‘A Fact in the History of the World’: The Vegetarian Advocate (1848‒50) and the Serialization of Life

  • Liam Young Liam Young Mount Saint Vincent University

Abstract

This essay examines the Vegetarian Advocate, a British monthly periodical that ran from 1848 to 1850, and it argues that the periodical’s serial form shaped its representation of vegetarianism. As the first official organ of the UK Vegetarian Society, the Vegetarian Advocate carried different messages to different audiences. For members of the Society, it circulated information on the organization’s publications, annual meetings, membership statistics, and finances, subjects that would be of interest only to insiders. For outsiders and the uninitiated, it published articles explaining vegetarian principles, using arguments drawn from physiology, chemistry, natural history, economics, and ethics to persuade curious readers to experiment with a vegetarian diet. However, drawing on press scholarship and Michel Foucault’s techniques of the self, this essay argues that the serial form of the periodical itself carried an important message on the vegetarians’ ‘serialization of life’, their belief that life be lived serially or, in other words, that forward progress and self-improvement come through repetition, attention to routine, and the everyday training of oneself. Specifically, this essay claims that the seriality of the Vegetarian Advocate allowed the Vegetarian Society to represent its dietary regimen as serial — that is, as a repetitive yet progressive, sequential system of self-transformation in which all forms of activity (from eating to exercising to socializing) accrued meaning sequentially, serially, and relationally, orientating vegetarianism and vegetarians towards a teleological objective, or what Foucault calls the ‘telos of the ethical subject’. Serialization, it claims, was integral to both the practice and concept of vegetarianism: vegetarian print materials were published serially while the practice itself was conceptualized as a progressive step in the development of the individual and the species.

Published
2021-07-01