Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Religion of Health

New York City & Chicago

In the early twentieth century, there was a growing awareness that physical fitness and diet played an important role in achieving good health. The new movement was aligned with vegetarianism which was then reemerging in the United States, as shown below by the vegetarian menu from the first annual banquet of the Brooklyn Physical Culture Society in 1904. There is a revealing list of toasts on this menu, including one to “The Religion of Health” given by Bernarr Macfadden, an early advocate of vigorous exercise, vegetarian diets, and fasting.1 Macfadden promoted his ideas in the popular magazine Physical Culture which became the cornerstone of his publishing business and other enterprises. Marking an early point in his long career, two menus reflect the loose connection between vegetarianism and the cult of physical fitness.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Laurel

New York City, 

The Gobbler's Dream: Signing the “Vegetarian Pledge” (1904)

The Laurel was perhaps the best vegetarian restaurant in New York at the turn of the last century. Situated on West Eighteenth Street, a couple of blocks from Union Square, it was named after the bay laurel whose aromatic leaves were used in vegetarian cooking. Technically, it was a lacto-ovo vegetarian restaurant, as shown by the dairy products and egg dishes on the 1903 menu shown below. In addition to providing a wide selection of dishes, this menu offers tips on health and nutrition, along with quotes from the Bible and the Anglo-Irish poet Oliver Goldsmith.1 This daily menu, along with a banquet menu from the following year, reflect the foodways and philosophy of vegetarianism at a point when the movement was just beginning to re-emerge in the United States.