Anyone for Vegetarian Athletics?

The Vegetarian Brothers

Whilst, trawling through the autobiographical section of the personal papers of Maurice Wilkins I came across a remarkable pamphlet,"Vegetarian Athletics (What they prove and disprove)" by Henry Light, produced by the Vegetarian Society, features the semi-naked vegetarian wrestling champions, S V and E H Bacon mid-bout.

The pamphlet was part of the collected papers of Edgar Wilkins, Maurice's father, who was himself a committed vegetarian and keen exerciser. Trained as a doctor at Trinity College Dublin, he later concentrated on public health and preventative medicine and had a life long interest in the effects of diet and exercise on health. His papers were collected as part of Maurice Wilkins' autobiographical research, originally to provide the reader with a framework of how family characteristics were passed down through the generations.

In the first page of 'Vegetarian Athletics', Henry Light dispels the myth that vegetarians can "merely exist" but can be lusty and thrive. He states that there is a "great paucity of vegetarian athletes as compared with the innumerable host of flesh-eaters in the land, and thus realise that the numerical odds against us are analogous to those of a small village pitted against the entire nation. How often should we expect that little village to win? Once in a thousand years perhaps. Yet we vegetarian, competing for scarcely more than a thousand weeks, have secured amongst our innumerable triumphs the following formidable list of WORLD and NATIONAL RECORDS and CHAMPIONSHIPS [followed by a list of athletes and their achievements]"

The twelve page pamphlet makes interesting reading not only through its content but its wonderful use of language especially when describing non-vegetarians as "flesh-eaters" or lines such as "before coming a vegetarian he was an epileptic". It provides examples from recent times of world and national record holding vegetarian athletes similar to the wrestling brothers on the front. In some cases it provides a detailed break down of their diet such as Eustace Davies, mountain climber:

"Whilst training, except when visiting friends, his food consisted chiefly of:

Breakfast: Bread and butter, hot milk, potato, green salad and oil, and sometimes an egg.

Lunch and dinner: Cheese, Bread, butter, potatos, green salad and oil, milk-pudding, and stewed fruit and cream. 

The food used during the performance itself was principally of a liquid nature. For the first ten hours it was egg and milk. Thereafter milk and soda, lemon water, some tea and egg, and once or twice milky tea at inns in the valleys. Also stewed fruit and cream and milk pudding at three places; and two oranges." 

Davies was quoted by the author saying: "I owe you a great debt of gratitude; your advice was acted upon in toto, and I do not know of any other system of feeding on which I could have done the trick".  

The pamphlet is interspersed with general advice on the merits and practicalities of vegetarianism and also the  initial difficulties a former "flesh-eating" athlete might encounter when he first switches to vegetarianism. Henry Light at one point warns: "Before starting on a vegetarian system of living, one should be thoroughly convinced not only of its superior ethical value but its practicability, and be thoroughly determined after starting, for the mind has so great an influence over the body that the slightest wavering or doubt usually spells failure, and failure of course brings discredit upon the cause and oneself".

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