-based diets.
One rationale that The Laurel gave for being a vegetarian was for religious reasons. This could be seen on the front page of their menu, which included a verse from The Book of Genesis:
Another motive the menu gave for vegetarianism was for moral reasons, which could also be seen on the front page of the menu. On it, there was a passage from Irish poet Oliver Goldsmith’s poem, The Hermit:
The third and most prominent grounds that The Laurel gives for vegetarianism is for health reasons. Throughout the menu, nutritional advice is given to provide an explanation for why certain items were missing from the menu. For example, the menu explained that whenever typical recipes call for acid, they cook with lemon juice instead because “the ascetic acid of vinegar is an irritant, while the citric acid of the lemon is wholesome and refreshing.” The Laurel wanted to include this because based on the arrangement of their menu, they pride themselves in assisting guests with getting nutritious value from vegetarianism. Another example of this could be seen when the menu says that “It is noticeable that those who live largely upon fruits, grains and vegetables, are lacking in nerve force and endurance.” Here, they emphasized the importance of nuts, legumes, and eggs for strength-giving properties. They wanted to warn customers that merely being a vegetarian does not make one healthy. To be nutritious, one must be a good vegetarian, which is done by consuming the food necessary to meet their body’s demands. In addition, the absence of coffee is noteworthy in The Laurel’s menu offerings because they warned against the consumption of coffee:
Another beverage that was missing from their menu was liquor. In an effort to avoid political conversations about prohibition, nowhere on the menu does The Laurel acknowledge its absence. Without mentioning it, they still chose to leave alcohol off of their menu, most likely because many health experts and reformers who advocated for vegetarianism were also members of the temperance movement. Moreover, The Laurel put careful consideration into their menu by including a passage from the Bible, a poem excerpt on the ethics of meat eating, and a plethora of nutritional tips, all to encourage vegetarianism.
In terms of what was actually on the menu, The Laurel served soups, salads, sandwiches, meat substitutes, fruits, vegetables, cereals, eggs, toast, and desserts. To get a better grasp on what vegetarian cooking was like in 1902, I cooked a few of the items that were served at The Laurel. I found it important to examine the ingredients and techniques that were used in this time period to be as accurate as possible. To do so, I heavily relied on Edward Fulton’s recipes from 1904 in Substitutes for Flesh Foods: Vegetarian Cookbook.10 As previously mentioned, Fulton’s cookbook was a significant contribution to the historiography of vegetarianism because it revolutionized the flavors that would be associated with the diet. The food became less bland, making plant-based eating a more viable option for many Americans in the early twentieth century.
1. Lettuce with French Dressing
The first menu item I made was a salad with French dressing. As seen in the menu at The Laurel below, the type of lettuce or the kinds of vegetables used in this salad were never specified. Salads were made with Romaine lettuce in the United States by the 1880s, so I decided to use this as my lettuce of choice.
I found the recipe for French Salad Dressing in Fulton’s cookbook. As I looked over the ingredients, I noticed that the recipe for Lettuce Dressing seemed enticing.
I decided to make the French Salad Dressing but I tweaked the recipe a little by including hard boiled eggs, and this was likely something that was done at The Laurel upon request.
As for vegetables to add in, Edward Fulton explained that:
Based on his description of what made a salad good, it seemed to me that the kinds of vegetables that were served in salads varied on supplies. For this reason, it was likely that the Lettuce and French Dressing menu item at The Laurel intentionally did not specify the kinds of vegetables that accompanied the salad. Using what I had, I decided to make my salad with string beans and cauliflower, and I threw the leftover boiled egg-white rings on top.
2. Sliced Pressed Nut Meat with Brown Sauce
To go along with my salad, the next dish I decided to cook was under the “True Meats” section at The Laurel: Sliced Pressed Nut Meat with Brown Sauce.
Confused by what nut “meat” was, I scanned Fulton’s cookbook until I discovered a Normandie Salad that called for nut meat. I quickly learned that nut meat was simply referring to the kernel of a nut.
The most popular type of nut meat, Fulton’s cookbook specified, was walnut meat, so I went to the grocery store and bought about twenty-five shelled walnuts.
First, I cracked the nuts and put them into a bowl. Then, I began separating the nut meats from their shells.
Next, as the directions for preparing walnut meats in the Normandie Salad recipe specified, I placed the walnut meat in boiling water for about fifteen minutes, then removed the skins, and then cut them into pieces about the size of a pea.
While the walnuts were boiling, I searched Fulton’s cookbook for a recipe for Brown Sauce. Upon reading The Laurel menu, I expected Brown Sauce to be a restaurant specialty that would be difficult to know what it really was. To my suprise, however, Brown Sauce was a common vegetarian staple, and it was often served as a gravy substitute.
