Before embarking on a doctorate in vegetarian nutrition in the 1940s, Harvard University required Dr. Mervyn Hardinge to work in a hospital kitchen to learn different cuts of meat. The lifelong herbivore needed more knowledge to appraise the diets of nonvegetarian research subjects, his professors said.
Hardinge, who died Monday at age 96, became a pioneer in the field, providing evidence of the benefits of a vegetarian diet. The medical doctor and professor, who held doctoral degrees from both Harvard and Stanford universities, later founded the School of Public Health at Loma Linda University. In 1980, then Seventh-day Adventist Church president Neal Wilson asked Hardinge to come out of retirement and serve as the denomination's Health Ministries director, a position he held until 1985.
Born in 1914 to the son of a British civil servant in Calcutta, India, Hardinge faced opposition during his research at a time when a vegetarian diet was rare. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 1999 reported that during his dissertation defense he was asked, "Does a vegetarian make an appropriate investigator for this type of study?"
He replied, "Would a nonvegetarian be any less prejudiced?"
Not all his hurdles were at Harvard. At Loma Linda, where Hardinge taught anatomy, a dean urged him to change his research subject, saying, "If you find the diets of vegetarians are deficient, it will embarrass us."
Hardinge reportedly replied, "If the diets are deficient, we should be the first to find out, not others."
His research later confirmed adequate amounts of protein in a vegetarian diet and that animal-fat intake is linked to serum cholesterol concentrations. Data in one paper were used for many years by researchers evaluating fatty acid content of diets. He wrote more than 60 peer-review journal articles.
Hardinge graduated from Pacific Union College in California in 1939 before heading to the College of Medical Evangelists, what is now Loma Linda University. He took a teaching position after earning a medical degree and serving a surgery residency.
Later, the school wanted him to teach public health. However, after securing a doctorate in public health from Harvard, Loma Linda officials changed their mind, saying they needed a pharmacologist. The only other Adventist pharmacologist wasn't interested in teaching. Within months he began courses at Stanford, earning a doctorate in pharmacology in 1956.
Hardinge then became chair of the Loma Linda School of Medicine's Department of Pharmocology, securing the university's first grant from the National Institutes of Public Health, which now collaborates with the school on studying Adventists, one of the longest-living people groups.
Hardinge was asked to establish Loma Linda's School of Public Health, which launched in 1967. He served as its dean until 1976.
Known as great teacher, something he did for 48 years, he also created a course on medical ministry and evangelism.
"I've had people tell me that he was a master teacher ... but I never fully appreciated his gift [of teaching] until I took anatomy from him for my doctorate," said his son, Fred Hardinge, who this summer was appointed an associate Health Ministries director for the Adventist world church.
In 1997, the elder Hardinge was named Loma Linda's University Alumnus of the Year.
His wife, Margaret, preceded him in death in 2008. He is survived by two children, five grandchildren and six great grandchildren.