restricted access "Weggebobbles and Fruit": Bloom's Vegetarian Impulses
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"Weggebobbles and Fruit":
Bloom's Vegetarian Impulses

How could Leopold Bloom, a man who eats "with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowl," be said to have vegetarian leanings? Here is a man, after all, who delights in "thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liverslices fried with crustcrumbs, fried hencods' roes," and most especially "grilled mutton kidneys"—a man who stares lustily at the last kidney "oozing bloodgouts" on the willowpatterned dish at Dlugacz's and moments later savors its "toothsome pliant meat" in the kitchen of 7 Eccles Street (U 4.1–4, 145, 391).1 How could such a man be said to have vegetarian impulses? Just examine the rest of what Bloom eats on June 16 to confirm how farfetched a notion this is. At the Ormond hotel, he dines on liver and bacon, whereupon the narrator deems it important enough to remind us again that "he ate with relish the inner organs, nutty gizzards [and] fried cods' roes" (U 11.520). Indeed he and Richie Goulding enjoy "meat fit for princes" (U 11.608). Later in Nighttown, he purchases a late-night snack of a "lukewarm pig's crubeen" and a "cold sheep's trotter sprinkled with wholepepper" (U 14.255.56). If anything, Bloom is a meat-eater through and through. He even envisions the colossal edifice of his New Bloomusalem as being "built in the shape of a huge pork kidney" (U 14.1547), and in the past he has worked for the cattle dealer Joseph Cuffe. What kind of vegetarian is that?

Before tackling this question, let us first consider what constitutes a vegetarian text and whether Ulysses can qualify as such. According to Carol Adams in The Sexual Politics of Meat, a vegetarian text is, among other things, a text that uses "language which refers to meat as dead animals."2 For example, a steak is called a corpse. Bloom certainly does equate meat with dead bodies time and time again. Moreover, he deploys other arguments made by writers in the vegetarian canon. This is why Ulysses should be situated in and interpreted with reference to the thriving vegetarian climate of its day. According to Adams, scholars have long neglected that such a climate—replete with its own tradition, history, and canon—existed. Consequently, they interpret any reference to vegetarianism—if they interpret [End Page 463] it at all—as a mere fad, as a personal rather than political response to cultural change, as psychologically rather than politically motivated. In other words, instead of explaining vegetarianism, they explain it away.3 This is why Adams has called for a reassessment of the role of vegetarianism in Western culture—a reassessment which would involve acknowledging vegetarianism when it appears in texts; providing context or meaning for it; considering the possibility that it could be consequential; and not "forcing its meaning to adhere to the dominant discourse of meat."4 This reassessment is what I shall do here for Ulysses.

Nearly sixty years before Bloomsday, the vegetarian movement officially began in the West. In 1847, the term vegetarian was coined and vegetarianism achieved its institutional and discursive expression in the founding of societies like Great Britain's Vegetarian Society and journals like the Vegetarian Messenger. By the 1890s, vegetarianism was a thriving protest movement and not a mere lifestyle choice, as some might call it today.

Colin Spencer, in his history of vegetarianism Heretic's Feast, describes how the 1880s and '90s were a period of rapid growth for the international vegetarian movement.5 Tolstoy and Shaw, among other famous persons, openly advocated a vegetarian way of life. In Belfast in 1890, the International Vegetarian Union held its first meeting, and the Irish Vegetarian Union (IVU) was born.6 The IVU promised to give lectures on vegetarianism for the working classes and to provide dining halls so people could see for themselves the economically practical benefits of the diet.7 The Dublin Vegetarian Society was already in existence by 1890. By the time of the March 1910 issue of the Vegetarian Messenger (Manchester), a report would testify to the thriving vegetarian advocacy of Dubliners:

Our movement is...