Information: This text was kindly sent to the Anna Kingsford Site by Mr. Brian McAllister. It is an abridged version of a lecture given to the Croydon Vegetarian Society on November 13th 1928. The complete version is also in this site.
(Reprinted from “The Vegetarian News”)
Food and Character
SAMUEL HOPGOOD HART
(Being part of a lecture delivered to the Croydon Vegetarian Society
on November 13th, 1928)
FOOD AND CHARACTER. (1)
By SAMUEL HOPGOOD HART.
THE fact that the kind of food we eat affects our character as well as our health has been recognised from time immemorial; and, whether admitted or not, the principle is continually acted on. I need but refer to the question of taking intoxicating drink in confirmation of this. Not only the health, but the character of the man who over indulges in alcoholic drink is affected. When taken to excess, a man is said to be “under the influence of drink,” and in such condition he will do things which in his sober moments he would not think of doing. His character has for the time being been affected for worse, and if the evil habit be persisted in he may, as men say, “go to the dogs.” For this reason, the taking of alcoholic drink as a beverage is, by many, condemned. These facts are so well knowh that I need not press the drink question further.
Eating and Drinking.
The strange thing is that while so many people recognise the evil that follows alcohol-drinking, comparatively few people have any idea of the evil that follows flesh-eating, though there is a close connexion between the two, for food and drink cannot be separated. In my opinion, the eating of flesh is as much to be condemned as the excessive use of intoxicating liquors, and perhaps more so, because it brings in its train worse evils though they are not at first so apparent. Gluttony, of course, like excessive drinking, is always reprehensible. There should be “temperance in refection.” In a recent account of a Colchester Oyster Feast, at which, it was said, there were four hundred participants, it was recorded that there was one who boasted of having “broken the record for Colchester” by eating eight dozen oysters, the feast also including “rich brown stout, served plentifully in jugs and brewed specially for the feast,” and brown bread and butter. Other participants were stated to have eaten as many as six or seven dozen oysters each. Abstinence from flesh-eating, however, is not an end in itself. Mere abstinence will not make a saint. But it is a means to an end – an end to which we must all be assumed to be striving – and one without which it may be impossible to attain. Not only is flesh-eating conducive to evil, but more than anything else it stands in the way of man’s spiritual advance and evolution. Buddha taught that one of the signs that a man follows “the right path” is that he “sustains life by means that are quite pure,” but Buddha was careful to make it clear that mere abstinence from flesh diet would not of itself make a man wise. In one of his recorded sayings, he emphasised this point as follows: “Neither abstinence from fish nor flesh, nor going naked, nor shaving the head, nor wearing matted hair, nor dressing in
a rough garment, nor covering oneself with dirt, nor sacrificing to Agni, will cleanse a man who is not free from delusions.”
The Real Cause of Wrong Feeding.
The real cause of wrong feeding is due to our defective system of thought; a system which condones (if it does not approve) violence, bloodshed and a denial of mercy and justice to our fellow-creatures whom we regard as below us in the scale of life. It is the human charater that is at stake. Flesh-eating tends to lower the character of the man who eats it, and for that reason is conducive to evil. If there were no flesh-eating, there would be no killing of animals for food. Killing, except in case of necessity or in mercy, is a terrible and degrading occupation. Which of us would desire a child of ours to be a butcher? Who would choose such an occupation? Do we look among butchers for the highest type of mankind? Most assuredly not. We all recognise that if an animal must be killed on account of its mischievous or evil character, there is no moral blame attachable to the killer, and there are cases in which it is an act of mercy to kill an animal (as humanely as possible) to relieve it from some grievous condition. Such killing is not wrong, and is not to be compared with killing animals for food or for “sport.” Those who sell animals to be killed for food and those who willingly eat of such food when provided, are as guilty of bloodshed as those who do the killing, although they may not be so hardened. They are accessories either before or after the fact.
Bad Habit and Its Reactions.
While among flesh-eaters there are many who would shrink from killing, there are
few who will trouble themselves even to make slaughter as humane as possible.
