Veganism, Did It Start as a Diet or as a Psychology?
For months I have been spending time getting to grips with WFPB (Whole Food Plant-Based), learning the important ingredients and also gathering recipes and becoming more in creative in the kitchen.
No, not that creative in the kitchen, you little dirty mind! ;)
Much of this knowledge has been gathered browsing the Internet tubes and also the first and foremost location to end up in arguments
with activists online, Facebook.
And so, unsurprisingly, it happened that last week I ended up debating the origins of veganism, debating whether it started as the now popular animal rights/love fanclub or as a diet.
Many people do not know that veganism is already more than half a century old and dates from before the hippie era, Woodstock, and even the 60s.
Veganism was created as a movement with a name by its Founder Donald Watson in November 1944, in the UK, with creation of the Vegan Society.
The Vegan Society forked out of the Vegetarian Society when the latter refused to devote a section of its newsletter, The Vegetarian Messenger, to “non-dairy vegetarianism”.
The request to dedicate a section of the newsletter to non-dairy vegetarians followed long and extensive previous debates, as well as letters published about the use of dairy products and eggs. In the years before Donald Watson made his request, his sister, Emma Watson, published an article about living without dairy products in The Vegetarian Messenger: “Eliminating Dairy Produce: How the Difficulties Can Be Overcome”.
The next year, in April 1944, Donald Watson published an article “Should Vegatarians Eat Dairy Produce?” in The Vegetarian News. He included eggs in his article, making “non-dairy” a catch-all term also containing honey. His article did also refer to the cruelty subjected on animals.
Upon having their request rejected, Donald Watson started a new newsletter catering to the group of strict vegetarians who did not eat any animal related products or products at all, The Vegan News.
Donald Watson reading the first issue of The Vegan News.
The first newsletter of the new group, and subsequent society which later would become a registered UK charity as well, marks the start of veganism, as Watson himself had chosen the term vegan, describing the “non-dairy vegetarian” scene.
Watson himself though was not entirely convinced about the name as in the newsletter he asked for possible alternative names to be suggested.
Several months later, in November 1944, the Vegan Society held its first meeting in London, after the first newsletter issue had attracted hundreds of replies. One year later the newsletter changed its name to The Vegan.
Diet or Philosophy?
This does not yet answer though whether the Vegan Society, and thus also veganism, started as a diet only or also as a philosophy.
When reading Donald Watson’s first The Vegan News newsletter, it is remarkable that early on in his brief he refers to the cruelty suffered by animals but otherwise he strictly limits the content of the newsletter to the dietary aspect of veganism.
The recent articles and letters in “The Vegetarian Messenger” on the question of the use of dairy produce have revealed very strong evidence to show that the production of these foods involves much cruel exploitation and slaughter of highly sentient life. The excuse that it is not necessary to kill in order to obtain dairy produce is untenable for those with a knowledge of livestock farming methods and of the competition which even humanitarian farmers must face if they are to remain in business.
Interestingly enough in 2018 this opening paragraph to Watson’s 1944 newsletter is still up to date with actual practices in mega farming complexes and mega egg/chicken incubators.
Yet, while Watson once more refers to the cruelty suffered by the animals, the rest of his focus is entirely on the diet, completely with (self) references to better health and condition ever since having switched.
Nut milk is a good substitute, but it does not go well with tea (therefore cut out the tea and add yet another ten years to your life!)
The newsletter further also contains the creation, and assigning of posts, titles, of the Vegan Society. He also warns future followers and members of the mouvement about their possible upcoming conflicts with members of the Vegetarian Society.
For those interested, the newsletter can be read in its entirety in the images embedded at the end of this post.
So What Is It Now?
While the original mantra, the white paper, of the vegans mostly focuses on the diet it is undeniable that this started for Watson because of the cruelty animals producing dairy and eggs are subjected to. As such it is entirely accepted to say that Watson started veganism as a philosophy but also accepted dietary vegans as members of the mouvement, due to his lack of explicit requirement that people opt for the diet out of love for animals.
But in the eyes of Watson, and the members of the future vegan mouvement, the ethical element argument had won.
In recent years we have seen always more ethical vegans come to the fore. Ethical vegans completely refrain from using anything which can be, and is, made from animals. That includes leather for example.