A review of Rynn Berry's “Hitler: Neither Vegetarian Nor Animal Lover”
by Dan Balogh
When DC-area serial sniper suspects John Muhammad and Lee Malvo were arrested back in 2002, news sources reported that Muhammad was, among other things, a vegetarian. One non-vegetarian friend playfully teased me, asking how it felt to have a serial killer in my “club.” I asked him how it felt to have every other serial killer that ever lived, in his club. We both laughed and moved on to more important things. But I still wondered why the dietary preference of Muhammad was important enough to make the news. Is it because vegetarians are still viewed with suspicion, like members of secret societies where, between meals, we flay ourselves with bamboo shoots and then submerge ourselves in tanks of ice water to purify our bodies while plotting our next sniper attack? Or is something else at work here?
It's not just the dietary habits of serial snipers that make the news. History seems intent on reminding us that one of the world's greatest criminals was also a vegetarian – some even allege that he was a raw foodist. Or was he? Historian Rynn Berry, historical advisor to the North American Vegetarian Society and author of several books on vegetarianism, examines the historical accuracy of Adolph Hitler's vegetarianism in his new book “Hitler: Neither Vegetarian Nor Animal Lover.”
The conclusion is right there in the title itself, so it's no surprise that Berry presents evidence, mostly by quoting at length from secondary sources, that demonstrates beyond a doubt that Hitler was neither a vegetarian nor an animal lover – not even close. One of the problems is how loosely the word “vegetarian” has been interpreted by writers throughout history. After all, is a lacto-ovo-pesco-pollo-bovine-porcine vegetarian one who eats eggs and dairy, and occasionally fish, sometimes chicken, sometimes beef, and sometimes pork? The word loses all meaning when accompanied by so many qualifications.
Does it really matter, though, whether the world erroneously thinks Hitler was a vegetarian? Perhaps an equally important question is why the association is being made with such relish (by non-vegetarians, of course) in the first place. Martin Rowe, founding publisher of Lantern Books, explores this question in the book's introduction, which is itself a third of the book's length. Often the Hitler vegetarian claim is an implication, via guilt through association, that vegetarian compassion doesn't guarantee anything – after all, the murderer of twelve million people was a vegetarian, so vegetarians should get off their high horses! After Rowe explains why it's important to attack the erroneous claim, Berry proceeds to do so.
It's a quick, but eye-opening, read. In under fifty pages Berry, with laser beam focus, paints a very unattractive picture of an insecure man who was cursed with health problems throughout his life, was probably a closet homosexual who did everything in his power to hide it (read the book if you're wondering what this has to do with vegetarianism), and who might have occasionally gone on vegetarian binges so that his chronic excessive flatulence was less noxious. It boggles the mind, reading the passages that Berry has expertly isolated from so many disparate sources, that Hitler was able to reach such a position of power. The book is actually an expansion of an earlier monograph of Berry's entitled “Why Hitler Was Not a Vegetarian” (1994) which was the cover story of the first issue of Rowe's “Satya” magazine. This may explain some of its repetition (for example, an entertaining quote from chef Dione Lucas describing Hitler's favorite dish, stuffed squab, appears word-for-word in two separate chapters).
Will this book put to rest the myth that Hitler was a vegetarian? I doubt it. As long as vegetarians and meat eaters spar, Hitler's vegetarianism will be a favorite topic of contention, facts notwithstanding. But now vegetarians can cite this book next time they are goaded into another thankless debate on this topic.
Dan Balogh is a frequent contributor to VegSource.com and a member of EarthSave® New York City. He works as a systems engineer in the telecommunications industry. He and his wife have been vegans for several years; their kitty Lulu happily approves.