Most flesh eaters wish to think and try to persuade themselves and others that
flesh-eating is necessary; though many of them know the contrary to be the case,
and all the vegetarian societies in the country are witnesses against them. But
they are callous. If flesh-eating were necessary, then,
however deplorable, there would be nothing to say against it. But what
shall be said of the man who kills for pleasure – the “sportsman” as he is
generally called? I refer to him because he is one of the products of the
flesh-eating habit. Most flesh-eaters would become “sportsmen” if they had the
means and opportunity. There are few flesh-eaters who will condemn blood sports.
Some of them will condemn tame deer-hunting and fox-hunting, in which they have
no interest; but ask them what they think of killing animals for sport, and they
will not see any harm in it, particularly if the slaughtered animals are to be
eaten. Here again we see the evil effect of flesh-eating on the character of the
flesh-eater. If anyone doubts this, let his attention be directed to the case of
“The Woman Pig-Sticker,” of whom I recently read in a
offers the most unrivalled of opportunities of enjoyment ... As the welcomed cold weather draws near, pig-sticking is one of the most fascinating pastimes that can be imagined ... Nothing can equal the excitement.” We were then given an account of the pastime, which having described the sportsman’s “spear” as “going home” into the pig, ended up as follows: “With the broken spear in his body the gallant animal charges, but another spear entering behind the shoulder, the pig sinks to its knees.”
One who loves will not kill for sport, because he recognises the brotherhood of life. That great teacher, John Ruskin, said that he did not know of “anything most destructive of the Christian character and human intellect, than those accursed sports, in which man makes of himself cat, tiger, serpent, and alligator in one, and gathers into one continuance of cruelty, for his amusement, all the devices that brutes sparingly, and at intervals, use against each other for their necessities”; and he speaks, too, of “the bitterness of the curse which the habits of hunting and la chasse have brought upon the so-called upper classes of England and France, until, from knights and gentlemen, they have sunk into … butchers by battue (2),” and so on. In the “Company of St. George,” which John Ruskin endeavoured (without success) to establish, one of the rules which the members undertook to observe was “not to kill nor hurt any living creature needlessly, nor destroy any beautiful thing, but to save and comfort all gentle life, and guard and protect all natural beauty upon the earth.” The “Company” came to nought for want of support – the difficulty of finding, among a flesh-eating community, members who would oppose cruel sports being the reason for the failure. For the same reason we have vivisection. It is not the vegetarians who support vivisection. The late Edward Maitland, speaking of the low condition to which flesh-eating has reduced the world, and realising what a different place it would be to live in under humane conditions, said: “Man’s whole idea and habit of life have become so utterly at variance with all possibility of the perfection of which his existence is capable, that only by incessant and unsparing denunciation can he be in any measure impressed with their heinousness”; while Anna Kingsford, speaking on the same subject, and turning her back to the then-present evil conditions, said “I know that at some distant day, now, indeed, perhaps very remote, the message we preach in a corner will become a religion of great nations.”
“The Life is More than the Food.”
After all, “the life is more than the food” – the life not only of the feeder, but also of those who obtain and prepare our food. We must
not consent to feed regardless of the cost to those who toil in the getting or in the preparation of our food. In many a kitchen there is unnecessary toil and often waste. This is by no means confined to the kitchens of the rich. Let us simplify our lives in our feeding as well as in other respects and avoid luxury, extravagance and waste. We must not allow our bodily desires to be our sole guide as to what and how much we should eat and drink. If we do so, we shall soon find that they are not guides but taskmasters, and that we no longer rule our lives. There is no better food for man than that which nature has provided for him in the vegetable kingdom, including, of course, nuts and fruit; and there is no better drink for man than that which nature has provided for him in pure cold water and pure unfermented fruit juice. This is the ideal diet of man, and this is the diet for which he should strive, and it offers a fairly wide selection of choice. But if, for special reasons, having regard to our present conditions of life or to some particular circumstances, such a diet should prove too restrictive or impracticable, then, as regards drink, wine in moderation may be taken; and as regards food, milk, butter, cheese and eggs (or such of them as may be found necessary or desirable) may be added; but there should be no further concessions beyond these. Below this, man makes himself and becomes one with the beasts of prey, and opens the door of his house to the influence of the pit.
What Vegetarianism Offers.
