Vegan & Vegetarian Authors of Classic Literature: 20th Century Edition

Influential vegans and vegetarians have contributed to the critical analysis of meat consumption for decades. There are many examples of animal rights as a theme across the literary landscape. Listed here are just a few notable names of vegan and vegetarian authors predominately active during the 20th Century.

Upton Sinclair

Perhaps most renowned for his progressive Socialist views, Sinclair practiced vegetarianism on and off throughout his life. In 1905 Sinclair published The Jungle, a work of fiction that served as an exposé of the meatpacking industry in Chicago. The Jungle resulted in U.S. meat sales decreasing by half and paved the way for legislation including the Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act.

Image: Upton Sinclair, 1900, Public domain

Isaac Bashevis Singer 

Singer spent much of his life fascinated with the concept of vegetarianism. At the age of 21 he wrote an alternative to the Ten Commandments to include an eleventh: “Do not kill nor exploit the animal, do not eat its flesh, do not flail its hide, don’t force it to do things against its nature.” Though Singer did not become a vegetarian until later in life, much of the work throughout his career is tinged with themes of animal rights; his 1935 novel Satan in Goray is an excellent example.

Image: Isaac Bashevis Singer, 1978, Copyright unknown

Octavia Butler

Author Octavia Butler was the first science fiction author to receive the MacArthur Genius Fellowship. Though Butler’s veganism/vegetarianism is based primarily in speculation, she often incorporated themes related to consumption, alternative societies, and the environment in her work. Notably, Butler’s Xenogenesis trilogy hosts several examples of anti-meat eating sentiments.

Image: Octavia Butler, n.d., Patti Perret

Angela Davis

Civil rights activist Angela Davis is perhaps most known for her writing on racism, feminism, and Marxism. Though many of her works, including If They Come in the Morning and Women, Race, and Class, highlight issues related to human rights, Davis has emphasized the correlation between human and animal treatment. In her own words, “I think there is a connection between … the way we treat animals and the way we treat people who are at the bottom of the hierarchy.”

Image: Angela Davis, 1974, Everett Collection/REX

Brigid Brophy

Brigid Brophy, a famed author and journalist, was once referred to by Time magazine as “the acknowledged high priestess of the British intelligentsia”. Brophy publicly declared herself to be anti-vivisection and a vegetarian in a controversial 1965 essay titled “The Rights of Animals”. Brophy later adopted a vegan diet. She often incorporated her support of animal rights into her written work. Notably, her 1962 book Black Ship to Hell analyzes the destructive nature of man and man’s relationship to other living creatures.

Image: Brigid Brophy, n.d., Copyright unknown