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The Book of Vegan

ASK The Village Vegan | ''What is the history of veganism?''


QUESTION: What is the history of veganism?

Here, briefly, is the history of veganism starting with the coining of the word in 1944, but it must be added that the ideology that is veganism has been around for thousands of years. The earliest record of vegetarianism dates back to 500 BCE in India.

 The ancient religion of Jainism promotes a meat-free diet. Jain vegetarianism is one of the most strict and rigorous religiously motivated diets on the Indian subcontinent. Hinduism and Buddhism also incorporate a vegetarian diet and originate in approximately 1500 BCE and the 5th century, respectively.

In August 1944, a few members of the UK's Vegetarian Society asked that part of its newsletter be set aside for non-dairy vegetarianism. When the request was rejected, Donald Watson, secretary of the Leicester branch, set up a new quarterly newsletter in November 1944. He called it: *The Vegan News.

The word 'vegan' was invented by Watson and Dorothy Morgan, who he would later marry. The word is based on the first three and last two letters of the word 'vegetarian' because it would symbolize, in Watson's words, "the beginning and end of vegetarian".

The Vegan News then asked its readers if they could come up with anything better than vegan to stand for 'non-dairy vegetarian'. They suggested 'allvega', 'neo-vegetarian', 'dairyban', 'vitan', 'benevore', 'sanivores', and 'beaumangeur' among others. 

After the first edition was published the Society received more than 100 letters, including one from George Bernard Shaw, who resolved to give up eggs and dairy. The new Vegan Society held its first meeting in early November at the Attic Club, in London.

World Vegan Day is held annually on the 1st of November to mark the founding of the Society. And the month of November is considered by many, including the Society to be World Vegan Month.

The Vegan News changed its name to The Vegan in November 1945, which by that time had 500 subscribers. It published recipes and a 'vegan trade list' of animal-free products, such as toothpastes, shoe polishes, stationery and glue. Vegan books also appeared, including Vegan Recipes by Fay K. Henderson and Aids to a Vegan Diet for Children by Kathleen V. Mayo.

The Vegan Society soon made clear that it rejected the use of animals for any purpose, not just for food.

In 1947, Watson wrote: "The vegan renounces it as superstitious that human life depends upon the exploitation of these creatures whose feelings are much the same as our own ...".

In 1948, The Vegan's front page read: "Advocating living without exploitation", and in 1951, the Society published its definition of veganism as "the doctrine that man should live without exploiting animals".

In 1956, its vice-president, Leslie Cross, founded the Plantmilk Society; and in 1965, as Plantmilk Ltd and later Plamil Foods, it began production of one of the first widely distributed soy milks in the Western world.

The first vegan society in the United States was founded in 1948 by Catherine Nimmo and Rubin Abramowitz in California, who distributed Watson's newsletter.

In 1960, H. Jay Dinshah founded the American Vegan Society (AVS), linking veganism to the concept of ahimsa, "non-harming" in Sanskrit.

According to Joanne Stepaniak, the word vegan was first published independently in 1962 by the Oxford Illustrated Dictionary, defined as "a vegetarian who eats no butter, eggs, cheese, or milk".

(*Read all the back issues of The Vegan News here.)




Michael Corthell, The Village Vegan

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