Gary Michael Dault:
The Raw and the Cooked: The George Bernard Shaw Vegetarian Cookbook (London: Angus & Robertson Publishers, 1972).
The great Anglo-Irish playwright, George Bernard Shaw died on November 2, 1950 at age 94. For his first quarter of a century, he ate meat. He was twenty-five when he became a vegetarian.
Shaw always claimed that it was the poet Shelley who opened his eyes to the "savagery" of his diet when he discovered these two lines in Shelley's poem The Revolt of Islam:
Never again my blood of bird or beast
Stain with its venomous stream a human feast!
On the other hand, as some commentators suggest, it may only have been poverty that kept the young playwright from a life of rich carnivorous repasts. At any rate, he gave up eating meat altogether in 1881. "Meat is poisonous to the system," he once wrote. "No one should live on dead things." And he didn't (unless you regard harvested vegetables as "dead").
Shaw married in 1898, when he was forty-two, and though Mrs. Shaw (Charlotte Payne-Townshend) was not a vegetarian, she cheerfully supervised Shaw's vegetarian meals for the whole of their 45 year marriage. When she died, in 1943, he persuaded his wife's nurse, Mrs. Alice Laden, to remain in his employ as his housekeeper. She also took over the organizing of the writer's meals (her own husband had been a vegetarian, which made things considerably easier for her). The GBS Vegetarian Cookbook comprises the actual recipes making up the Shaw diet--though as editor R.J.Minnet notes, most of them have been expanded to make them sufficient for four people--not just for Shaw alone.
Mrs. Laden's menus, printed as a sort of forward to the book, are anything but spartan or punishingly monastic. Indeed everything strikes this unapologetic vegetarian as utterly delicious and sometimes even a tad exotic. Here are some choices: Baked Potato and Cabbage Pie, Stuffed Onions, Vegetable Curry, Aubergine au Gratin, Mushroom Souffle, Savoury Croquettes, Walnut Souffle, and so on.
And lots of sweets. Shaw loved sweets: Coffee Mousse, Apricot Mould, Baked Bananas, Gooseberry Crumble, Chestnut Ice...it's a long and delectable list.
Here--as a single example--is Alice Laden's recipe for a Mushroom Souffle: It is simplicity itself (though I think I might have added some tarragon and Marjoram):
6 ounces mushrooms
3 ounces butter
2 1/2 ounces flour
1/2 pint milk
salt and pepper
"Wash and dry the mushrooms and chop very finely. Brown lightly in the butter. Stir in the flour and seasonings. Gradually add the milk, bringing it to the boil and stirring until thickened. Allow to cool and then beat in the yolks of the eggs singly. Whip the whites to a stiff froth and fold in. Pour into a deep, buttered baking dish and bake for 30 minutes in a slow to moderate oven."
Shaw once had this to say about his future funeral: "My hearse will be followed not by mourning coaches but by herds of oxen, sheep, swine, flocks of poultry and a small travelling aquarium of live fish, all wearing white scarves in honour of the man who perished rather than eat his fellow creatures,"
Drawings by Tony Matthews