As early as the 1830s in the U.S. the Graham Journal of Health and Longevity espoused a regimen called “Nature’s Bill of Fare” which advocated eating meatless meals which contained no more than three different articles of food and no desserts, condiments, or beverages other than water. Diners were to chew very thoroughly and eat at precisely the same time each day. Needless to say, the anti-hedonistic “Grahamites” were very much at odds with the majority in this country who expected to eat meat three times a day. As far as I’ve been able to discover it wasn’t until the 1890s that vegetarian restaurants appeared.
The first may indeed have been the well-named “Vegetarian Restaurant No. 1″ opened in the Hotel Byron on West 23rd Street in New York City in 1895. It was sponsored by the New-York Vegetarian Society, which did not tolerate either taking life for food or drinking alcohol. A few years later Boston and Los Angeles got their first vegetarian restaurants. The nut and grain-based food products served in the new kinds of eating places – Granose, Nuttose, Wheatose, and others – were produced by the Battle Creek Sanitarium Health Food Company in Michigan. A dinner at the Sanitarium (shown above) in 1900 featured few familiar dishes. Innocent of all high-flown copywriting, the menu offered unappetizing sounding selections such as Gruel, Dry Gluten, Protose Salad, and a choice of Nuttose C., Nuttola, Nutta, or Nuttolene.
The vegetarian movement and its restaurants got a boost from rising meat prices as well as stockyard scandals as the 20th century began. New customers mobbed vegetarian restaurants and hotels and restaurants of all kinds added meatless dishes such as spaghetti and omelets to their fare, an exercise they would repeat under the austerity measures of World War I. Up to and during the war, vegetarian cafes flourished and chains began to form, such as the Physical Culture Restaurants in New York, with branches in Boston, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, and Chicago. Sadie Schildkraut also built a string of 15 vegetarian restaurants in New York, while in the early 1920s Los Angeles added two raw food restaurants and a Sephardic kosher café to its list of meatless eating places. A chain of vegetarian cafeterias appeared in the South, including one in Knoxville.
Although meat rationing during World War II would bring back menus featuring vegetable plates, the vegetarian movement would not experience another boom until the counter-culture-inspired food revolution of the 1970s.
© Jan Whitaker, 2008