Veganism has a longer history than might be expected. It can be said that there have always been vegans who choose to live by avoiding the use of animal products as much as possible – mostly for religious or spiritual reasons. Over the last few years, veganism has steadily risen in popularity. Athletes such as Tom Brady and Chris Paul have helped popularize a vegan lifestyle as it has helped them prolong their careers. In this post, we will find out more about the history of veganism.
Veganism: A Brief History
What is the official definition of veganism?
In 1949, Leslie J Cross proposed a definition of veganism as “the principle of liberating animals from human exploitation”, pointing out that the community needed a definition. This was later clarified as “Aiming to end the exploitative use of animals by humans for food, trade, work, hunting, experimentation and other uses”.
When the Vegan Society became an association in 1979, it updated the definition of “veganism” as follows:
A philosophy and way of life that refrains, as far as practicable, from all forms of exploitation and cruelty to animals for food, clothing or other purposes, and further promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of people, animals and the environment. In terms of nutrition, it means the complete or partial rejection of products derived from animals.
How did veganism split from vegetarianism?
More recently, in the 1830s, the original use of the word ‘vegetarian’ described people who did not use any animal products and were vegan. This early ‘vegetarianism’ encompassed clothing and other areas of life and was similar to the modern idea of veganism.
With the establishment of The Vegetarian Society in 1847, the community began to allow its members to eat eggs and milk, but the definition of vegetarianism was still unclear. In 1886, for example, Anna Bonus Kingsford, vice-president of the London Vegetarian Society, stated that she was not a vegetarian because she ‘uses animal products such as butter, cheese, eggs and milk’.
In the early 1900s, the pages of the Vegetarian Society newsletter “The Vegetarian Messenger” discussed whether vegetarians should consume eggs and dairy products. This debate continued after World War I and eventually continued with the establishment of the Vegan Society in 1944. Before and after World War I, the Vegetarian Society seemed to be moving towards what is now known as the ‘vegan’ diet.
In 1923, the editor of The Vegetarian Messenger said: ‘We think the ideal approach for vegetarians is to avoid all animal products’. The first of the comments included in the journal belonged to Donald Watson, who would later establish the Vegan Society.
When was The Vegan Society founded?
After Watson gave a talk on vegetarianism and dairy products at the Vegetarian Society in 1943, it was discussed not to form a group within the Community as non-dairy vegetarians. Over time, the community rejected this proposal for various reasons and suggested that this group establish a separate community. In November 1944 Watson, Elsie Shrigley and four others gathered at the Attic Club in London to form the new community.
Although the exact date of the meeting is not known, today the founding of the Vegan Community (and World Vegan Day) is celebrated on 1 November each year.
How was the word vegan created?
The community’s creation of the word ‘Vegan’ also developed with various suggestions in this process: The definition of ‘vegetarian who does not use dairy products’ was not found appropriate because it was too long and complex and did not refer to the use of eggs.
Watson and his wife, Dorothy, suggested the word ‘vegan’ and appealed to members for new suggestions. Some suggestions that came in were: Dairyban, Vitan, Benevore, Sarnivore, Beaumangeur. Finally, Watson, secretary of the local vegetarian community, decided to use his own proposal, noting that ‘no one is trying to improve’, knowing the benefit of a short spelled word.
Watson pointed out that it is natural for this diet, which begins with the word ‘vegetarian’, to derive its name from this word. Although Watson is cited for the word, he states that the idea of the word was the Henderson couple, who were the founding members, and that he shortened it by quoting the word ‘vegan’ from their magazine, which was planned to be published with the title ‘Allvega’ and ‘Allvegan’ upon their suggestion.
The word ‘Vega’ has also been used among vegetarians for some time: since 1934, one of London’s most famous vegetarian restaurants was called Vega.