Joe Frazier, Sly Stallone and the father of American veganism share a Philly beef

Posted: July 11, 2014

PHILADELPHIA is the "birthplace of America" - and of veganism in the United States!

Hyperbole? Nope.

The American Vegan Society, founded in 1960 by H. Jay Dinshah, in Malaga, N.J., is at the root of nearly every major development in the spread of vegan living on this continent. And Dinshah was standing at the corner of Front and Venango streets when he decided to go vegan.

A new book edited by Jay's daughter, Anne Dinshah, Powerful Vegan Messages: Out of the Jungle for the Next Generation, has the story: That corner was the location of the Cross Brothers slaughterhouse, which Jay and his brother Nosheran toured in 1957 to settle an argument about whether their vegetarianism was truly ethical.

Leaving this facility, having seen dairy cows slaughtered, and realizing that dairy and meat were part of the same industry, Dinshah stood on that corner and vowed to go vegan and fight - nonviolently - for a vegan world.

He launched the AVS, the foundation on which dozens of well-known animal-advocacy groups have built since then.

Unlike in the United Kingdom, where the first Vegan Society was started by Donald and Dorothy Watson in 1944, vegans were hard to find in the U.S. in the pre-Internet 1960s. Dinshah and his wife, Freya, helped to create a vegan network via newsletters and lecture tours.

Jay spoke on "dynamic harmlessness," or proactive nonviolence, and behind the scenes Freya handled all the food issues. In 1965, after several coast-to-coast tours, she had gathered enough recipes, plus her own veganized versions of family favorites, to publish the first "vegan"-titled cookbook in the U.S., The Vegan Kitchen. (Find the recipe for Jay's favorite, Freya's potato casserole, here.)

Anne Dinshah's mission with Powerful Vegan Messages (available at americanvegan.org) was to update and package Jay's pioneering writings for today's world.

Many of the topics he tackled masterfully, from animal agriculture's degradation of the planet to the impossibility of living "100 percent vegan," are still "introduced" as controversies by vegan writers who should know better.

A half-century before the ersatz "paleo" craze, Dinshah called for a higher standard than that of our ancestors in his essay collection Out of the Jungle: Claiming "civilization" as the hallmark of our species, we can't then cite "the law of the jungle" as an excuse to perpetuate unnecessary cruelty and violence toward our fellow sentient beings.

"How is it," he asked, "that we claim to be the highest type of creature, yet act in a barbaric manner that would shame any reasonably decent denizen of the jungle? Do we not make our civilized world a more terribly cruel and unjust place than any natural jungle?"

Powerful Vegan Messages weaves chapters and passages from this and other Dinshah writings with perspectives from Anne and dozens of other prominent vegan advocates who work to convey the wide-ranging influence and inspirational humility of the man who kick-started American veganism at Front and Venango.

Joe and Rocky

That slaughterhouse, of course, has another claim to fame: In 1962, Joe Frazier got a job there and practiced boxing by hitting sides of beef - a detail Sylvester Stallone later used in "Rocky." And, yes, that scene of Rocky punching cow carcasses was shot at Cross Brothers.

Philly loves Rocky, of course, as an underdog who stuck to his dream to go the distance in an epic fight. Mainstreaming the vegan idea in America is a fight that Jay Dinshah promised to stick to until the day he died, and he did.

Back in 1960, the vegan idea was less than a blip in popular consciousness, but Dinshah worked tirelessly for this underdog ideology.

Today, "vegan" is a household word, gaining more traction every day both in Philly and across the continent, while in Malaga, under the direction of Freya Dinshah, the AVS furthers its work of education and outreach.

Meanwhile, with constant PR "black eyes" like the current salmonella outbreak in chicken; with indisputable links between processed meats and cancer, and between animal agriculture and climate change; with per capita meat consumption falling and beef prices hitting new heights, the longtime "champ" may be on the ropes.

And thanks to Jay Dinshah, the true underdogs - the billions of innocent animals whose lives are stolen by our mindless eating habits - now have more than a fighting chance.


Vance Lehmkuhl is a cartoonist, writer, musician and 12-year vegan. "V for Veg" chronicles plant-based eating in and around Philadelphia. VforVeg@phillynews.com or @V4Veg on Twitter.

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