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.

The 'Sanitary Wool' System

by H. S. S.

In the very interesting biography of Lieutenant T. W. Richardson which appeared in the last number of the Food Reform Magazine there is an account of his spirited solution of the question, “What shall we do for clothing, if we cease to slaughter?” The appearance of Lieutenant Richardson in complete “vegetarian costume” must have been a crushing reply to those very foolish people who think that civilization would come to a stand-still if it were deprived of the use of animal carcases. But was there, after all, any absolute need of this admirably practical rejoinder? It must of course be admitted that the use of leather necessitates the slaughter of animals, and the production of vegetable leather was therefore a sine qua non, if our opponents’ challenge was to be taken up. But as regards the other components of ordinary costume there is not the same difficulty; for animal wool may obviously be largely used without involving any slaughter whatever; indeed, if a shepherd desired to produce large quantities of wool from his flock, the very last thing he would do would be to cut their throats—a proceeding which would be quite as hasty and ill-considered as the slaughter of the goose, in the fable, for the sake of its golden eggs. It is curious to observe that Dr. Jaeger’s system, by which the use of all vegetable fibre in clothing is avoided, finds especial favour with German vegetarians; and I cannot see that English food reformers would be acting in a manner at all inconsistent with their principles if they followed the example of their brethren in Germany.

All who are interested in the subject of Dress Reform should read Dr. Jaeger’s book on Health Culture. There is a good deal in it that strikes one as fanciful and over-drawn, but it contains also much sound sense and valuable advice: and Dr. Jaeger’s favourite maxim, “Examine everything, and retain the best,” is one that will commend itself to food reformers. The arguments on which the Sanitary Wool System is based are, briefly, as follows:—The skin constantly exhales through the pores, and if these exhalations are not allowed free egress, an evil effect on the body is experienced—it is argued—in the form of many diseases. It is found, moreover, that all material manufactured from vegetable fibre is impervious to the passage of the body’s exhalations, while pure wool possesses a peculiar power of throwing off the exhaled matters, and thus promotes the healthy action of the skin. The good effect of an entirely woollen costume is traced through some forty or fifty short chapters in Dr. Jaeger’s book, of which the most interesting food reformers is that on “Vegetarianism,” I will therefore proceed to give the substance of Dr. Jaeger’s remarks on this subject.

He begins by finding fault with the “doctrine” of man’s frugivorous origin, his objections being based on what he calls “the ground of practical experience,” It appears that Dr. Jaeger was for some time the scientific director of a zoological garden in a German town, and finding that the apes were treated as frugivora, and that the annual mortality among them was not less than 50 per cent., he adopted the expedient of treating them as omnivora, or general eaters; and this change was followed by most satisfactory results. In the early part of his career Dr. Jaeger was therefore firmly convinced that the vegetarian doctrine is erroneous; but it is gratifying to learn that this unfavourable opinion was afterwards largely modified, and that Dr. Jaeger, after coming into personal contact with many vegetarians, arrived at the conviction that a fleshless diet can show great practical results, although he still denied the theory regarding the frugivorous origin of man. The value of a vegetarian diet was to be accounted for, he argued, rather in the fact that the noxious emanations of the body are rendered far less offensive when meat is not eaten—as seen in the case of dogs—and that “Vegetarianism therefore contends with the same enemy that is attacked by the Sanitary Wool System,” Finally, Dr. Jaeger, in answer to the question whether on the foregoing grounds he recommends the practice of vegetarianism, gives a somewhat indefinite and unsatisfactory reply. “For those,” he says, ‘‘who suffer from the evolution, of the noxious emanations two courses are open, the Sanitary Wool System and Vegetarianism—either one or both may be chosen,” He goes on to say that he considers the vegetarian mode of living suitable to those who lead an indoor life, and are lightly occupied; but to those who are heavily tasked he recommends a mixed diet, on the ground that flesh-foods are more digestible than a purely vegetable diet, and the adoption of the woollen costume.

It is rather disappointing to find Dr. Jaeger stopping short in such an illogical and indefensible position, after going so far on the path: of food reform. His objections to vegetarianism, if objections they can be called, have been so often and fully disposed of elsewhere that there is no need to dwell upon them in this article, the object of which is to recommend to food reformers a trial of the Sanitary Wool System, rather than to combat Dr. Jaeger’s erroneous views concerning a still more important reform. We welcome his recognition of the fact that a healthy state of the skin is promoted by the disuse of flesh-food, and we trust that his own excellent principle of “Examining everything and retaining the best” may eventually lead him to the adoption of our views concerning food. If his preference for a mixed diet is based on no stronger grounds than the old argument about the “superior digestibility” of flesh-food, and the statistics of the decreasing mortality of Frankfort apes (which may have been due to quite other causes than those to which he assigns it) I think it is not improbable that time may complete his conversion.

Vegetarians, at any rate, will not allow any prejudices to hinder them from according a fair trial to Dr. Jaeger’s doctrines on the subject of Dress Reform. The argument that is often put forward (absurdly enough, as it seems to me) about the necessary “extermination” of our flocks, in the case of a vegetarian regime, would at once fall to the ground, if the utility of Dr. Jaeger’s system were generally recognized, for we should then keep large flocks, on such land as is best suited for pasturage, for the sake of the wool, for which there would be an increased demand. There is, at first sight, something inconsistent in the idea of a vegetarian completely attired in purely animal wool, “all vegetable within and all animal without,” as I once heard a friend amusingly express it. But, after all, the inconsistency is more imaginary than real; and if experience proves Dr. Jaeger’s arguments to be true, if the advantages which he claims from his system are substantiated by actual trial, we may possibly some day hear of Lieutenant Richardson discarding his "Vegetarian costume,” and once more startling his friends and foes by appearing on the platform attired in precisely the opposite material.

Published: The Food Reform Magazine, Vol. IV No. 4, April-June 1885