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April 2, 1837

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Graham started publishing a journal to recommend vegetarianism, even using diagrams to make scientific cases for it, however an anonymous person wrote back to say “there are far worse articles of food in common use than healthy flesh-meat. . . . A man may be a pure vegetable liver, and yet his diet be far less favorable to health than a diet of animal food might be."





The Graham Journal of Health and Longevity


Important Text:

In April 1837, the fi rst issue of the Graham Journal of Health and Longevity became available to the public. The journal served as a catalyst for a significant shift in the development of proto-vegetarianism. The new journal promoted Sylvester Graham’s diet as well as his writings, lecture tours, and other public appearances, helping to expand the diet’s prominence and reputation. Graham regularly contributed to the journal, providing both new essays as well as excerpts from his previously published books and pamphlets. However, the journal—despite bearing the name of the movement’s founder—was published independently of Sylvester Graham, who was not directly involved in its production. Thus while the Graham Journal of Health and Longevity helped further expose the masses to Sylvester Graham and his ideology, it also emphasized that the actions of individuals helped determine its success. The journal helped further develop a nationwide community that, for the time being, bore Graham’s name. However, the journal relied on the work of other writers, editors, and reformers to accelerate the spread of meatless dietetics.  

The publisher of the new journal was David Cambell, owner of the first Graham boardinghouse in Boston. The journal quickly spread its reach throughout the United States. During its first three months of publication, only thirty-eight local agents were listed as selling the Graham Journal in twelve states. By October of the same year, 108 agents were selling the journal in fift een states, as far west as St. Louis; south to Macon, Georgia; and throughout all of New England. 123 In 1839, its final year of publishing, New Jersey was added to this list of states, and the journal was sold by a total of 140 agents.  

The journal featured a wide variety of articles and followed a similar structure in each of its biweekly issues. It opened with a series of letters and endorsements, offering the familiar conversion narrative structure of redemption. Nathaniel Perry of Boston, writing in the first issue, recollected that soon after marrying he “began to indulge in what is called by most people, good living,” consisting of “roast and fried meats, of all kinds, and poultry with their rich gravies.” Meat and alcohol led to a battle with rheumatism, constant headaches, canker sores, and tooth decay.  

Perry hit bottom when a dyspeptic stomach left him unable to attend to his business dealings or even leave his house. After hearing Graham lecture in Boston, Perry “became interested in the principles he taught; and finally adopted them in diet and regimen.” The results were nearly immediate, Perry reported, with all maladies gone within a month. He slept soundly, and at fifty years of age could attest to “good health,” “the keenest relish for my food,” and an “elastic, energetic, untiring” ability to labor.  Both lay Grahamites and professional medical doctors wrote testimonials, attempting to lend populist and professional credibility to the cause. 

In each issue Sylvester Graham himself was represented by an article, often a summary, excerpt, or reworking of themes and arguments made in lectures and published works on the science of human life or bread making.  The journal also included articles focused on anatomy and the inner workings of the human body as proof of the benefits of a meatless diet. Charts, figures, and drawings frequently accompanied these articles, attempting to make scientific arguments accessible to the average reader.  

In a series of articles appearing in the journal, William Beaumont—a famed U. S. army surgeon—wrote on his observations of human digestion. Beaumont’s research was based on fi rsthand observation of Alexis St. Martin, a patient who had been accidentally shot in the stomach. This wound caused a fistula, an observable hole in St. Martin’s stomach leading to the digestive track. Beaumont placed various foods on a string in order to observe how food stuff s were broken down, leading to the observation that stomach acids helped digest food into various nutrients. Beaumont’s experiments illustrated that vegetables were easily broken down by stomach acid, in contrast to various meat products, which were “partly digested,” observable proof of Grahamites’ claims that meat was difficult to break down into digestible matter.  

Issues also included recipes, further linking Grahamites through common gastronomy. The recipes expanded the Grahamite diet beyond cold water and Graham bread, teaching meatless epicures how to properly prepare vegetables, bake pies, and prepare grains. By expanding the repertoire of meatless cookery, the Graham Journal ironically further shifted proto-vegetarianism away from Graham. The publication closed with an advertising section, offering information on where to buy the journal and find Grahamite boardinghouses, literature, and dietary products.  

Health advocates frequently wrote letters to the journal, though not always in support of meatless dietetics. One concerned reformer wrote with the desire to express a few “hasty remarks” regarding the journal’s advocacy for a vegetable diet. Not all advocates of dietary reform were followers of Graham, he argued. While admitting that Graham’s diet had beneficial effects, the writer said he would call “no man master” and was writing to the journal to “protest against the common notion that the efforts of the advocates of physiological reform are designed solely or mainly to bring about the disuse of animal food.” The writer believed that “there are far worse articles of food in common use than healthy flesh-meat. . . . A man may be a pure vegetable liver, and yet his diet be far less favorable to health than a diet of animal food might be.” The letter concluded with a call for further scientific study into the eff ects of all dietary practices, stating that “we do not aim at dietetic reform solely—we advocate physiological reform.”  The anonymous writer raised an important question for those interested in dietary reform to consider: Should the movement focus on a dogmatic dedication to a meatless diet or advocate for scientific study to continually redefi ne the most benefi cial diet?  

The fate of the journal at the end of 1839 seems to have offered an answer to the lingering question over the aims of dietary reformers, indicating that total dietary reform had become preferable to Grahamism. After three years of weekly publication, the Graham Journal of Health and Longevity ceased production, with its last issue dated December 14, 1839. The journal had originally planned to release a fourth edition, promising potential subscribers seven free issues for the remainder of 1839 when opening a new account for the coming year. This enticement to subscribe seems to indicate significant financial diffi culty for Cambell and the journal.

Topics: (click image to open)

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