The Vegetable Passion

Janet Barkas

(originally published by Scribner’s)Cover-TheVegetablePassion-JanetBarkas-FINAL

Reprint edition available from Hannacroix Creek Books, Inc.
ISBN 978-1-938998-18-8 (ePub) (e-book edition; $9.99 retail list price)

Also available in Mobi/Kindle

Press release

Foreign editions

Dutch; British; Vietnamese


Based on more than six years of original research that led the author to spend three weeks in Germany visiting 11 cities to meet those who had known Adolf Hitler to confirm or refute if he was a vegetarian (he was), including Albert Speer, Frau Winifred Wagner, and a secretary to Hitler, as well as a month in India traveling around for interviews with those who had known Gandhi, and research trips to other important areas in the history of vegetarianism including Great Britain, home of one of the most vocal advocates of vegetarianism, playwright George Bernard Shaw. In addition to extensive surveys, the author received original communications about vegetarianism from such international notables as chimpanzee expert Dr. Jane van Lawick-Goodall.

When it was first published, the author of this amazing book, which was given a one-page review in Time magazine as well as a one-page feature about the book’s publication launch party in The New Yorker, was sent on a cross-country author tour that included interviews on the Today Show and in the New York Times as well as an author tour in the UK which included appearances on the BBC-TV in London as well as media interviews, reviews, and speaking engagements in Bristol, Bath, Bournemouth, Manchester, Glasgow, and Edinburgh.

What makes this book so important is that it is not pro or con vegetarianism but instead it is a social history of a way of eating that has had famous and infamous nutritional as well as ethical followers, a type of diet that today inspires more philosophical, ethical, and health discussions than ever before.


Author’s Note
India: Land of the Sacred Cow
Orpheus Ascending: Ancient Greece and Rome
Judeo-Christian Ethics
Da Vinci and the Dietetic Renaissance in Italy
British Advocates: Howard, Shelley, Annie Besant, George Bernard Shaw, and Beatle Paul McCartney
Wagner, Hitler, Albert Schweitzer, and Germany
Back-and Forth-to Nature: American Vegetarianism including Benjamin Franklin, the Alcotts, Kellogg, and muckraker and novelist Upton Sinclair
Russia: Tolstoy and the Doukhobors
Nutritional Controversies
Summing Up
List of Illustrations
Selected Sources


“This is a quirky and fascinating book about vegetarianism written in the 70s. It really was my introduction to a concept that had been in practice for ages. Of course, one is not surprised that Gandhi was a vegan– but Hitler?! I also particularly enjoyed the Tolstoy section. It’s just an interesting read that is out-of-print but well worth finding if you can.”—Denise Kruse (, ****)

“Not, as you might expect, another book of recipes for soybean cutlets and granola. Barkas has written an engaging, idiosyncratic and downright scholarly book on vegetarianism as a religious, ethical and humanitarian creed from the days when the Greek philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras railed against flesh-eating to the present when groups like the Hare Krishna are spreading the gospel. Barkas herself doesn’t proselytize, even though (because?) she is certain that eventually the eating of meat, fish and fowl “”will be universally viewed with the same horror that is now attached to cannibalism.”” Maybe so, but in the meantime she sets before us the testaments of famous herbivores: Tolstoy and Gandhi, Shelley and Wagner, Leonardo da Vinci, Hitler and the cantankerous G.B. Shaw (accused, however, by H.G. Wells of cheating, because he took liver extract, calling it “”those chemicals””). Invariably its champions have linked vegetarianism with longevity, non-violence, atheism and sexual abstinence, and sometimes with frequent bathing, socialism and nudity. Some of Barkas’ hypotheses on the psychology of vegetarianism (is it a reaction formation against killer instincts?) are intriguing, and even if her anthropological evidence refuting “”the carnivore view of civilization”” cuts both ways, the book does make a serious effort to deal with the subject from a non-cultist perspective. And you’ll read about some of the nuttier notions of some of the world’s most brilliant cranks — like Nietzsche, who wrote that “”A diet that consists predominantly of rice leads to the use of opium and narcotics.”

About the author

Janet Barkas, a graduate of Hofstra University, is the maiden name of Jan Yager. She spent several years researching this book including trips to India, Germany, and the UK.

Book Details

224 pages
Copyright © 1975; copyright renewed