Vegetarianism offers to those who will accept it a
chalice of peace. The whole creation may be as the voice of God to the man who
walks through life in a spirit of love and charity to all. But this does not
include those who elect to live by bloodshed and the slaughter of their fellow
creatures, when another and better way is open to them. The “dogs” (or
carnivora) have their place outside the
One of the best examples ofthe evil effect of flesh
eating and all that it implies is to be found in
which to-day prevail at Chicago, where more animals are slaughtered and where
there is more bloodshed than in any other place in the world.
An Indispensable Condition.
Food-reform on right lines and character-reform go hand in hand, and there will be no reform of character in an upward direction worth speaking of without the abandonment of bloody foods. It is not revolution so much as reformation which is needed in order to right existing evils, and the first and most important step towards this is food reform on the lines indicated. In this I am not advocating anything contrary to nature, for man was not created a flesh-eater. How or why man (or some races of man) first took to flesh-eating is not a matter for present consideration, but what I wish to urge is that it was a downward step. It represented devolution. It was a step the evil effects of which we reap in the world to-day. The evil, no doubt, started in a small way; but in time it grew to large dimensions, and we see the results. Flesh-eating must have been preceded by cruelty and blood-lust. First, came the lust to kill and shed blood, then the eating of flesh. Present conditions of life do not all make for joy and health. The very methods of some among us who should stand for health are unhealthy and even evil. We have, for example, Voronoff and his rejuvenation experiments, which are the outcome of vivisection. Let not the newly-fashioned idols of orthodox science be substituted for the crumbling idols of orthodox religion! The world will not be redeemed by flesh-eaters. Their methods will not bring with them
health and joy. Our earth conditions need re-adjustment. A materialistic civilisation does not make for true progress. It is our material minds that are responsible for so much of the evil which we deplore. These must be dominated before we can reach perfection of character, and, to this end, the question of food is an all important consideration. Many people do ill who mean well, and we rightly forgive them for their good motives. But right motives must not be allied to wrong actions, for evil effects will follow. Flesh-eating is selfish, and where selfishness is opposed to justice (which makes for perfection) evil must inevitably result.
I recently came across the following in a religious publication: “The history of mankind seems to show that while the meat-eating nations of the earth have been the most powerful and aggressive (growing, in other words, like the things they feed on) yet they have been and continue to be strenuous upholders of religious liberty and morality.” The truth of this statement depends upon what the writer of the article understands by “religion” and “morality.” Having said so much, I prefer to quote entirely without comment a statement recently made by one of the most eminent of the bishops of the Church of England, who – speaking as a flesh-eater to his fellows – said: “We ourselves are not necessarily depraved because we eat mutton chops.”
It is refreshing to turn from such teaching as this to an article written by Dr. Paul Carton, who is well known in England, as also in France, as a leading exponent both of vegetarianism and of nature cure. The article in question, which was entitled “The Vegetarian Diet as an Aid to Progress,” appeared in The Vegetarian News for last September. After pointing out the positively degrading influence of flesh foods, Dr. Carton proceeded to refer with approval to the following passage, taken from another writer, as suggesting a further reason why man should not eat flesh foods: “That self-same flesh has already absorbed, in some degree, the life of which it was aforetime at once the habitation and the vehicle, thus acquiring for itself a character peculiarly its own, this character being the natural outer expression of that peculiar ensemble of appetites, passions and instincts which had characterised it during life. To some extent, indeed, these instincts may be said to have entered into the very flesh of the animal itself, and, on being introduced into the life of another organism, they find there a nucleus to which they can attach themselves and by means of which they become embodied in the new organism.”
That there is a connexion between food and character is, I feel, amply proved. Vegetarianism must be regarded not merely as a factor in physical health, but above all as a potent means of developing the moral life, and of assisting the spiritual development both of the individual, and of the human race.
Do you realise ---
THAT more than 30,000 animals are killed every day in this country for human food?
THAT the traffic in these animals necessarily involves an immense amount of suffering to them, and also the degradation of many of our fellow men and women?
THAT millions have proved the use of flesh foods to be unnecessary?
THAT, on hygienic grounds, butchers’ meat has been shown to be an unsuitable and dangerous article of food?
THAT the London Vegetarian Society exists to draw attention to these and other aspects of the food question?
If so ---
Will you not become a Member or an Associate of the Society and so help to further the most fundamental of all hygienic and humanitarian reforms?
(1) Being part of a lecture delivered to the Croydon Vegetarian Society on November 13th, 1928.
Painters, vol. II.