Veganism, Did It Start as a Diet or as a Psychology?

in #vegan2 years ago (edited)

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.

Veganism History

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.






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!)

LOL, this is the kind of science that I'm used to seeing in vegan circles >_>

Interesting to see the history here, it seems like it may have been more of a style/emotional choice than a scientific or rigorous health-based one. Which seems about the same as how it is today. Where's our lab-grown meat at?

Lol... Give up everything ><. Lab grown meat exists I thought, just super duper expensive. You think those would be acceptable sources for ethical vegans?

LMAO, @heymattsokol!

I found that line too funny not to quote it, especially coming from a Briton. Besides, almond milk works rather well with tea, especially with chai tea. That said, I wonder how long they've known already that black tea is unhealthy, may as well drink coffee.

I honestly think that until only few years ago most veganism was based on pseudo-science. As somebody trying to switch mostly to a healthier lifestyle, and when possible to also a lower impact, a complete vegan or WPFB diet seem rather complicated. At least in the earliest stages.

I doubt science cared a lot about those things for a long time and only in recent years can most switchers say that it is possible to have a healthier diet, one complementing EVERYTHING.

I agree with you mate! A healthy vegan diet seems quite challenging based on the current science.

I expect some people just make their own choices on what they will eat, but others will want a set of rules to follow. I'm in the former group. I'm by no means vegan, but I gave up meat years ago for various reasons.

Same here. I’m a horrible vegan. I love dairy, I love cheese. Heck, I love eggs.

I am willing to make an effort tho but it will take time. A long time.

I regularly have periods of pescatarianism, even vegetarianism. Currently though, my main drive is microplastics.

I’m not too big a fan of eating plastic. It’s a great driver and absolutely releases the creativity it brings to the kitchen. Those vegetarian, pescatarian, and now plant-based stages definitely expand horizons and knowledge.

Is it a surprise the argument started over shoving activist principles down ones throat?

I don't feel I have to conform to any label. I'll eat what I want on my principles. I do try to minimise my impact

All the literature I've read on the matter points to the pesci diet as optimal (and, of course, good quality pork if you're Okinawan :P). If you're doing it for ethical reasons, I suppose you've weighed up the health and environmental costs.

Anyway, good luck to you. Be safe, be happy, be well.

Ex Vegan