January 1, 1821
Metcalfe followed his protemperance essay in 1821 with Bible Testimony: On Abstinence from the Flesh of Animals , his first piece articulating the moral, religious, and health justifications of a meatless diet
Bible Testimony: On Abstinence from the Flesh of Animals
Metcalfe followed his protemperance essay in 1821 with Bible Testimony: On Abstinence from the Flesh of Animals , his first piece articulating the moral, religious, and health justifications of a meatless diet. At the heart of Metcalfe’s argument in favor of a flesh-free lifestyle was his interpretation of the biblical commandment against killing, whose application he believed “was benevolently intended to reach the animal creation.” The fact that the prohibition had not been understood as such was proof of humanity’s degradation. Humanity, however, had the power of reason to follow such prohibitions.
Metcalfe equated meat consumption with violent, cruel tendencies, appealing to the most uncontrolled whims of human aggression. Even more than alcoholic spirits, a carnivorous diet was deleterious to the soul, an affront to the natural forces of life. Further, meat consumption was a violent rejection of God itself, a notion expressed by one Bible Christian hymn that warned, “Hold daring man! From murder stay: God is the life in all, You smite at God! When flesh you slay: Can such a crime be small?”
It was the Bible Christians’ goal to “instruct . . . to correct general sentiment and to determine the principles of public habits so as to cherish universal humanity.” Metcalfe placed abstention from meat at the center of a plan for total reform. Once the church accomplished its goal of converting nonbelievers to its violence-free diet, Metcalfe believed that individuals would “withdraw themselves from a system of cruel habits . . . which has unquestionably a baneful eff ect upon the physical existence and the intellectual, the moral and religious powers of man.” The benefits of a vegetable based diet—mental clarity, a sense of morality, and an adherence to nonviolence—allowed individuals to lead lives of “benevolence,” caring for the “souls of all men.”
Metcalfe’s pamphlet was the first published creed in favor of total avoidance of meat in the United States. The booklet helped spread the idea of a meatless diet to the general public, connecting food choices with a variety of reform principles ranging from pacifi sm to antislavery. And while Metcalfe was fundamentalist in his religious outlook, he utilized modern technologies and an Enlightenment-inspired emphasis on rational study to spread the word of his church. What started as a group of twenty families had nearly doubled by 1825, garnering increased attention among interested social reformers in Philadelphia.