Diet and Vegetarianism


In the "Higher Laws" chapter of Walden, Henry David Thoreau describes the art of hunting as a positive way to develop an appreciation for nature in the youth of the United States: "He goes thither at first as a hunter and fisher, until at last, if he has the seeds of a better life in him, he distinguishes his proper objects, as a poet or naturalist it may be, and leaves the gun and fish-pole behind" (W 212-13). Conversely, he laments, "Is it not a reproach that man is a carnivorous animal?" (W 215). Thoreau contemplates these contradictory philosophies on diet as much as any other material consideration in Walden. Thoreau's attitude to diet aligned with his larger life philosophy. If he could participate in the harvesting of his own local foods, he did. When at Walden, Thoreau planted beans and ate rice. When visiting Cape Cod, he attempted - and comically failed - to prepare a quahog as an experiment in local cuisine. In Maine, perhaps most strikingly, he brought pork with him as travel food and ate moose meat. He mentions each of these gustatory experiments in his travel narratives; however, he far more often describes eating berries, apples, and other local flora. He dedicates entire works to specific vegetable food items, as seen in essays "Wild Apples" (1862) and "Huckleberries" (1970) and work posthumously collected in Wild Fruits (2000). Vegetable foods were idealized throughout Thoreau's writings in a way that animal foods never were. For example, even as Thoreau appreciates sampling the wildness of a representative animal like moose in The Maine Woods (1864), he actually prefers the mountain and tree cranberries and applesauce accompaniments to the dishes rather than the meat itself - calling them "the greatest luxury" (MW 129). Thoreau did not simply experiment with vegetarianism. Ethical dietary considerations were always at the forefront in his philosophy; most of the time, he chose plant-based foods rather than animal ones.


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01 Jan 2017