In a world where dietary choices can carry profound ethical implications, the term "vegan" has become a symbol of conscious living and compassion towards animals. But what does "vegan" actually mean? Beyond being a dietary preference, veganism embodies a powerful ethical stance that challenges the conventional norms of meat consumption.
At the heart of veganism lies a fundamental question: Is it ethically justifiable to consume animal products when alternatives that minimise harm are available? As consumers, we bear a moral responsibility to scrutinise the origins of our food and confront the consequences of our choices, no matter how uncomfortable it makes us feel.
The term "vegan" was coined in 1944 by Donald Watson and a group of like-minded folk who sought to differentiate themselves from vegetarians who consumed dairy and eggs. Together they established the Vegan Society in the UK, marking the official beginning of the vegan movement. The term itself was coined by taking the first three letters and the last two letters of the word "vegetarian," which not only helped reflect the choice to avoid all animal products, it also (Donald says) made it easier to write! In his very first publication of The Vegan News, Donald wrote:
'Vegetarian' and 'Fruititarian' are already associated with societies that allow the 'fruits'(!) of cows and fowls, therefore it seems we must make a new and appropriate word. As this first issue of our periodical had to be named, I have used the title "The Vegan News". Should we adopt this, our diet will soon become known as a VEGAN diet, and we should aspire to the rank of VEGANS. [The Vegan News, No. 1, November 1944]
Donald Watson viewed veganism as a way to reject the exploitation of animals for human consumption, recognising the intrinsic value of all sentient beings. This stance emphasised the need to avoid not only meat but also all animal-derived products, including dairy, eggs, and honey. Over the years, the concept of veganism has expanded beyond its dietary aspect to encompass various aspects of life, such as clothing, cosmetics, and lifestyle choices and because of this, the definition has evolved. The modern definition of "veganism" as put forth by The Vegan Society is:
"Veganism is a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of animals, humans and the environment. In dietary terms, it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals."
This definition reflects the holistic nature of veganism, encompassing not only dietary choices but also a commitment to promoting the ethical treatment of animals and minimising our environmental impact. It underscores the principle of minimising harm to animals, fostering compassion, and advocating for sustainable practices.
Embracing veganism is a powerful way to align our personal values with our actions and whilst collective efforts will ultimately steer the ship in the right direction, individual choices serve as the rudder. Each meal is an opportunity to shape a more ethical future for ourselves, the animals, and the planet we share. Transitioning to a plant-based diet reduces demand for animal products, directly influencing market forces.
If you're interested in reading the full publication of the very first Vegan News you can download it here.