A Manchester Movement – Vegetarianism
Today we look at a Manchester movement which has a global reach: vegetarianism.
The Vegetarian Society spreads the message of a healthy and cruelty-free lifestyle across the UK and beyond, from its base in Altrincham, just south of Manchester. While avoiding a meat-based diet had been a choice by many for centuries, it was the early 19th century when the genesis of an organised vegetarian movement came together in the UK.
It was at the Christchurch Chapel in Salford’s King Street, just across the River Irwell, which divides the two cities of Salford and Manchester, that Reverend William Cowherd declared in 1807 (nine years before his death) that the congregation should not eat meat. His theory was that eating meat was sinful. At the time, due to economic oppression, the poorest ate cheap cuts of meat that would have done them little good and Cowherd set up free medical services, a library and a soup kitchen to sustain his followers. Being a man of some wealth he was able to fund the building of his Swedenborgian church as well as provide the people of Salford with a printing press and a school.
As more people questioned the morality of killing animals for food, the Cowherdites (as Cowherd’s followers were known) went from strength to strength and Joseph and Mary Brotherton continued the debate which eventually led to the formation of the Vegetarian Society in 1847.
Mary published the first vegetarian cookery book in 1809 and in 19th century Manchester, as today, there were thriving vegetarian restaurants throughout the city and the rest of the country. In the early 20th century, on the site which later became Lewis’s Department Store, there was a large vegetarian restaurant aimed at providing the workers cheap and healthy food.
The Vegetarian Society is the oldest of its kind in the world and promotes the cause through information packs, talks, cookery demonstrations and other events. Its HQ also houses the Cordon Vert cookery school where professional chefs and ordinary people are taught to cook extraordinary vegetarian food, as well as training hospital caterers and others how to provide nutritious meals without meat.
They run National Vegetarian Week each year (Monday 20 May – Sunday 26 May 2013) to raise the profile of vegetarian issues, alongside campaigns like Butcher’s Cat and Silent but Deadly. As a vegetarian of 30+ years I can vouch for the benefits of avoiding meat, both on moral and health grounds.
Everyone has their own reasons for becoming veggie and today’s movement is a far cry for that envisaged by the Manchester and Salford chapels of 200 years ago. But I imagine the Cowherders would be impressed and would agree with the reasoning.
Vegetarianism is better for animals. Around two million land animals are slaughtered every day in the UK alone, just so that people can eat their flesh. It’s also more sustainable. Growing grains and pulses to feed to animals is much less efficient than eating them ourselves. The livestock industry uses huge amounts of land, water and fossil fuels, while producing 18% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions and other pollution.
Manchester has long epitomised the wonderful variety of vegetarian spirit and culinary: the mouth-watering delights of the two stylish restaurants named 1847 (in the city centre and in Chorlton cum Hardy); On the Eighth Day serving wholesome food and quality products in its café and shop on Oxford Road in Manchester since 1970; Earth Café next to the Buddhist Centre in the Northern Quarter – a lunchtime stop to brighten any day, as is the bohemian Oklahoma opposite it; the elegance of Greens in Didsbury for over 20 years; plus the two Greenhouses – one in Rusholme that opened in 1983 and sadly closed in 2012 when owner Robin retired, and the other, separate Greenhouse on Oxford Road in Altrincham which again is a great lunchtime stop.