From the Autumn/Winter 2009 edition of the Friends Vegetarian Society
Every generation of Christian vegetarian enthusiasts has expressed
the belief that our ideal could barely have been promoted any sooner (or
should that be better!) than in the present era.
In the 1890's, the days seemed dark a decade earlier; as they did
during the 1900's and at other periods in the cyclic ascent and decline
of vegetarianism's fortunes over the past century. Vegetarians,
generally, look upon greying congregations, at the entrance to most
places of worship with an eye of ethical suspicion; usually vindicated
should the matter of spiritual discernment towards diet ever arise! It
would therefore seem unlikely, on the face of it, that Biblical
vegetarian tracts, theological animal rights journals and lecturing
tours could ever have existed let alone achieved acquiescence in the
past. Yet remarkable as it may seem, religious vegetarian propaganda was
far more influential 100 years ago than at any stage in the modern
history of the animal rights/liberation/protection movement.
There are several reasons for our general lack of awareness of the
extensive campaigning, publishing and theological heritage which often
underpins the ethos that we embrace and promote today. Indeed, we should
not be afraid to acknowledge the debt which academia inevitably bears
towards a grassroots vegetarian movement bereft of any real knowledge of
important religious accomplishment. And this despite the many
opportunities to mention notable societies, publications, figures and
their insights in so much as the index to many an unnecessary
publication, so swiftly celebrated among themselves.
The 'structure' of the animal rights movement itself is another
important factor behind the seeming loss of connection between
generations of campaigners. For beyond the unique Friends Vegetarian
Society, a lack of longevity characterises orchestrated attempts at
taking vegetarianism to the churches. The movement is comprised, in the
main, of a transient body of advocates and a handful of stalwarts who
tend to depart the scene with little appreciation of their legacy.
And with them go the large number of pamphlets, newsletters and press
cuttings which tell the story of their respective societies. It is
actually easier to obtain records and copies of Victorian 'Food Reform'
publications than those of counterpart organisations from recent
Perhaps I should have stated, upfront, that I am not a historian or
for that matter an academic. I became involved in the secular animal
rights movement in 1987 and the Christian vegetarian scene several years
later. A decade of comparatively quiet propaganda ensued and largely
consisted of circulating leaflets to presbyteries or submitting letters
to the Church press. I began to explore the recent history of events
which led to the success of 'Veg4Lent' and the opportunity for a formal
Christian Vegetarian Association to duly emerge in Britain, in 2004.
And so it seemed that nothing of any note could possibly have
occurred before our pioneering generation began to take its compelling
message to the Christian media whose editors and producers would
(presumably) have been unable to tolerate the exact same case in the
Yet that is where the resurgence of latent animal rights ideas really
began and theology was no exception to the rekindling of an all but
forgotten stream of thought and publicity. It's a longer story than I
could ever have bargained for which became a book and should be
available in the early part of next year: Familiar Strangers: the
Church and the vegetarian movement in Britain (1809-2009).
For now, there's an extensive presentation of related research on the
internet at three commemorative websites: The Order of the Golden Age (www.ordergoldenage.co.uk)
, 'Clergy Animal Rights Advocacy!!!!' (www.clergyanimalrights.blogspot.com
) , The Fellowship of Life (www.all-creatures.org/fol
) and the historical section of the CVAUK website (www.christianvegetarian.co.uk
The FVS Newsletter is currently published 4 times a year. For further
details, contact: Friends Vegetarian Society, c/o Bal Saini, 176 Stoney
Lane, Sparkhill, Birmingham, B12 8AN.