In the recent Conference of the Vegetarian Society, some differences of opinion was expressed as to whether, in advocating our Vegetarian principles, we ought to be content with simply urging the disuse of flesh-food, or whether it is advisable to go further and preach what we consider to be a thoroughly ideal diet. In the present article, I wish to state briefly as possible why I think it would be better if all Vegetarians, when writing or speaking as Vegetarians (what they may choose to say or do at other times is, of course, a different matter) would confine themselves to essentials, and leave the ideals to take care of themselves.
According to the rules of the Vegetarian Society, our aims are as follows:—“To induce habits of abstinence from the flesh of animals as food, and promote the use of fruits, pulse, cereals, and other products of the vegetable kingdom.” Up to this point, then, we are all agreed; but the moment the further question is raised as to the advisability of condemning eggs, milk, cheese, tea, coffee, etc., a divergence of opinion arises among Vegetarians themselves, and we present the spectacle to the outside world of a camp divided against itself. This seems to me to be a serious tactical blunder; for surely we might each preserve his own independence of judgement, and each follow out his own personal ideal, without importing into the general propaganda of the Society points which might well be left to individual thoughts and private discussion. To put forward in any necessary connection with the Vegetarian movement these ideal doctrines, which, however excellent they may be in themselves, are beyond the present scope of the gospel of Vegetarianism, can only result in weakening our powers of united action, and in scaring away outsiders who might otherwise be attracted to our ranks.
In a campaign such as ours, against the formidable forces of prejudice and dietetic habit, it is highly inexpedient to make more enemies than is absolutely necessary; yet we shall be committing precisely this mistake if we engage in a crusade against all sorts of things which, for the present at any rate, we are not bound to attack. I would therefore suggest that we should keep these minor, inessential points as much as possible out of such writings and speeches as are likely to be read or heard by outsiders, using our full strength to protest against the inhumanity and wastefulness of the real object of our hostility—flesh-eating.
So, too, with regard to the connection of Vegetarianism with other movements of the time, such as Temperance, Anti-vaccination, Secularism, Socialism, Land Nationalisation, etc., though it must be politic to gain adherents whencesoever we can, I do not see why we should label ourselves as necessarily tied to any one of these, still less as arrayed in opposition thereto. Of course, in private, we are well aware of the close connection that exists between all great popular movements; and we cannot fail to see how Vegetarianism touches on all sorts of other reforms. But here, again, in our propaganda, only essentials should be put forward. If a man seem to be willing to discontinue the use of flesh-food, we should say or do nothing that is likely to alienate him; be he Christian or Atheist, wine-drinker or Teetotaller, Individualist or Socialist, he is, or ought to be, equally welcome in our Society.
I submit, therefore, that it will be our widest course, as members of a Vegetarian Society, which is concerned with dietetics, and not with religion or sociology, to concentrate our attention on those points towards which we can all work in harmony; or, if we feel inclined to handle other questions, to do so on some other platform than that of Vegetarianism. I have the utmost faith in Idealism, as the highest and noblest frame of mind for the individual; but when a society is organised for the attainment of a definite object, its only chance of success lies in making the path before it as simple, direct and unobstructed as possible. Its study should be, not the ideal, but the Essential.
Henry S. Salt
The Vegetarian, Vol. I No. 22, June 2, 1888, p. 1