Henry Salt Archive

Henry Salt (1853-1939) was the author of the Life of Henry David Thoreau, Animals Rights and A Plea for Vegetarianism which inspired Gandhi for follow a vegetarian diet.

A Little Knowledge

The Vegetarian News, Vol. 8 No. 95, November 1928

From an article on “Cranks,” contributed by Mr. E. F. Allnutt to the Morning Post (and given a very prominent position), it seems that a “Hungarian official” is seeking to divorce his wife on account of her “misplaced endeavours to convert him to vegetarianism,” which culminated in her sending to his office “a luncheon consisting of raw vegetables and fruits.” For this drastic decision on the part of the irate official, Mr. Allnutt asks: “Who shall blame him?” Certainly it would be rash to do so without a fuller knowledge of the situation; and perhaps the lady herself might welcome the chance of a separation from her carnivorous spouse. Possibly it was with that very end in view that she “gave him beans” as narrated.

But what I wish to point out is that while the contributor to the Morning Post quite properly inveighs against the fanaticism to which such personal propaganda may be carried by extremists, or, as he chooses to call them “faddists” (the word is of no great consequence), he absurdly misunderstands the vegetarian movement in assuming that intolerance is typical of food-reformers, and in proceeding to lecture them accordingly. Doubtless, there are some vegetarians, as there are some advocates of all reforms, who make that mistake, but his views on a flesh-eater, there are fifty where the case is reversed, and flesh-eaters press their views upon vegetarians. The saying that “one man’s meat is another man’s poison” cuts both ways, and really is not, as Mr. Allnutt pleasantly affects to believe,* a text that favours flesh-eating. Not once, but many times, have I been taken in task for being a vegetarian, by persons with whose flesh-eating habits I should never have dreamed of interfering.

There is a second, and still more important point, which was entirely overlooked in Mr. Allnutt’s censure of “cranks.” Vegetarianism is not, as he chose to represent it, based merely on the hygienic argument that flesh-foods are not conducive to health: the main reason for the reform is that it would put an end to a vast amount of animal suffering. The flesh-eater flatters himself overmuch in supposing that it is primarily his own ailments that cause us such concern: it is the awful cruelties which he inflicts on his victims that chiefly makes us desire a reform—a desire, be it noted, which is urged on public grounds, and not pressed on individuals.

“A little knowledge,” Mr. Allnutt ponderously remarks, “is a dangerous thing: it is the distinguishing feature of cranks.” Far be it from me to bandy that vapid term “crank”; but I can assure the Morning Post essayist that his own knowledge of the diet question is something less than little, and that he would do wisely to look nearer home before again assuming the pontifical attitude. His conclusion, that “this question of what shall we eat and drink is surely one in which each of us should be a law unto himself,” may pass muster in the narrow sense that, as a matter of manners, individuals (even vegetarians) should not be personally worried and molested; but as a general principle of dietetics, whether regarded from the hygienists’ or the moralists’ pint of view, it is merely childish. It would justify cannibalism quite as well as beef-eating.

*Or does he think that “meat” necessarily means fresh food?

Henry S. Salt