Roots And Shoots: A Brief History of the Vegan Diet
There’s little doubt – the movement toward plant-based eating is global and it’s here to stay. Whether you’re a plant-powered convert, a dairy-free dabbler or simply vegan-curious, you might be wondering where it all began.
Spoiler alert: veganism isn’t the ‘recent fad’ some naysayers would have you believe. The plant-based revolution is a slow-burner, with roots going back millennia…
Although ‘veganism’ as a term wasn’t coined until much later, avoidance of animal products on ethical grounds was happening over 2000 years ago. Around 500 BCE, Pythagoras (yes, he of the Theorem) was promoting inter-species benevolence and non-violent vegetarianism. In fact, abstinence from consumption of animal products used to be known as a Pythagorean diet.
In the same century, Siddhārtha Gautama, more famously known as the Buddha, also embraced flesh-free eating and spoke widely about the importance of preventing animal suffering.
Plant-based living and veganism as a philosophy became more clearly defined in 1806, when Dr William Lambe objected to the consumption of eggs and dairy with ‘the same force’ as to the consumption of meat. Shortly afterwards, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley joined a vegan commune and started writing prolifically on the subject of vegetarianism.
In 1847, the Vegetarian Society was founded in Ramsgate. At that time, the term ‘vegetarian’ encompassed both those who rejected dairy, eggs and other animal products, and those who solely objected to the consumption of meat. Just before the First World War, the Society’s journal seemed to be moving towards including the prohibition of all animal products in its mission, but momentum was lost during the tumultuous times that followed.
The 1930s saw Mahatma Gandhi speaking at the Society in London, explaining how his philosophy of nonviolence meant rejection of milk and all animal products. Emboldened, Donald Watson gathered with a small group of non-dairy vegetarians and asked the Vegetarian Society to form an official sub-group. Their request was rejected.
In November 1944, the group formed their own offshoot movement, adopting the term coined between Watson and his spouse Dorothy Morgan: ‘vegan’, from “the beginning and end of vegetarianism”. Veganism was officially born.
The late 1950s saw the founding of the Indian and American Vegan Societies. There followed a boom in vegan societies worldwide, alongside many related organisations with shared principles. With the rise of the internet came the spread of the vegan word, a demand for recipes and information fuelling a grand overtaking of vegetarianism by 2010 – internet searches and recipe books both containing the word ‘vegan’ more often than ‘vegetarian’ (a trend that continues now).
In 1994, Louise Wallis – then Chair of the UK Vegan Society – established World Vegan Day on November 1, marking 50 years of the founding of the organisation.
According to the Vegan Society, the number of vegans in Britain is well over half a million – and growing. They credit this to the shift in the media portrayal of the lifestyle – veganism is no longer viewed as extreme or contrary. It’s accessible and healthy – vegan products are readily available and delicious recipes and pictures of vegan food are all over our social media feeds. Documentaries have helped people see veganism for what it is – a positive and benevolent move for our health, for our planet and for its inhabitants.
Do you want to be part of the fastest growing lifestyle movement in the world today? We’re here to make it easy. Check out our products to see that going vegan doesn’t mean missing out. Scan our stockists or seek us out in your whole food shop and be part of the vegang!