“One sometimes gets the impression that the mere words ‘Socialism’ and ‘Communism’ draw towards them with magnetic force every fruit-juice drinker, nudist, sandal-wearer, sex-maniac, Quaker, ‘Nature Cure’ quack, pacifist, and feminist in England….The food-crank is by definition a person willing to cut himself off from human society in hopes of adding five years on to the life of his carcase; that is, a person out of touch with common humanity.”

That’s George Orwell on vegetarians in 1937, as quoted in Steve Pinker’s The Better Angels of our Nature.  Pinker was citing this as an example of the image problem of vegetarianism throughout the ages, even with great moral voices like Orwell.


6 Responses to “George Orwell on vegetarians”

  1. ira says:

    There’s a lot to say and to be researched here in the entire history of human thought, with regard to ascetic practices of various kinds and how they were viewed, for better or for worse. The Pythagorian "cult" seems to have been vegetarian, and practiced asceticisim, and, as I’ve said before, Socrates was barefoot. Disciplined lifestyles can give rise to a high degree of spiritual extremisim of various kinds, again, for better or for worse. There is an ancient argument that sees doctrinaire vegetarianism as eventually leading to the equation of the value of animal to human life (as we see in the "Animal Rights" movement), which leads inevitably to a devaluation of human life. Rabbi Joseph Albo, of Medieval Spain, articulates this in his interpretation of the puzzling Genesis Cain and Abel story, with all its unanswered questions (Why did God prefer Abel’s domesticated animal sacrifice to Cain’s vegetable offering? Did Cain not understand the distinction between the allowable taking of animal life for a sacrifice and the moral unconscionableness of taking the human life of his brother Abel?) . Anyway, many "mainstream" religious traditions come down hard on asceticism which goes too far and can lead to turning one’s back on the world, and, with it, the world’s moral responsibilities. I remember once reading an early 20th-century rabbi’s warning to vegetarians that they could lose their moral compass, not understanding the difference between human life, made in the likeness in the Divine, and animal life, and then, soon afterwards, seeing film footage of Hitler’s indulgence of his dog. And the mass-murdering Hitler, and many of his ilk, seems to have been a vegetarian! Orwell had, indeed, much to be concerned about, and we do, as well. That having been said, however, a mix of dietary rigor and other disciplined lifestyle choices are also recognized as salutary. Traditional Western religious culture in general often ate mosly small quantities of vegetable-sourced food during the week (often cooked in rendered fat, though), often saving the slaughter of a domesticated animal or fowl until just before the Sabbath or for a traditional "Feast Day" or "festival," when the extended family set aside time to be together and eat in greater quantities. -Ira

  2. Cromulent says:

    Didn’t care for Blair’s politics, but he was a mighty fine critic.

    If you get much more successful, you just might become the veggiemites’ Emmanuel Goldstein!

  3. Anonymous says:

    That’s not George Orwell on vegetarians, it’s George Orwell on Socialists and Communists.

  4. Anonymous says:

     I like your blog, and generally agree, etc., but you do see the irony here right? He could just as well be talking about "Paleo quacks" when he talks about people who are willing to cut themselves off from human society in hopes of adding 5 years…  If that’s not fair in general, it certainly becomes fair when the concept is taken to the extreme.  

    • Stabby says:

      Indeed, and on that note, this all presumes that being in touch with common humanity is desirable. Has that ever been a good argument? I think it’s a fallacy. If it is common in one’s area to do meth and have unprotected sex, being out of touch with the common man is a splendid thing.

      The main problem with vegetarianism in this respect is that for a very long time, vegetarian "healthy" cusine has been downright awful. The funny thing is that I don’t think that excluding animals foods is a good thing, and in fact it is a detriment, so this all looks even more silly. Any benefit ascribed to vegetarian diets likely has to do with the exclusion of fast food, containing synthetic trans fats, and perhaps a slight psychological benefit from believing oneself to be better than others.

      He seems to be downplaying the effect that diet can have on health. Perhaps the granola and tofu scene will add 5 years onto your life compared with eating complete rubbish, but I would say that  with a healthy restrictive diet done right, in according with the evidence, one can easily add 20 years to one’s life, avoid any sort of malady or significant degeneration, and be the epitome of vitality, something that you don’t really see in the classic vegetarian sterotype, who appears to be starving to death and flatulent.

      Modern paleo, or even a smarter and well-supplemented version of vegetarianism would put those words back in his mouth.

  5. Fuck you says:

    We don’t even know if George Orwell is referring to vegetarians, although it’s doubtful. I say this because if you know anything about this great writer, you know that he abhorred euphemisms. Following that awareness, if he were talking about vegetarians he would call them vegetarians, but here he’s talking about fruit-juice drinkers among other bizarre types – he was probably referring to the type who lives off of fruit-juice alone. In case some of you are oblivious, as a vegan, I can tell you with utmost emphasis that my diet consists of a lot more than fruit-juice. Besides, omnivorous humans also drink fruit-juice – so if you really want to take him out of context you can say he’s talking about most of us. Also, I’d like to say that I’m perfectly healthy, I’m not doing this for longevity, and I don’t think I’m better than anyone just because my diet doesn’t involve animal products (my response to all the presumptuous comments I saw above).

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