Thomas Jefferson cannot be called a vegetarian as we understand the term today. In his own time, however, he was unusually moderate in his consumption of meat and was notable for the variety as well as the quantity of vegetables he ate.
The documentary record includes several descriptions, including Jefferson's own, of his eating habits:
Thomas Jefferson: "I have lived temperately, eating little animal food, and that not as an aliment, so much as a condiment for the vegetables which constitute my principal diet."1
Ellen W. Coolidge, granddaughter: "He lived principally on vegetables . . . . The little meat he took seemed mostly as a seasoning for his vegetables." Thomas J. Randolph, grandson: "He ate heartily, and much vegetable food, preferring French cookery, because it made the meats more tender."2
Daniel Webster: "He enjoys his dinner well, taking with meat a large proportion of vegetables."3
Edmund Bacon, Monticello overseer from 1806-1822: "He never eat much hog meat. He often told me, as I was giving out meat for the servants, that what I gave one of them for a week would be more than he would use in six months. . . . He was especially fond of Guinea fowls; and for meat he preferred good beef, mutton, and lambs. . . . He was very fond of vegetables and fruit and raised every variety of them."4
- Lucia Stanton, Monticello Research Report, May 1987; revised January 1988.
1. Thomas Jefferson to Dr. Vine Utley, March 21, 1819, in L&B, 15:187. Transcription available at Founders Online.