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 Vegetarians in 18th century France 
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Post Vegetarians in 18th century France
Let me say right off: there weren't many. While a few English figures seem to have been bona fide vegetarians (though the word itself is 19th century), examples are rare - and usually wrong - in France for this period. Rousseau and Voltaire are two of the most cited French "vegetarians", probably because both wrote passages which seemed to favor eating vegetables (or at least not killing animals for food). But beware of writers' declared principles - specific references exist to both eating meat (though Voltaire did write in a letter, towards the end of his life, "since I no longer eat meat", making it clear that he had, even if he rather belatedly - and probably for health reasons - stopped.)

There are also passages in period cookbooks that suggest living only on non-meat (maigre) diets was considered to actually be unhealthy.

Still, this is a subject that spans the centuries and is probably worth some consideration in our period. So, anyone want to explore it?

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Tue Oct 28, 2008 4:35 pm
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Post Re: Vegetarians in 18th century France
Are you familiar with John Oswald?


Tue Oct 28, 2008 10:42 pm
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Post Re: Vegetarians in 18th century France
I have read in one book that being vegetarian was often connected to some religious cult, one in particular (I don’t know how to translate it, I am sorry) so it wasn’t something you should be bragging about. However that book was about the middle ages and some famous heretics. I don’t know about vegetarians in the 18th century but I am very interested since I am a vegetarian too.

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Tue Oct 28, 2008 11:30 pm
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Post Re: Vegetarians in 18th century France
We should remember that this was an age when 7 out of 10 people were never certain of their next meal. The food supply was a tenuous thing before electricity, preservatives, refrigeration.... The peasantry were largely vegetarian by circumstance, not choice, and eating meat was a great luxury for them. I remember reading an incident from Louis XIV's time: a comtesse while staying in the country, lost her pet bird. It escaped from its cage and flew out an open window. She sent her servants to chase it down, but by the time they caught up with it, a local peasant had already captured, dressed and stewed it. There was not such a great concern for the welfare of animals in a time when hunger and human mortality were so prevelant.

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Wed Oct 29, 2008 12:18 pm
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Post Re: Vegetarians in 18th century France
I agree that it is pointless to discuss vegetarianism among the poor, I am interested in intellectual circles, aristocrats, people who would make that decision because some sort of belief not because the circumstances. Of course, I don’t think there were many vegetarians, society was different, consciousness, and with all that poverty I don’t think someone really cared for animals and was it moral to eat meat. Still, I hope I’ll be surprised. :angel6:

Christophe wrote:
There was not such a great concern for the welfare of animals in a time when hunger and human mortality were so prevelant.


I don’t think that is so much different than now. Sure, there are more vegetarians but the meat industry is so much greater... Now more people can afford meat too. :roll:

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Wed Oct 29, 2008 2:15 pm
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Post Re: Vegetarians in 18th century France
dreamoutloud wrote:
Are you familiar with John Oswald?


I was not. Thanks for the heads up. He seems worth reading about for a number of reasons.

I admit though I'm skeptical about his actually being a vegetarian, as opposed to writing about the idea. I'd need more memoirs, etc. to see what his habits were.

Otherwise, I want to point out that concern for animals is only one of a host of reasons for being vegetarian. There were scattered observations which, if continued, might have made people more aware of the advantages of that kind of diet. Rousseau, for instance, points out that peasants ate more vegetables than not, and seemed healthy. It didn't keep him from eating partridge and (apparently excellent) leg of lamb. The Encyclopedia points out that galley slaves largely ate beans and yet were in good shape - bud didn't seem to think that proved anything about the value of vegetables overall.

There's probably more research to do on this side of the question.

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Wed Oct 29, 2008 7:32 pm
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Post Re: Vegetarians in 18th century France
Apparently Sammuel Johnson was a vegetarian as well. :)

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Thu Nov 13, 2008 4:21 am
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Post Re: Vegetarians in 18th century France
And speaking of food I found a website on food through out time. And there are some foods from the 18th century.

http://www.foodtimeline.org/

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Thu Nov 13, 2008 4:22 am
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Post Re: Vegetarians in 18th century France
great!

