Tag Archives: Vegan Society

Vegan Origins


This ‘festive’ edition of the Vegan Society’s quarterly magazine was published in December 1989.  I am guessing that this edition is now long since out of print, so to summarise what was in it, the 1989 AGM Report; an article entitled ‘Animals-in-law’ summarising their legal status; a ‘Cookless Cuisine’ article on ‘raw foods’; several recipes on the centre pages; a couple of articles on pregnancy and one on acupuncture; two travel articles on visiting Egypt (though why I don’t know as it would have been way beyond the budget of most of the readership); a noticeboard with events and local groups; book reviews; classifieds, as you’d expect; news featuring various snippets from the mainstream media submitted by readers; and the feature below written by Vegan Society founder Donald Watson on the society’s origins.  I don’t have a pdf writer so I’ve photographed it and had to shrink it to such a size that WordPress would upload it.  So I hope that it is legible enough to read (note that it is better viewed using WordPress Reader as the image reproduces bigger).


I cannot recall seeing any previous editions on sale, which is why I do not have earlier parts of this column on the Vegan Society’s origins in order to post on here.  There are different reasons why different people may adopt a vegan diet and broaden into non-dietary issues: the most common is usually a combination of ethics and health, for some people ecology is a reason, for others there may also be esoteric reasons.  When the article was published, obesity was not as common as it is now and when the Vegan Society was founded 45 years previously, it would have been rare given the food rationing that existed during the 1940’s.  The article does raise the issue of whether it is fair to propose a diet which could be restrictive at a time when the population was already experiencing a restrictive diet, or would a vegan diet have been easier then for people to adapt to?  Reading the article it would be nice to travel back in time and meet not just Donald Watson, but the people that he mentions (and to get a train from Leicester to London and back for five bob).

This article forms part of my hypothesis that the vegan movement is sociologically a development of English non-conformism (as was the vegetarian movement before it), though in a secular, rather than a religious, sense.   From the article, the first public vegan meal was held in Coventry, a city with a dissenting tradition and which later (in 1973) gave birth to the Ecology Party.

At the time of this edition’s publication during the Winter of 1989/90, Generation Snowflake had yet to be conceived, so in no part of the magazine was there any of the Newspeak nonsense of ‘intersectionality’ or ‘safe spaces’ peddled by some idiots who have tried attaching them to veganism in recent years.

Of the news articles, here’s one that shows how times have changed:

As predicted in the Spring 1989 Vegan, gelatine-free photography is now a reality.  The Canon Ion Camera is in the shops for about £500.  Instead of using film it uses a two-inch floppy disk similar to those used in computers.  Immediately after pictures are taken, the camera is plugged into the aerial socket of a TV and the pictures appear on the screen.  No processing is required and the 50-image capacity £5 floppies can be erased and re-used an almost indefinite number of times.  Although not intended to produce prints, this is now possible using desktop publishing systems.  Meanwhile, Toshiba and Fuji have joined forces to produce the IC Memory Card which uses a card containing 18 individual 1-megabit chips.  Its makers claim that the resulting pictures are superior to those produced by the Canon Ion.  Retailing at around £2,000, the IC Memory Card will be available by Christmas.

Sources: Daily Telegraph 29.9.89 and New Scientist 11.11.89

Oh and if you are curious, I bought this magazine when visiting Durham from a shop called Earthcare, which was located in Saddler Street, but which has long since closed down.  It was a non-food shop, which sold various ‘green’ and esoteric ‘new age’ type publications; postcards, stationery and possibly a small range of household ‘green’ stuff.  I recall buying one of those big cubes of olive oil soap, which were too big to use and difficult to cut even with a bread knife.  Back then, a few minutes walk away in New Elvet, there was a wholefood shop, also run as a workers’ co-op, called Maggie’s Farm (named after the Bob Dylan song presumably).  The North East of England was pretty good back then as there were four vegetarian restaurants (including The Red Herring) in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, as well as the Beanpot wholefood shop at the bottom of Westgate Hill.


Vegan Sleb-Cred

The Vegetarian Society (UK) used to publish on a semi-regular basis The Vegetarian Handbook, The Guide to Living a Vegetarian Lifestyle!  It was very informative listing all branded manufactured foods that (at the time) were vegetarian, with specific reference to those which were vegan; it also listed recommended retailers.  Additionally, it had a list of food additives and how they were derived, which I found very useful as for many of these I was unaware of their origins.  I have the 17th and 18th editions of this guide, published respectively in January 1989 and October 1990.  On pp 12-13 of the latter there is a list of Famous Vegetarians, some of whom were well known at the time, some were not very well known at the time and had had their 15 mins of fame as it were during the year or two leading up to publication.  Some have long-since fallen off the vegetarian wagon and some are now sadly deceased.  The list did have a caveat:

Occasionally celebs claim to be vegetarian and then in a later article reveal that they eat fish, so although every effort is made to keep the list up-to-date, we can’t be 100% certain of its accuracy.

Of those in the list, some such as Carol Royle and Martin Shaw have regularly supported the Vegetarian Society, since before the list was published and one can assume that both are still vegetarian (though neither has ever claimed to be vegan).  Doing a google search on some of the others reveals that they are (or were) ‘pescetarians’, so the Vegetarian Society’s disclaimer was as well.  One can understand why this list was published, as even as recently as two and a half decades ago the vegetarian diet was still perceived to be outside the mainstream, whilst the vegan diet was, well, well beyond the pale.  By focusing on celebs the Vegetarian Society was trying to bring the former diet at least into the mainstream.  Unfortunately however it didn’t really help, as although these talented thespians may not be that rich, their lifestyles – by vocation alone – were and are still somewhat removed from the mainstream.

Possibly because so few celebrities back then were, or claimed to be, vegan, the Vegan Society has never made a big deal of trying to have celebrity supporters; Rastafarian poet Benjamin Zephaniah, who sometimes appears at vegan festivals, is the nearest to fit into that category, but he is the exception rather than the rule.  However it has now become fashionable for celebrities to claim to be vegan and for this we can thank PETA, for providing them with a free career platform.  Declaring one’s self to be vegan is now the Hollywood thing to do.  Whilst some of these celebrities, Joaquin Phoenix and Alicia Silverstone, for example are genuine, expressing the vegan ethos in more than just dietary terms, for others it has become just a faddish ‘detox’ diet, with a bit of politically correct career publicity thrown in for good measure.  Vegan Sleb-Cred, in other words.

Miley Cyrus: MTV Unplugged - Fixed Show

I accept that criticising someone for adopting a vegan diet for whatever reason is in itself a snobbish and elitist attitude; many people make a correct decision for a ‘wrong’ reason and then look into the broader issues afterwards.  Someone who adopts a vegan diet for health reasons is more likely to be won over by the ethical arguments than someone who is omnivorous; hence that dietary vegan is more likely to give up wearing leather, fur, wool, silk.  Some of those who have done it for publicity might well see it a bit beyond that.  And really one shouldn’t be too harsh.  Search for ‘vegan celebrities’ or such and you’ll find several lists of which the longest I’ve found is this one, from just over a decade ago which appears to be derived from the list of a quarter of a century ago, mentioned in the first paragraph.  These lists, by volume of names, not just the names themselves, are obviously fulfilling a need, or a wish, for those looking.