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What did vegetarians eat 115 years ago? This historic Vancouver menu has answers

Want some nut cream toast or a nut sandwich?

Nut bromose, date sandwiches, and peanut sausage were just some of the foods on offer at one of, if not the, earliest vegetarian restaurants in Vancouver.

The Pure Food Vegetarian Cafe operated in 1907 at 165 Hastings St, and its menu not only offered those dishes but also extolled the virtues of eating a meat-free diet. It even quoted historical figures about why people shouldn't eat meat, including one from Greek philosopher Plutarch about how people who eat meat shouldn't think of themselves above animals.

"For them murder is the only means of sustenance, whereas to you it is a superfluous luxury and crime," reads part of the quote.

The menu, recently shared by the Vancouver Archives doesn't just rely on philosophy to encourage people to try vegetarianism. It also turns to science, suggesting digestion is favoured by a simple diet of dry foods, regular exercise and "a cheerful, hopeful condition of mind."

Digestion is hampered, according to the 115-year-old menu, by overeating, rich foods, and, among other things, "care, perplexity, anger, and unpleasant thoughts."

Oh, and by "studying symptoms and worrying over your digestion."

In unity with other vegetarians, the menu lists other vegetarian restaurants around the world, including ones located in Chicago, New Zealand and Australia. 

Food from the age

Aside from all the pro-vegetarian literature, the food from the menu includes items still offered in restaurants today besides items not seen very often.

The Pure Food Vegetarian Cafe menu offers a variety of meals covering breakfast and dinner, along with sides and snacks. Dinner items include the aforementioned peanut sausage, mashed potatoes, and stewed prunes. In a section called "meat substitutes," the offerings are a little different than today's Beyond Meat foods and tofu. Instead, there's nut bromose (a milk-like liquid), protose (which was made by Kellogg's until 2000), and nuttolene (a peanut-based loaf that appears to still be around).

Liquid foods, that appear to be options as a side, are also on the menu (including gluten gruel, pure olive oil and honey), along with nuts.

Beverages were something different, and while most beverages today are vegan, if not vegetarian, there are still some differences from today. Items not often seen on menus in 2022 include hot lemonade, "grape juice egg nog" or a glass of pure cream. In fact, most of the drinks listed are probably unusual to people today.

For breakfast, there are items still common today, including cereal, toast (although there are some curious versions, like nut cream toast or milk toast) and granola hot cakes with syrup, which would be similar to pancakes. There are also sandwiches, like egg, nut butter, or nut (if there's nut butter, what's in the nut sandwich?).

There are also a couple of things that, while common, most wouldn't have for breakfast, like creamed potatoes and boiled rice.