Friday, November 5, 2010

Historic Vegan News

I have used the Google News feature to track down two of the oldest articles mentioning veganism that I can find and was quite tickled by these early depictions of vegans.

The first article comes from the January 28, 1953 edition of the Milwaukee Sentinel:

Vegans Eat No Meat, Lose Sense of Humor

DO YOU KNOW what a vegan is? If not, please be informed that a vegan is a vegetarian who, in addition to abstaining from meat, also abstains from dairy products. Are you a steak enthusiast? So am I. Do you know how the vegetarians and vegans refer to us? They say we “are addicted to the taste of dead flesh.”
A vegetarian diet may have some advantages but it seems to inspire those who follow it to express themselves in a nasty way. Also a vegetarian with a sense of humor appears to be a distinct rarity. When they do have a sense of humor it is more sarcastic and biting than kindly. As for example, George Bernard Shaw's sense of humor.

It seems the stereotype of vegans not having a sense of humor is much older than I had imagined and dates back to nearly the beginning of the term 'vegan'.

Combating this stereotype is not an easy one as rights for anyone is a very serious matter. Imagine someone who was bothered by the evil of racism hearing a friend make a racist joke. They would likely not laugh, but rather attempt to clarify their righteous discontent with their friend. The friend, however, most likely still feels that there was no harm in their humor and that the joke merely went unappreciated by their humorless companion. It is easy to see vegans being perceived in a similar way for their attempts to defend animals. Nevertheless, I still laughed when reading such an outlandish title as “Vegans eat no meat, lose sense of humor,” and at the cheap pot shot they made at the expense of George Bernard Shaw who had passed away a mere 3 years prior.

The second article comes from the January 12, 1956 edition of the Beaver Valley Times:

Lack Of Protein In Diet Causes Variety of Ills

A vegan, I am able to tell you (Webster doesn't), is a vegetarian who excludes from his diet not just meat, fish, and fowl, but also milk, butter, cheese, and eggs.
Signs of nutritional deficiency in vegans are (1) sore tongue; (2) pricking, tingling or creeping on the skin without apparent cause; (3) in women, amenorrhea and other menstrual disturbances; (4) pains in back and spine, stiff back, called “vegan back.”
These signs or symptoms occur less frequently in Dutch vegans than in British vegans, and seldom if at all in American vegans.
The total protein intake of British vegans is seven per cent, of Dutch vegans nine per cent, of American vegans nearly 10½ per cent, according to biochemical examinations of vegans apparently in good health (but most of whom had had sore tongue at some time), as reported by Wokes, Badenoch and Sinclair in Am. J. Clinical Nutrition.
THESE INVESTIGATORS state that British vegans do not consume the only vegetable foods (seaweeds and ground nuts such as peanuts) known to contain vitamin B-12. They suggest that vitamin B-12 deficiency is responsible for the definite illnesses that have gradually developed after several years in some British vegetarians who have excluded milk, cheese, butter and eggs from their diet. Milk, skim milk, separator milk, buttermilk, cheese and eggs are excellent sources of protein as good as meat protein for human nutrition.
I have known, observed and examined numerous vegetarians and it seems to me they have as much vite as people who eat fish, fowl and meat. I have not had the opportunity to examine any vegans, however.
NOT FROM PERSONAL observation but from general reading I have formed the impression that vegetarians vegetate. I do not mean to imply that they “do little but eat and grow,” but rather that they “lead a passive existence without initiative” (as Webster says). In other words, they are not aggressive.
I shall continue eating meat, fish or fowl daily if I can get it, but if I had to kill my own I'd probably become vegetarian.

I immediately recognized the first two symptoms of nutritional deficiency in vegans as being signs of B-12 deficiency. It is interesting that as early as 1956 some medical professionals had already noticed and identified this deficiency in vegans; although, they wrongly claim that seaweed and ground nuts are reliable sources of B-12.

I managed to track down the original study being referenced, which is truly phenomenal for its time. The study managed to track down 235 vegans of three different nationalities and assessed several different health factors. Nearly all of these early vegans had low B-12 levels and many were showing signs of serious deficiency.

Despite the clear and obvious symptoms of B-12 deficiency, the main focus of the newspaper article seems to be on protein, which continues to be a public misconception to this day. I sure am glad that the phrase 'vegan back' has died off however. That would certainly be a major pain in the (vegan) back to have to answer constantly.

The final bit of the article is perhaps the most disturbing. It attempts to claim that vegans, who have clearly taken initiative by choosing their diet, “lead a passive existence without initiative”. It is nice of them to at least clarify that we are not aggressive, much better than Lierre Keith does in this interview, where she practically describes herself as a violent, cannibalistic rapist while she was a vegan (I exaggerate a little, but not much). For more on Lierre's book The Vegetarian Myth I recommend checking out our closest companion blog Skeptical Vegan.


  1. great interesting history angle!
    also great point about the racist joke being similar to an animal abuse joke, that's often my argument to people.
    Keith is seriously deluded, Ive never heard the psychology claims about vegans she makes before her book. Ive usually heard the opposite, that not eating meat makes you less aggressive physically and sexually. Her arguments are annoying to have to deal with.

  2. Hello

    I'm a vegan and skeptic in the UK. V happy to find your blog.

    Are you on twitter? please find me and say hello. i'm @mrmzholland

    merry xmas ;)


  3. Actually, i am very curious about the reality of this. I became a veggie when i was 12 years old by my own accord. Anyways, i was talking to my girlfriend last week, who also is a veggie and she mentioned our minister was a veggie for 1 year about 30 years ago. He said he felt he lost his sense of humor when he was a veggie. This hit me very strongly. Honestly i don't feel like i have much of a sense of humor. I cant tell you if it started before i was 12. Being that David, the minister is a pretty funny guy, i am very curious if this is real. Can there be some truth to this? Is there a non animal eating cure. Do humans get something from animal meat that adds a chemical that unlocks the funny/humor part of the brain? If anyone has any ideas, please let me know.