Top: Bicsérdy the athlete; first page of short-lived newspaper (photo:Milei.vencel); Bottom: "Man's Vocation" and "Outline for a Reformed Life" (in one volume); "Conquering Death"
Bicsérdy Béla – ”Prophet” of Raw Vegans
Born in Pest in 1872, he obtained a degree in business in Fogaras, Transylvania. At age 20, he contracted syphilis, a condition which, at the time, was considered incurable.
But Béla did not accept the verdict; he studied German, French and English, so he could travel abroad and learn about foreign curative methods. He performed numerous nutritional experiments on himself. Many of these experiments consisted of a combination of fasting and sweating cures. He became a vegetarian, eventually a raw vegetarian, consuming only uncooked fruits and vegetables. And he cured himself even of his ”incurable” disease! Most of his hair grew back, and he claimed that, although he had lost three teeth, they grew back as a result of his efforts.
In addition to his diet, he began doing body-building exercises. In 1922, at age 50, he broke a world record by lifting 188 kilos (225.6 pounds) from a lying position. (A diving record he set was reported in a British sporting magazine in 1904.)
To undergird his nutritional theories, Bicsérdy developed a philosophy based on Zoroastrianism, Brahmanism and Buddhism, and declared that he was the next enlightened ”Master”. The purpose of his teaching was to promote spiritual development towards the divine, for which physical health was the necessary prerequisite. Eventually, his long-term goal was the perfection of society.
He gave talks around the country, first without charging admission. Later on, he used the income from selling tickets to his presentations to finance publication of his books. His first work was entitled „A halál legyőzése” – Conquering Death – published in 1924, which promised to prolong life for centuries. He himself intended to live for 600 years, and to emphasize his point, once sold a painting (he was said to have been a very good painter) to be paid off over 120 – yes, one hundred and twenty! – years.
Cooking and baking, he maintained, destroyed the nutritional value of natural fruits and vegetables. ”If you ask me about vegetarian recipes, you have understood nothing of my book”, he said. Bread was the only exception to this dictum. He also claimed that the body required little nutrition as compared to what the average person stuffs into himself daily, and advised only two meals a day. He quoted Aristotle, who supposedly said that no one ever created anything great on a full stomach. ”What you don’t eat is the most beneficial.”
In the beginning of his career, Bicsérdy counseled long fasts, but quite a few of those who slavishly followed his advice died as a result, so that his opponents accused him of being a murderer. Doctors in Romania accused him of quackery and demanded an official investigation into his methods. He later modified his program to include only two- or three-day fasts, with some fruit or fruit juice for sustenance. He maintained that the less food we consume, the faster we achieve results. His regimen of natural foods, fasting, a lot of physical exercise and fresh air would bring about tremendous beneficial changes in a person’s life.
Bicsérdy Béla was a charismatic personality, and people thronged to hear his talks. By the mid-twenties, he was said to have 120-150,000 followers. They became known as ”bicsérdisták”. Not only the average person, but many famous literary and musical figures (including Babits Mihály and Kodály Zoltán) were also among his listeners. The wife of the poet Kosztolányi Dezső cured herself of a serious stomach ailment by following his regimen. ”Bicsérdista” restaurants were opened in Transylvania, where he and his teachings were said to have caused mass hysteria. A short-lived newspaper entitled "Bicsérdyzmus", planned to be a monthly, was published in Petroseni in 1925.
Bicsérdy and a group of his followers established a colony on the island of Ada Kaleh in the Iron Gates area of the Lower Danube, which had belonged to Turkey, but was given to Romania at the end of World War I. At the time, it was inhabited by Turks, Serbs and Hungarians, with the ruins of an 18th century fortress and a Franciscan monastery that had been turned into a mosque. Bicsérdy moved there with his wife in 1923, but stayed only for a short while. (That island figured prominently as No Man’s Island – Senki szigete – in the Jókai Mór novel ”Az aranyember” – The Man with the Golden Touch. With a length of somewhat over a mile, and about a third of a mile wide, it was flooded and disappeared when the Iron Gates electric plant was built by Romania in 1970.)
At the end of the 1920s, Bicsérdy stopped giving public lectures, restricting himself to free talks to his followers. He even withdrew his books from circulation, claiming that most people were unable to understand them.
In time, people tired of his preaching, and he and his theories faded from view. They were rediscovered after the regime change of 1989. The raw vegan style of life is popular once again.
At the end of 1944, Bicsérdy and his wife at the time – he was married five times! – left Hungary for Germany, and they emigrated to the US in 1951. He died in Billings, Montana in December of that same year.
There are several versions of the story of his death. The most prosaic – and probably the true one – is that he died of a heart condition. Another story claims he died of injuries sustained in World War II. The third – and most colorful – claims that, upon arrival in the US, he founded a sect, and a disgruntled follower shot him to death.
Take your pick!