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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

The Living on Earth Almanac

Air Date: Week of

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This week, facts about the United States' first vegetarian colony. One hundred forty-five years ago, veggie burgers weren't so easy to come by.


CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.

(Music up and under: The Sticklers, "Vegetarian" -- "I don't eat chicken, I don't eat meat, and some people think that's really neat. I'm a vegetarian. I don't think uncool. I don't think uncool.")

CURWOOD: One hundred and forty five years ago, well before the genesis of punk rock, a group of idealistic Easterners created one of the first vegetarian communities in the United States. Members of the Vegetarian Settlement Company were convinced that the consumption of animal flesh led to the physical, moral, and intellectual injury of mankind. Not wanting to be tempted by the meat-heavy diets of their neighbors, the company's leaders decided to establish a colony as far removed from the rest of the carnivorous country as possible. So, nearly 100 vegetarians made their way west to Neosho, Kansas. They dubbed their settlement Octagon City because of the way in which they intended to divide the land. Villages of four square miles were to be partitioned into segments of eight surrounding a central octagon that would be the town center. Several such villages together would then form the city. The design would allow the community to grow without the usual isolation that accompanied frontier life. But while the group may not have been lonely, they were hungry. The company's promoters spent so much money trying to attract more people to the vegetarian lifestyle that they failed to build the mills or supply provisions. Even working from dawn to dusk, the settlers could barely maintain a diet of corn bread and stewed apples. There were nearly 100 vegetarian residents of Octagon City in the summer of 1856. By the following spring, barely any were left.

(Music up and under: The Sticklers, "Not vegetarian.")

CURWOOD: So, next time you hear someone complain about the price of a veggie burger, remind them that being a vegetarian used to be a whole lot harder to chew. And for this week that's the Living on Earth Almanac."

(Music up and under: The Sticklers, "Vegetarian" -- "I don't eat chicken, I don't eat meat, and some people think that's really neat. I'm a vegetarian. I don't think uncool. I don't think uncool. I don't think uncool.")



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