Thomas Jefferson cannot be called a vegetarian as we understand the term today. For his own era, however, he was unusually moderate in his consumption of meat and was notable for the variety as well as the quantity of vegetables that 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, & that, not as an aliment so much as a condiment for the vegetables, which constitute my principal diet."1
Ellen Wayles Randolph Coolidge, granddaughter: "He lived principally on vegetables . . . . The little meat he took seemed merely as a seasoning for his vegetables."2
Thomas Jefferson Randolph, grandson: "He ate heartily, and much vegetable food, preferring French cookery, because it made the meats more tender."3
Daniel Webster: "He enjoys his dinner well, taking with meat a large proportion of vegetables."4
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."5
- Lucia Stanton, 5/87; revised 1/88
1. Jefferson to Dr. Vine Utley, March 21, 1819, in L&B, 15:187. Transcription available at Founders Online.