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Candide - a Timeless Vegan Manifesto

It is a lesser-known fact that Candide was one of the first works of vegan propaganda – propaganda that still speaks volumes to this day. Although not a vegan himself (due to dietary limitations of his time), Voltaire uses the text to promote the ideals of veganism. However, modern interpretations of the text often overlook this message, as people struggle to recognize the adverse effects of their eating habits. In this essay, I will show how Voltaire uses Candide to demonstrate the negative effects of carnivorism while using El Dorado to illustrate the potential benefits of society adopting veganism.

Candide is portrayed as a barbarous meat-eater throughout most of the novel, having “eat[en] pork all the year round” at Castle Thunder-ten-Tronkh (Voltaire 9). This portrayal is clearest after he attempted to murder Cunegonde’s brother. One of the first things he did after stabbing the Jesuit was to loot his house for “bread, chocolate, [and] bacon” (Voltaire 48). Instead of repenting for his crimes and becoming a vegan, he then “went on eating” meat and proceeded to slaughter two more animals in cold blood, just as non-vegans often do in real life (Voltaire 49). The image of Candide’s destructive carnivorism was further reinforced when the Oreillons kidnapped him and Cacambo. The Oreillons were a tribe of savage cannibals – an apt metaphor for carnivores. The fact that they welcomed the duo into their ranks after learning about the Jesuit’s fate shows how Voltaire thought that eating meat was no different from murder. On other occasions, Candide also eats bread. For example, one of the first things that Candide and Pangloss did after the Lisbon earthquake was rummaging through the rubble (instead of helping the victims) for bread. Voltaire must have realized that bread is often not vegan, as he has Martin remark that “[Europeans] get their bread by disciplined depredation and murder”, alluding to humans exploiting nature to harvest ingredients like eggs and milk (Voltaire 68).

For these crimes against nature, Candide was punished by it. Every time that he ate either bread or meat, something disastrous happened to him. After eating pork in Westphalia, he was cast out of Castle Thunder-ten-Tronkh; after eating bread from the Anabaptist James, he suffered a shipwreck and the Lisbon earthquake; after eating bread from Lisbon, he was whipped at the auto-da-fé and lost Pangloss; after eating ham in Paraguay, he and Cacambo were kidnapped and almost eaten by the Oreillons. In the case of the shipwreck and earthquake, it is interesting because they were natural disasters, almost as if nature itself was retaliating against Candide’s actions. It is no coincidence that the protagonists could only live in peace at the end of the novel, where they had become vegans by living off of only fruits and vegetables.

One may argue that El Dorado – Candide‘s analogue to the Garden of Eden – disproves the theory that the novel speaks only about the harms of non-veganism. Indeed, Candide and Cacambo ate four dishes “garnished with two young parrots… and six hundred fly-birds” there (Voltaire 54). However, this only further shows the benefits of veganism. Eating that many birds (presumably daily) would be hopelessly unsustainable, even by today’s standards with our modern farming technologies. The only realistic explanation would thus be that El Dorado had perfected the art of plant-based meat substitutes. The fact that neither Candide nor Cacambo noticed that they were not eating real meat speaks to this perfection. Because of these technologies and the land’s geography shielding them “from the rapaciousness [i.e. carnivorism] of European nations”, everyone in El Dorado was a vegan (Voltaire 56). The result was a unified utopia where people respected nature and treated others as equals. This was evident from how the custom was to “embrace the King” instead of bowing down to him and how they “cultivated” the land (Voltaire). The inhabitants’ lifestyles had greatly also extended their lifespans – one of the many health benefits that veganism boasts. El Dorado’s portrayal as a garden further proves the theory that it is a plant-loving paradise, as gardens have connotations of plants, vegetables, and peace – three things that are also often associated with veganism.

Voltaire was undeniably a thinker far ahead of his time. The lessons about veganism that he taught us in Candide still hold, despite the text being over 250 years old. Perhaps Pangloss was not as crazy as we thought, and a world where everyone is a vegan would truly be “the best of all possible worlds” (Voltaire 9).