Happy birthday to veganism

Vegan Society co-founder Donald Watson leafing through an early copy of The Vegan News.
Vegan Society co-founder Donald Watson leafing through an early copy of The Vegan News.

Some may think veganism is a modern fad but history tells a rather different story.

This November The Vegan Society is celebrating its 75th birthday.

Black and white photograph of Vegan Society co-founder Donald Watson.

Black and white photograph of Vegan Society co-founder Donald Watson.

The date coincides with World Vegan Day (November 1) and the launch of World Vegan Month, which champions the ethical lifestyle choice where people do not eat animal products or use them.

The number of vegans in Britain now stands at more than 600,000. The amount has quadrupled over the last five years.

But back in 1944, when the society was founded, there were just 25 members in Holborn, London. One of the co-founders was Donald Watson who helped coin the word ‘vegan’.

George Gill, the current CEO at The Vegan Society, said: “It’s incredible that the word ‘vegan’ didn’t even exist until 75 years ago, but can now be seen on menus and products around the world.

Vegan Society co-founder Donald Watson lived until he was 95. Hetold interviewers: "Speaking from my old age, I sometimes think I've outlived my critics, and I can't remember, the last time that I encountered one."

Vegan Society co-founder Donald Watson lived until he was 95. Hetold interviewers: "Speaking from my old age, I sometimes think I've outlived my critics, and I can't remember, the last time that I encountered one."

“We owe so much to the founding members of The Vegan Society – without them, modern veganism simply wouldn’t be the same. The seed they passionately planted has grown widely and quickly, with millions of vegans around the globe now.”

The pioneering vegans of the 1940s searched for the right word to describe their new organisation. Several words, like ‘dairyban’, ‘vitan’ and ‘benevore’, were considered and rejected. They then settled on vegan, which contains the first three and last two letters of ‘vegetarian’.

One of the early concerns of the new organisation was to obtain ‘vegan rations’ in wartime Britain. There was a ‘vegetarian ration’ but it was not suitable for vegans as it included cheese and eggs. But the numbers of vegans were not significant enough for the attempt to get a vegan ration to be successful. They also strived to come up with a definition of what they stood for. In the late 1940s a basic definition of veganism was suggested and revolved around “the emancipation of animals from exploitation by man”.

The definition has been refined several times over the years and it is now set as “a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude — as far as is possible and practicable — all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.”

Logo celebrating The Vegan Society's 75th anniversary.

Logo celebrating The Vegan Society's 75th anniversary.

Mr Watson, said shortly before he died aged 95 in 2005: “It is not every day a movement is born which in its general application could revolutionise mankind.”

He believed his long and active life was also a good advert for veganism. He said: “Speaking from my old age, I sometimes think I’ve outlived my critics, and I can’t remember, the last time that I encountered one.”

His longevity ties in with the society’s new Vegan and Thriving campaign, which has been launched to coincide with the anniversary celebrations.

Vegan Society member Loretta Rowe, one of the campaign’s ambassadors, is also celebrating her 75th birthday in the same month and year as the charity was founded.

Michael and Loretta Rowe are ambassadors for The Vegan Society's new Vegan and Thriving campaign.

Michael and Loretta Rowe are ambassadors for The Vegan Society's new Vegan and Thriving campaign.

She has been a vegan for several years and says she has never been healthier.

Loretta added: “It’s great to celebrate my birthday at the same time as The Vegan Society. The organisation started long before the public consciousness was even beginning to stir on this vital issue, but it has grown so exponentially in all the services and leadership it provides.”

Loretta became vegan three years ago together with husband Michael, 76, when they discovered the link between dairy consumption and increased prostate cancer risk.

They immediately felt the benefits of going vegan. Michael initially lost 12 pounds in just two weeks on a healthy plant based diet. The couple both lost further excess weight after eating healthily for longer.

Loretta said: “No food tastes as good as feeling healthy and fit, and not contributing to animal suffering.”

Husband Michael, who is also an ambassador for the campaign, added: “There is no reason not to be vegan. It’s a win-win on so many levels – so why not try it? It’s never too late to make a positive change.”

World Vegan Month logo

World Vegan Month logo

“We became vegan gradually and struggled to adjust at the beginning. But when you think about how the animals feel, going vegan suddenly becomes the easiest thing in the world.”

For more information about the Vegan and Thriving campaign see: www.vegansociety.com/thriving.