Unity Inn in the 1920s, Unity Dietary Guidelines, and Unity Inn Cookbook, 1923

Early on Charles Fillmore did not understand the importance of diet in his life. However, as he prayed for guidance on the matter he was shown that the food that entered the human body passes through a refining process he called “regeneration.” This was a prerequisite for the building of the human body into a new, spiritual Christ body. He determined that vibrations quickened the cellular structure of the subconscious mind in specific nerve centers and that the food consumption directly impacted regeneration. He concluded that conscious growth in spiritual life must overcome carnal appetite through careful discrimination in food selection and preparation. “Only those things will be eaten,” Fillmore wrote in 1923, “that are easily assimilated by both soul and body.” He concluded that only vegetarian food could meet this Spirit-directed requirement. As a result, the Unity movement would become vegetarian.

Fillmore observed that the food cell was a “mind battery,” and the appetite was primarily spiritual and needed to be treated as such. To promote his vegetarian thinking, he created Unity Inn (now Unity Banquet and Dining), not as a commercial venture but rather as an educational public service to convince people that the vegetarian diet was best suited for humanity.

The Unity Inn located at the corner of 9th and Tracy in Kansas City, Missouri, was one of the largest vegetarian cafeterias in the world. As many as 200 guests could be served at one setting. At its peak, the Inn served 10,000 vegetarian meals per week.

In 1923 Unity School of Christianity published the Unity Inn Cookbook, which addressed comprehensive dietary guidelines required to ensure proper nourishment for the body, as a temple, to achieve optimum spiritual fulfillment. Recipes ranged across the broad spectrum of food preparation, including salads and salad dressings, meat substitutes, sandwiches, soups, sauces, gravies, desserts, drinks, breads, cakes, candies, pastries, and hors d’oeuvres. The cookbook provided recipes for adults but also included a section for children. It recommended meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Whether at the Inn or at home, food preparation needed to observe “Unity’s principles of feeding the triune man.” Specific guidelines focused on protein foods and appropriate use of fats and oils. Charles Fillmore called for a balanced diet and admonished the inclusion of eggs, milk, cheese, nuts, gluten, and dried peas. Butter substitutes such as nut butter were acceptable but all fats needed to be vegetable fats. Crisco, konut, and kaola were best for shortening and frying. Butter-floavored fats of vegetable margarines[1] were better for cakes and cookies. Mazola and Wesson oil, peanut oil, olive oils, corn oil, and cottonseed oils were best used in Unity food preparation.

Charles Fillmore anticipated the problems of withdrawal when moving to a completely meat-free diet. For example, he recommended starting slowly by eating only one meal of raw food per day but allowed for each person to decide the best plan for them.

The authors of the cookbook would sometimes give recipes unique names in order to attract its readers. Some names included Blinkbonnie Pilaf, Potatoes on the Half Shell, Lady Finger Pudding, Welsh Rarebit—No. 1 and Welsh Rarebit—No. 2, Something for Lunch, and Creamed Hubbard Squash.

Since vegetables dominated his meal guidelines, Fillmore directed proper preparation as well. For example, the addition of salt seasoning became a matter of timing. All top-ground vegetables were to be cooked in salted water. Underground vegetables should be salted after cooking. Watery vegetables, such as squash and spinach, should be cooked using steam, or in a pan with minimal water.

Along with vegetable consumption, eating nuts formed a foundation in the Unity diet. The cost of nuts during the 1920s was not excessive, and when prepared properly, Charles Fillmore said nuts were “reasonably digestible.” Fillmore stated that nuts were “a substitute for the flesh element in a natural food system.” The 1923 cookbook included a sizable number of recipes where nuts were the primary focus. These included Nut Balls, two different recipes for Nut Croquettes, Peanut Roast, Peanut Fritters, Nut Paste, and Nut Scrapple where the ingredients were prepared into a mush, placed in a shallow pan to set, then made into thin strips, and finally fried.

The chief virtue of a salad is its crispness and freshness: “Without these qualities,” Charles Fillmore wrote, “no salad serves its purpose.” A salad should be pleasing to the eye because it is an appetizer to be included in every meal, although the lunch and supper salads should be more substantial. The timing of mixing the salad is crucial and should be done just before serving “and not one minute sooner than is necessary.” French dressing should be used rather than heavier dressings.

Drink preparation was an important component of the proper diet. Drinking coffee is a good example. According to the Unity Inn Cookbook, the best flavor from coffee comes from beans ground medium fine, mixed with a little egg white, and cold water. The preparer then was to pour in one cup of boiling water for each teaspoon of coffee, with an extra cup of water to every five cups, to allow for evaporation. The brew was to steep for five minutes before consumption. If preferred, the ingredients could be placed in a muslin bag, dropped into boiling water for five to 10 minutes, and then consumed. The coffee could also be percolated but Fillmore advised that this process would be less desirable.

Appearance helped to satisfy the yearning for meat products. Recipes not only included ingredients for the meal but also suggested that the final product of the meal be pressed into the molds resembling meat products. Kitchen cooks could find recipes for Mock Sausage, Norwegian Mock Fish, Corn Mock Oysters, Mock Chicken Croquettes, and even Mock Chicken Stew. The recipe for Mock Crab called for the ingredients to be stirred into a constituency of thick cream and spread on toast. To change its appearance, the recipe also could be served cold, placed into scallop shells, and served with salad. Evidently, for some, this made the serving more palatable.

The passing of time changes usage and spelling. Careful reading will note the use of “receipts” rather than “recipes.” This convention is used throughout the cookbook and is a cultural preference common to the Fillmore generation rather than a mistake.

The importance of diet to spiritual and physical health is a large part of Unity history. While it is practiced in varying degrees today, it remains a core value in the movement.


[1]Although the invention of margarine emerged in the early 1800s in France, Henry W. Bradley, in 1871, acquired a United States’ patent for his process of creating margarine that combined vegetable oils (primarily using cottonseed oil) with animal fats. This product proved valuable to the Fillmores’ vegetarian dietary program.

Recipe for Nut Loaf

1 cup milk
1 cup boiling water
1 teaspoon salt
1 yeast cake
4 or 5 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup lukewarm water
1/2 cup New Orleans molasses
1 cup nuts (whole filberts)
1 cup white flour

Pour boiling water over flour. Add yeast, dissolved in milk. Let rise. Mix again into loaf, and let rise once more. Bake thoroughly as any bread.