The Beginning of Unity and Vegetarianism

Unity founders Charles and Myrtle Fillmore became vegetarians in the 1890s, and their views on vegetarianism began surfacing in public as early as 1903.

In those early teachings, Charles expressed his understanding of a person’s diet and the important connectivity it has to spirituality, saying cell regeneration is aided by consuming food of the “highest and purest character.”

“Our food should be full of life in its purity and vigor,” Charles wrote in “As to Meat Eating” in the October 1903 issue of Unity. “There should be no idea of death and decay connected with it in any degree. The vegetable should be fresh and the fruit radiant in its sunny perfection.”

This installment of the Treasures of the Archives series, which highlights findings from the extensive collection held at Unity Archives, takes a historic peek into the Fillmores’ practice of and teachings about vegetarianism.

The Fillmores’ beliefs were greatly influenced by Harry Church, a Seventh-day Adventist, a vegetarian, and their first printer. The couple’s sons, Lowell and Royal, were lifelong vegetarians. Lowell edited the Diet Department column for Unity magazine in 1906 and 1907.

Royal began editing the Vegetarian Department column in Weekly Unity in 1911, the same year Unity leaders announced the opening of the Unity Pure Food Company at the 917 Tracy Avenue Headquarters in Kansas City, Missouri.

The purpose of the new store, according to the Weekly Unity June 28, 1911, article, was to introduce food products to take the place of meats.

Unity introduced a special Bible for Vegetarians in 1915, assuring readers that no life would be sacrificed in its publishing. The book was advertised with round corners and difficult words divided into syllables for accurate pronunciation. It was described as having a red cover with gold edging and cost $3.

In June 1926, when a reader asked why Unity didn’t publish leather-bound books, the publishers said Unity opposes the use of any product that necessitates the taking of life, whether it’s food substance, wearing apparel, or general utility. Therefore, they wrote, Unity does not use calfskin leather but chooses to use keratol binding, a tough cloth material treated to make it resemble leather.

Unity stated its official dual-disciplined stance on eating meat in an April 12, 1930, article in Weekly Unity called “The Vegetarian” by C.O. Southard. He wrote, “Unity School advocates vegetarianism as a factor of physical health, and as a means of promoting spiritual development in the individual and in the race.”

A 1946 article, “Meat Hater” by Robert A. Fuller, shared a story about endurance and vegetarianism that came from former President Theodore Roosevelt, who observed that during his hunting expedition to Africa that vegetarian animals had more endurance than carnivorous animals. As retold, the president witnessed that a vegetarian horse could run down a carnivorous lion. After a mile and a half, the lion became exhausted but not the horse.

Through the years, Unity stood by its teachings about vegetarianism, and its commitment received national news coverage in 1954 in The American Vegetarian. An article titled, “TAV Presents Early Writings of Great Humanitarian Charles Fillmore,” outlined the long-standing vegetarian tradition of Unity as expressed in articles spanning more than 40 years.

In 1981, Unity published a Vegetarianism pamphlet, warning of the health hazards of eating meat, saying beefsteak contains more than 70 percent water and “dirty water at that.” Also, it said, “A pound of beef … contains less than five ounces of actual food and about 18 percent of that is protein.”

In the October 1991 “Viewpoints” column of Unity magazine, the issue of conformity came before readers.

“Why is it that people who come into Unity and accept it as a way of life, continue to eat meat?” the inquirer asked. The editorial reply confirmed the vegetarian ways of Charles Fillmore, but added “just as God created in us a free will to make decisions, Mr. Fillmore believed that we had that same right.” It was more important that each individual have the freedom to seek spiritual growth as the individual feels is best, the editor said.