It’s important to understand that vegetarianism was introduced into the states far later than when it was introduced first in the South Asian region. There it emerged around the seventh century BCE, appearing in Hindu scriptures and motivated by religion and culture. Europe discovered the virtues of vegetarianism in the sixth century BCE by the Greek philosopher, Pythagoroas. Before The Vegetarian Society in Ramsgate, England in 1847 and the American Vegetarian Society in 1850 was founded, vegetarians were known as Pythagoreans because of this philosopher.
The nineteenth century is where the differences in motivations for being a vegetarian branch off. In Europe the founders of the society that brought in loads of feminists and abolitionists who were part of the vegetarian Bible Catholic Church. In 1817, one of the four founders, William Metcalfe and his wife created a branch in Philadelphia, which became the first vegetarian branch in America. Through a pamphlet of a sermon created by the two, known as On Abstinence from the Flesh of Animals, many influential figures such as William Alcott and Amos Bronson Alcott converted to a vegetarian lifestyle, which generated momentum for this movement. Later, Upton Sinclair published his novel, The Jungle, which exposed unsanitary practices in the meatpacking industry that ultimately converted more Americans to this lifestyle. As more articles and news were published over the years on the diet and its benefits, the meat and dairy industry being exposed to the lack of health and food safety, and rations due to the First World War, vegetarianism took a whole new life of itself, and has evolved into a whole new being of what it is today.
The difference between a vegetarian in the West and one in South Asia is that “a person in the West becomes a vegetarian through a deliberate process, by questioning received knowledge about consumption, and by painfully transforming one’s day-to-day behavior. Therefore, a vegetarian individual in the West is most likely to be a progressive figure oriented towards broader ethics of social justice.” While in India many vegetarians are either born into a vegetarian lifestyle as it is to uphold the Brahmanism caste system or choose to adopt the lifestyle through a myriad religion-spiritual cults that are in hopes of climbing the social hierarchy through the process of Sanskritization. Essentially, the West’s motivations are out of social justice while India’s is out of conformity and traditions.
Our dearest author of this expansive meatless cookbook goes by the name of Emarel Freshel, previously Mrs Maud Russell Lorraine Sharpe Freshel. It’s important and interesting to know that Mrs. Freshel was “a Boston socialite, designer, and animal rights and vegetarian activist.” Emarel Freshel grew up and went to school at Organtz College in Chicago, Illinois. She was also passionate about design. “Mrs. Freshel is traditionally held to be responsible for the original designs of the Wisteria and Pond Lily Tiffany lamps that won the grand prize at the 1902 Prima Esposizione d’Arte Decoration Moderna in Turin, Italy.” She made a name for herself in the industry for sure. It was until 1917 when she first left the Chrsitan Science Church when it endorsed entry into World War and secondly, married Ernest Sharpe. She was a proud faux fur supporter and “co-founded the Millennium Guild, named after the prophecy of Isaiah 9:11 of a day when hurting and killing would cease.” This was the first animal rights organization in the United States. Furthermore, she held vegetarian dinner get-togethers where she’d play videos of slaughterhouses and organized a Vegetarian Thanksgiving at Copley Plaza Hotel. Alongside her, her husband “founded the Millennium Food Company to produce meat substitutes and non-animal foods” Above all of thee successes and movements, she was able to produce this cookbook, The Golden Rule CookBook: Six Hundred Recipes for Meatless Dishes, in 1910 that was able to reach so many of her followers and friends.
Diving into Emarel Freshel’s cookbook, it’s hard not to notice the lack of seasoning used in the dishes. It’s what first caught my attention, along with the excessive use of butter over cooking oil. Salt and pepper seemed to be what was mainly used as the seasoning which is interesting to acknowledge since vegetarian and vegan recipes these days include many herbs and spices to help accentuate vegetables and bring out their specific flavors. It’s fascinating since it shows how recipes have altered and evolved over time to bring them even more to life.
For example, in Freshel’s cookbook, she includes a recipe for basic vegetarian mashed sweet potatoes. To make them, all you need are sweet potatoes, butter and salt. Super simple. No confusion or complexity. Whereas, if you were to look up a recipe today for mashed sweet potatoes, such as one by Sapana Chandra, you will see that she uses sweet potatoes, almond milk, maple syrup, nutmeg, cinnamon, and sea salt for her recipe. The differences between these two recipes are what set them apart in terms of elaborate and experimental cooking. You can see this as a recurring theme in other similar vegetarian recipes around this time.
Likewise, exploring New Vegetarian Dishes by Mrs. Bowdich, one once again realizes that the recipes found in this cookbook rely solely on salt and pepper as the go-to seasonings. For instance, in the Lentil and Tomato Sausages with Piquante Sauce recipe, the only seasonings used are salt and pepper. This furthers my point in that this was an element in vegetarian cooking that fundamentally advanced over time. Although, in 1909 Mrs. Rorer’s Vegetable Cookery and Meat Substitutes provides a great example of how vegetarian meals don’t have to be bland and boring but rather exciting when “exotic” seasonings and spices are used. Rorer’s recipes offer a range of complex flavors through the use of turmeric, red chilies, curry powder and more to highlight the spectrum of tastes vegetarian foods can provide. One other major component that sets this vegetarian cookbook apart from others is that there aren’t any dishes that try to replicate meat – she simply sticks with revolving the dishes around vegetables, legumes and grains. It shows that at the beginning of this movement, during this time, there was a cookbook trying to enhance this diet and take advantage of the foods available, rather than trying to create a similar taste and texture to meat. This is different from what you see in the Vegetarian Cook Cook: Substitutes for Flesh Food by E.G. Fulton (1904) which was published four years before Emarel Freshel’s cookbook was published, which shows that there were efforts of replicating meat with this diet. An example of this is the “vegetarian chicken salad” which includes protose as the substitute for chicken.
While in Freshel’s book, she chose to stick with plant-based centered dishes. The vegetarian and even vegan and pescetarian movement have evolved, advanced, and progressed astronomically through the past 100 years and has seen growth through seasonings and enhancing of flavors. While vegetarian recipes have become more vibrant in flavor and taste over time, Emarel Freshel successfully set the groundwork and tone with her vegetarian cookbook and presented what it truly means to create and build dishes surrounding a plant-based diet using what she had and the time to her full advantage. A pioneer, self-motivated entrepreneur, and artist – Mrs. Freshel left a footprint within this movement that will not go unnoticed.
EGYPTIAN LENTIL DISH
Testing my theory on the lack of seasoning, I wanted to make one of the dishes in the cookbook. Looking through the book, the “Egyptian Lentil Dish” caught my attention. This is strange because I’m not the biggest lentil fan but I think it reminded me so much of the Lebanese traditional dish “mujadara” that I had to try it out! I think the difference between this and mujadara is the use of other seasonings in mujadara. At first glance, the recipe, along with the others in the cookbook, is simple and to the point, not many seasonings or herbs are included to spice it up – as I’ve mentioned above. I followed the simple recipe and was able to make a large batch with it, enough to have leftovers for days. The dish involved components I was familiar with cooking before so it was not difficult in any regard. This dish replicated a very straightforward balanced meal – a grain, a protein, and a vegetable. Nothing much to it. It’s a delicious meal. A delicious, simple, well-rounded dish. I would recommend this to anyone who is trying to prepare a larger dish for a gathering or for their week.