I've been watching the great BBC series "Supersizers Eat..." and have learned quite a lot about food in doing so. Last weekend, one of the episodes I watched was the original, "Edwardian Supersize Me."
The premise of this series is that the featured personalities live for a week as a couple in a different time period. They eat an live as they would have on WWII war rations, Victorian England, Ancient Rome, and in ten more eras and decades. Giles Coren and Sue Perkins are funny together, and let's face it, far less squeamish than I'd be.
While watching the Edwardian episode, my ears perked up at the mention of vegetarian restaurants in the first decade of the 20th century (at last! An episode where I'd survive a week eating food of the period without getting rickets!).
The second item on the menu was lentil stew, so I was obviously not surprised to learn next that vegetarian restaurants were popular with suffragettes!
Okay, so that was a bit of a joke. I really had never thought about it before watching this program, but the information rattled off made sense. There was no alcohol, the vegetarian food took comparably less time to prepare than standard fare, meaning less time in the kitchen, and more time discussing topics such as politics with like-minded people. From what I understand Sue saying in this clip is that less time in the kitchen further liberated women, but I wasn't clear about whether women were cooking vegetarian meals at home as well. (Sue also notes that suffragettes sent to prison were urged to select vegetarian options as the meat was inedible; something I've read about suffrage and prisons here in the States as well.)
I was hoping to have time to do more reading and writing on this topic before the week ended, but, I haven't had nearly as much downtime as I anticipated. I do have a number of women to look up, including Margaret Cousins (who indeed seems to have encouraged the preparation of vegetarian fare at home in order to reduce time spent in the kitchen), Leonora Cohen, who grew up vegetarian—eating "clean" to prevent tuberculosis, and continuing eating vegetarian for humanitarian reasons, and Margaret Clayton, who did indeed write about vegetarian food in prison. The article I'm reading right now seems to address what is maybe a chicken or egg situation in general, and thus far, I recommend it.
(Thank you to Curious Squid for the series recommendation!)