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Fri Nov 14, 2008 1:49 pm
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Post Re: Vegetarians in 18th century France
Since my original post, I've done far more research (and am in fact pulling together an essay on vegetarianism under the Old Regime for my next self-published tome). I thought a few details might be of interest:

- The idea of a vegetarian meal existed, under the name of "Pythagorean diet" (Rousseau uses the term in the same passage in "Emile" where he - rather hypocritically - recommends a vegetarian diet).
- The celebrated doctor Philippe Hecquet wrote quite plainly in support of vegetarian meals, pointing out that other countries had adopted them with no problems; notably, he seems to have suggested that the meals regarded as limited for Lent and fast-days could perfectly well be consumed all year round.
- Harcouet de Longville wrote a book on those who had lived for a very long time and came to a similar conclusion:
http://web2.bium.univ-paris5.fr/livanc/?p=229&cote=39245&do=page "Histoire des personnes qui ont vécu plusieurs siècles et qui ont rajeuni, avec le secret du rajeunissement"
- Some other notable doctors of the period (and the Encyclopedia) treated vegetables as less nourishing than meat and even harmful

There are also all kinds of examples of people - usually members of the clergy - adopting eccentric diets which sometimes could be considered vegetarian. Many, however, were more about drastically limiting intake, which was said to prolong life - and indeed modern science now seems to say the same thing (what a half-French food-lover would do with such a life, I can't say - personally, I'd like my last words to be muffled by a mouthful of something delicious, if fatal.)

All this, by the way, specifically in France. The story was somewhat different in England and possibly Holland as well.

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Sun Dec 28, 2008 6:27 pm
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Post Re: Vegetarians in 18th century France
This is probably totally irrelevant because she lived in the 15th century, but I've read that Richard III of England's wife, Anne Neville, was vegetarian.

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Sat Jan 03, 2009 11:13 pm
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Post Re: Vegetarians in 18th century France
Hmmm.. Irrelevant perhaps, but intriguing if true. Above all because she was English and, unlike the French in the same period, the English were known for eating beef (in great quantities, apparently). But also because she appears in one of the most powerful and psychologically complex moments in "Richard III", falling for a man she initially despises.

The main thing I can find about her is that she had very weak health - probably tuberculosis - so it may be that the doctors simply put her on a meatless diet (as Tronchin later would Voltaire, thus contributing to the big V's spurious reputation as a vegetarian.)

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Sun Jan 04, 2009 9:32 am
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Post Re: Vegetarians in 18th century France
jimcheval wrote:
Hmmm.. Irrelevant perhaps, but intriguing if true. Above all because she was English and, unlike the French in the same period, the English were known for eating beef (in great quantities, apparently). But also because she appears in one of the most powerful and psychologically complex moments in "Richard III", falling for a man she initially despises.


I wouldn't believe anything I read in Shakespeare's "Richard III" - remember who he was writing for.....a Tudor audience :angry5:

Anyway, with regards to Anne Neville we might never know for sure. I find this thread very interesting. I've always thought that people in the 18th century or before followed "vegetarian" diets out of necessity (meat being scarce or being unable to afford it) but as someone stated previously this is more applicable to the poor of the time.

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From the Declaration of Arbroath (Scottish Declaration of Independence), 1320.


Sun Jan 04, 2009 10:16 am
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Post Re: Vegetarians in 18th century France
Oh, I certainly didn't mean to imply that the scene in Richard was anything other than wonderful writing. But it does give me a connection to this otherwise obscure woman. (Having read "The Daughter of Time", I know the pro-Richard brief somewhat.)

In Old Regime France, it wasn't only the poor who followed the diet - there were hard-core religious communities like the Trappists and the Jansenist Port Royal nuns. And those - like Voltaire - whose doctors told them to, though, per the Encyclopedia, the reasoning seems to have been to reduce the digestive effort for a weakened body rather than out of any respect for vegetables, which were largely considered poor nutrition at best and actually harmful at worst (most recipes for "Health Soup" are loaded with meat.)

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Sun Jan 04, 2009 6:59 pm
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Post Re: Vegetarians in 18th century France
Whew! One more out the door:

http://www.chezjim.com/books/AMLDII.html

Presenting (finally) Après Moi, Le Dessert - Volume II: A French eighteenth century vegetarian meal
With an essay (for those care) on "Vegetarians in Old Regime France".

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Fri Mar 20, 2009 4:51 am
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