There has been a great deal of interest in vegetarianism and veganism over the last couple of months, what with Veganuary January encouraging people to try plant based diets, the proliferation of vegan/vegetarian recipes in newspapers and magazines - and the latest news that in the first 7 weeks of 2019 Greggs shares have jumped by nearly 10% thanks to their Quorn-filled ‘alternative’ sausage rolls… but let’s not rest there…

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Roger Crab had been many things in his life; a haberdasher, a soldier in Cromwell’s Parliamentary Army, a herbal doctor, a Leveller, a pacifist, an ascetic and a Christian vegetarian but he was best known as a Hermit. In his autobiography, The English Hermit or ‘Wonder of This Age’, he described himself thus…

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“Being a relation of the life of Roger Crab, living neer Uxbridg, taken from his own mouth, shewing his strange reserved and unparallel’d kind of life, who counteth it a sin against his body and soule to eate any sort of flesh, fish, or living creature, or to drinke any wine, ale, or beere. He can live with three farthings a week. His constant food is roots and hearbs, as cabbage, turneps, carrets, dock-leaves, and grasse; also bread and bran, without butter or cheese: his cloathing is sack-cloath. He left the Army, and kept a shop at Chesham, and hath now left off that, and sold a considerable estate to give to the poore, shewing his reasons from the Scripture, Mark. 10. 21.

“Then Jesus beholding him loved him and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give it to the poor, and thou shall have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow me.”

Roger Crab was born in Buckinghamshire in 1621. As a young man, he began trying to find a way to live a perfect life. In 1641 he became a vegan, avoiding meat, dairy and eggs. He gave up potatoes and carrots in favour of bran and turnips. Later he ate only dock leaves and grass with the occasional turnip as a treat.

He also chose to be celibate. At the outbreak of the English Civil War in 1642, he joined the Parliamentary Army under Oliver Cromwell. During one battle he received a serious head wound from a sword. “I was cloven to the brain” he would claim, which might explain his strange behaviour.

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In 1651 he moved to Ickenham in Hillingdon where he lived in a tree as a hermit and herbal doctor, telling his patients to avoid meat and alcohol which he reckoned to be the root of all evil. Although he was popular he was thought to be rather weird. One of his pronouncements was that he had once been spectacularly sinful! “I have transgressed the commands of God”, he said, “and so am found guilty of the whole law, living in pride, drunkenness and gluttony, which I upheld by dissembling and lying, cheating and cozening my neighbours.” He also maintained the he was “above the Law, having a personal revelation of the paradise of God.”

Statements like this, his anti-Sabbatarian views - he did not observe Sunday as a non-working day - and his radical opinion of the Church and universities did not go down very well with the establishment and he finished up in Clerkenwell Prison complaining that his jailors brought him nothing to eat. In 1657 he moved to Bethnal Green where, continuing with his veganism, he joined the Philadelphian Society who believed the Holy Spirit exists in each and everyone’s soul, and that one can become enlightened and illuminated by living a virtuous life and seeking truth through the wisdom of God.

When Roger died in 1680 a kindly obituarist set the following epitaph on his grave in St Dunstan’s churchyard, Stepney…

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Tread gently, reader, near the dust
Committed to this tomb-stone's trust:
For while 'twas flesh, it held a guest
With universal love possest:
A soul that stemmed opinion's tide,
Did over sects in triumph ride;
Yet separate from the giddy crowd,
And paths tradition had allowed.
Through good and ill reports he past,
Oft censured, yet approved at last.
Wouldst thou his religion know?
In brief 'twas this: to all to do
Just as he would be done unto.
So in kind Nature's law he stood,
A temple, undefiled with blood,
A friend to everything that's good.
The rest angels alone can fitly tell;
Haste then to them and him; and so farewell!

Back in the 1960’s when I was a long-haired hippy the going food trend was Microbiotics based on ideas drawn from Zen Buddhism. The diet attempts to balance the supposed yin and yang elements of food by reducing animal products, eating locally grown foods in season, and consuming meals in moderation. According to John Lennon the first step on the path to microbiotic fulfillment was ‘Ten Days - Brown Rice’, eating nothing but brown rice for 10 days. Practitioners said that it detoxified your chakras or spiritual energy centres and resulted in a transcendent ‘high’. Being a fan of any kind of ‘high’ at the time I went for it. The first 3 days were fine but by day 9 I had lost all interest in food, was feeling very light headed and was wobbly on my legs. More disturbing I was beginning to see things. I asked my friend Dave the ‘Doc’ whether this was the anticipated transcendent ‘high’. He said that there was a medical term for feeling light headed, falling over and seeing things. It was Malnutrition. The following day I was back on bacon sarnies, bowls of cornflakes and Mars bars.

– from Martyn Day