Eat Your Vegetables, Antiquarian-Style

In more civilized times, proponents of a meatless regime adhered to the "Pythagorean diet" championed by that Greek sixth century B.C. philosopher, who, in addition to figuring out the square of the hypotenuse, believed that all living beings had souls, and it was wrong to eat them. Pythagoras wasn't big on beans, either, convinced that legumes were created from the same material as humans.

                                                                                                                                                                         And since ancient times, people have codified both what to eat and why in cookbooks, pamphlets, and treatises. Now, visitors to the Lilly Library at Indiana University, Bloomington, may examine the fascinating and sometimes eccentric printed history of vegetarianism in the exhibition Eat Your Vegetables! Five Centuries of Vegetarianism and the Printed Word. While surveying the history of the movement, the show also celebrates the meatless ethos in print from the sixteenth century through the 1960s.



Reproduced with permission of the Lilly Library. Photo Credit: Zachary T. Downey


Head librarian Joel Silver curated the exhibit, drawing primarily from the collection of antiquarian bookseller (and Indiana native) William Dailey. "The university acquired Bill's material a few years ago--we're still working on a full-scale catalog--but in the meantime we wanted to do an exhibition of a selection of pieces from his collection, which is close to 1,000 unique items," Silver said.

                                                                                                                                                                "I started collecting in 1970," Dailey explained. "I made 1967 the cutoff date for my collection because that was the year I stopped eating meat. I loved that there wasn't a lot of competition for this kind of material, and I think the scope of my collection is pretty rare in the book world." Though a pescatarian these days, Dailey remains well known in antiquarian book circles for his no-meat lifestyle, and at one point his car could be identified on the road by the vanity plate "LEGUME." Dailey's material complements the library's already formidable gastronomic collection, assembled largely by Hoosier benefactors Dr. and Mrs. John Talbot Gernon.



Reproduced with permission of the Lilly Library. Photo Credit: Zachary T. Downey

Vegetarianism has had a long cultural, historical, and literary influence. "Frankenstein was a vegetarian," Silver reminded me, and many writers like Mary Shelley, Franz Kafka, and George Bernard Shaw abstained from meat.



Reproduced with permission from the Lilly Library. Photo Credit: Zachary T. Downey

One of the show's high spots includes a printed first edition of the earliest published treatise on vegetarianism, De Abstinentia ab esu Animalium, Libri Quatuor (On Abstinence from Animal Food), by Porphyry (234-305). The show also highlights material by American vegetarians and food reformers like Upton Sinclair, whose papers are housed at the Lilly, John Harvey Kellogg, and Sylvester Graham.

                                                                                                                                                                          Silver, a lifelong vegetarian himself, noted the health benefits of a life without meat: "Sinclair experimented with many diets and lived to be ninety years old, and Kellogg lived to be ninety-one. They must have been on to something."

Eat Your Vegetables! Five Centuries of Vegetarianism and the Printed Word runs from now until September 10 at the Lilly Library at Indiana University. More information may be found at