From the Homestead Kitchen: How to be a 1920s vegetarian (and why).

by Jennifer Scerra

So, tell me, historic citizen, why are you a vegetarian?

Is it because it is cheaper? 

“Try some of these foods for dinner while meat is so dear,” from the San Francisco Examiner, 19 July 1908.

Are you trying to lose weight? 

“Worry and Eat No Meat to Get Thin,” from the San Francisco Call, 3 January 1913

Are you trying to make limited meat more available to those suffering from hunger in war torn Europe? 

“Los Angeles Meatless Day Observed,” from the Los Angeles Evening Express, 23 October 1917.

Animal rights? 

“Why Abstinence from Flesh Foods is Advocated,” from Natural Foods: The Safe Way to Health, 1925.

Religious conviction? 

“Sample Meatless Menus for Lent,” from the Los Angeles Evening Post, 27 February, 1917.

A long cultural history? 

“Professions and Trades,” from the San Francisco Examiner, 04 August 1915.

Food safety? 

“Beef Scandal Makes Londoners Vegetarians,” from the San Francisco Examiner, 01 July 1906.

Land conservation? 

“The Economical and Ethical Aspects of the Bloodless Diet,” from Natural Foods: The Safe Way to Health, 1925.

Oh, you’re not? And may in fact be a cannable? Sorry, my mistake. 

“Diet. – Its Application to the Everlasting Chinese Question,” from the Los Angeles Herald, 12 March 1879.

But yes, 21st century blog reader, the reasons for being a vegetarian in early 20th century Los Angeles really were as diverse, distinct, and meaningful as they are today. Any two vegetarians then probably had about as much in common with each other as they do with your diabetic uncle and your vegan cousin now. Eating vegetables is for all of us, even when the reasons for it are not.

A small admission: for the past few months I kept sitting down to write this post about historic vegetarianism and then ended up writing about something else. That’s what happened with this post about the strange life of Dr. Harry Finkle. And when I wrote about food safety and the pure foods movement. Even this post about canned food started when I was browsing recipes for vegetables. 

So, you would be forgiven for looking askance when I admit that nothing less than the connection between eugenics and diet almost lured me away again this week. I’ll probably come back to that in some future post, because people today really ought to know how shockingly prevalent talk about “building a better race” was in the 1920s, even when discussing food. But let’s just grossly simplify things and say that the fact that there are so many significant tangents between vegetarianism and the rest of history (even the serious stuff), highlights how culturally pervasive and important food has always been. Which is why we’ve been writing this Homestead Kitchen blog series in the first place.


Uhm, so do you want to make a fruit salad?

We’ve talked about Otto Carqué before and his pure foods grocery outlet. Besides selling food, his company also distributed a number of cookbooks, health guides, and food pamphlets. Natural Foods: The Safe Way to Health, published in Los Angeles in 1925 is an all-vegetarian guide and specifically addresses the health, food safety, and animal rights benefits of going meatless. 

I hope you can tell from the articles listed earlier, that despite somehow always being thought of as a rebellious pursuit for young people, vegetarian eating was very much part of the public conscious 100 years ago. Los Angeles, like other large cities, was home even to vegetarian restaurants, including a cafeteria near Angeles Flight and a restaurant downtown.

A sign for a vegetarian cafeteria can be seen to the right of the Angels Flight funicular in the Bunker Hill neighborhood of Los Angeles. From the Homestead Museum collection.

The Carqué Natural Food Company, which sold no meat, was based nearby in Hollywood, in a building that still stands today. The Natural Foods book focuses more heavily on diet theory than recipes, but there are still a number given. Throughout his book, Carqué espouses that fruit, even more than grains, dairy, and even vegetables, are the ideal human food and important for the diet. Hence the pages of different fruit salad recipes. That he also dismisses germ theory and casually explains that the superiority of Caucasians is despite, and not caused by, their heavy consumption of meat should not be glossed over.


Pretty to look at, but…

California Fruit Salad No. 34

1 medium sized avocado

1 grapefruit

3 oranges

Peel and slice the avocado and moisten with lemon juice. Peal grape fruit and oranges and remove pulp from membrane. Arrange the three kinds of fruit on salad plates covered with head lettuce and serve with Orange Nut Dressing.

Orange Nut Dressing

Juice of 1 large ripe orange

1 Tablespoon unroasted almond butter

1 teaspoon honey

Slowly add the orange juice to the almond butter and honey, thoroughly mixing the ingredients until the consistency of a smooth cream is obtained.

Recipe Reviews:

Kid 1: *Makes face* “It tastes like too much peanut butter [almond butter]. And the feeling when you throw up.”

Adult 1: “It’s more sour than I expected. And more…savory?”

Adult 2: “The almond butter sort of overwhelms everything.”

Adult 3: “Remarkably bland for something heavy in citrus. The sauce really saps the life out of it.”

So, tell me, citizens of the past and present, how do we talk about the fact that people throughout time have made choices impacting both their lives and the lives of others? Ethical choices and personal choices, but sometimes also hurtful choices and painful choices? The sauce on the fruit salad was bad. That random page about eugenics in a diet book was worse. History is all those things and more. Even when we’re just looking at food.

2 thoughts

  1. Fascinating! I’m amazed that people were already concerned about the amount of land used to raise animals for food back in 1925!

  2. Janet, I was surprised also. I thought I would find pretty much every argument for vegetarianism you would now, except for that type of concern for the environment.

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