On Apples and Anarchy: Diet and Politics at Fruitlands

Sunday, January 7, 2018: 9:20 AM
Columbia 10 (Washington Hilton)
Kathryn R. Falvo, Penn State University
Veganism and anarchism are anything but strange bedfellows. Food is a key factor in both our economic and social relationships, and those looking to radically overturn those relationships have often turned to food politics. This paper examines one instance of their intersection through a vegan anarchist community, Fruitlands, that emerged amid the utopian fascination in America in the 1840s. Though Fruitlands failed, they articulated a new and radical understanding of the meaning of diet in American political life. Decades before most historians pinpoint the beginnings of either veganism or anarchism in the United States, Fruitlanders established a concrete theory of their relation to one another—and their usefulness in transforming the world. Born from the twin influences of vegetarian hygiene and Fourierist utopianism, Fruitlanders blended dietary and political goals in a seamless philosophy of communal living.

I argue that Fruitlanders saw dietary restrictions as a fundamental prerequisite for a new political world. Animal products not only made people physically ill, they argued, but also stunted spiritual development and, consequently, the ability to participate in communal living. In a vegan world, by contrast, humans would be spiritually perfect. Greed and envy would be moot; individually-owned property would be unneeded; and labor would be exchanged freely and with good will. Since they thought the best way to form this world was to act in accordance with their beliefs, they approached their communal life with anarchist economic principles.

These reformers believed that those who could adhere to vegan principles were eligible participants for a new, more radical world devoid of property, unfair exchange, governmental regulation, and hierarchy. As Charles Lane explained, “The evils of life are not so much social or political, as personal, and a personal reform only can eradicate them.” That reform began with their choices about food.