To make the Brown Sauce, I began making vegetable stock with green beans, onions, asparagus, squash, cauliflower, and salt.
Then, I boiled the vegetables in two cups of water, alongside the walnut meats. While I waited for the vegetable stock and the walnuts, I began browning flour by pouring it on top of simmering butter. Once it was to the consistency of my liking, I poured it into the vegetable stock, along with a quarter cup of strained tomatoes. Lastly, I poured the Brown Sauce on top of the pressed and sliced walnut meats.
Finally, I could sit down and taste this interesting creation. I was pleasantly surprised by how delicious the Brown Sauce was, and I enjoyed the salad dressing as well.
3. Apple Pie
For dessert, I decided to bake an Apple Pie.
To begin, I looked up recipes for pie crust and for apple pie in Fulton’s cookbook.
I was quite disappointed by how vague his apple pie recipe was, but luckily, I have made apple pie before, so I was able to use the appropriate measurements of each ingredient. I used a variety of apples to give it some texture, including four Mcintosh Apples, one Red Delicious, and one Granny Smith.
Not going to lie, I tweaked the recipe by adding cinnamon and brown sugar. This technically was not cheating because both of the ingredients that I added into the apple pie were easily accessible in the twentieth century. For example, brown sugar was used in Fulton’s Blueberry Pie recipe and his sauce for Plum Pudding, and he also used cinnamon in his Pumpkin Pie and his Apple Pudding recipe, among other foods. The apple pie came out delicious, but I predict that I would not have enjoyed it nearly as much if it was not for the generous cinnamon and brown sugar heapings that I included.
I have been a vegetarian since I was eight years old. Although young, at that age I felt morally inclined to refrain from meat because I could not bear the thought of how it got to my plate. I did not like imagining how the animals that I had once admired at a farm or a zoo had ended up sitting under my nose, chopped up and seasoned. I became a vegetarian for moral reasons, and ever since, I have found it enjoyable to learn about why other people have chosen to abstain from eating meat.
As a history major, the history of vegetarianism has always been an entertaining topic to me. When I began searching for a vegetarian menu from the late nineteenth to the early twentieth century, I stumbled upon quite a few. The Laurel particularly caught my eye because in addition to finding many of the menu items enticing, I found it particularly interesting that the menu incorporated moral, religious, and health reasons for being a vegetarian. I became fascinated with understanding why people were eating plant-based diets, and The Laurel seemed to be the best menu to use to understand moral tenets of vegetarianism in the twentieth century.
The Laurel’s existence at this particular moment in time was significant because it opened at the beginning of the resurgence of vegetarianism. The revival of this movement happened after the development of the meat substitute industry, and protose and nuttolene products were readily available at The Laurel. The wider availability of vegetarian foodstuffs today can be explained by the connection between vegetarianism and health benefits at the turn of the twentieth century. For example, many vegetarian products are marketed as having lower fat content to appeal to health buffs. In the early twentieth century, many vegetarians were limited to eating at vegetarian-only restaurants. In modern times, however, a vegetarian option is in the back pocket of almost any waiter or waitress whether or not it is listed on the menu. Vegetarianism has become much more popular since the founding of The Laurel, and marketers are to thank for this.
By cooking a few menu items at The Laurel, I was able to get a better grasp on what vegetarian cooking was like in 1902. I tweaked Fulton’s recipes when I made the French Dressing and the Apple Pie from his cookbook to make them more flavorful and interesting for my palette. These foods ended up being delicious, but I felt inclined to make them more appetizing because I knew that adding these ingredients would have made the food taste better. For this reason, I can not imagine how bland vegetarian food must have been before Fulton’s cookbook ‘revolutionized’ the flavors of vegetarianism.
- Donna Maurer, Vegetarianism: Movement Or Moment: Promoting A Lifestyle For Cult Change (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2002), 74.
- Maurer, Vegetarianism, 72.
- Richard W. Schwarz, John Harvey Kellogg, M.D.: Pioneering Health Reformer (Hagerstown: Review & Herald Publishing, 2006), 33–35.
- Adam D. Shprintzen, The Vegetarian Crusade: The Rise of an American Reform Movement, 1817-1921 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2013), 115.
- John Harvey Kellogg, How to Live a Century (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 1884) 3–4, 9–10.
- Shprintzen, The Vegetarian Crusade, 131.
- Shprintzen, The Vegetarian Crusade, 115.
- Gen. 1:29.
- Oliver Goldsmith, The Hermit: A Ballad (Newburgh: Hansebooks, 1886).
- E. G. Fulton, Substitutes for Flesh Foods: Vegetarian Cookbook (Oakland: Pacific Press Publishing Company, 1904).