What is Veganism?

 Veganism: How We Got Here


First of all, what is Veganism? Veganism is both the practice of abstaining from the use of animal products, particularly in diet, and an associated philosophy that rejects the commodity status of animals.

A follower of either the diet or the philosophy is known as a vegan. Distinctions are sometimes made between several categories of veganism. Dietary vegans (or strict vegetarians) refrain from consuming animal products, not only meat but also eggs, dairy products and other animal-derived substances.

The term ethical vegan is often applied to those who not only follow a vegan diet but extend the philosophy into other areas of their lives, and oppose the use of animals for any purpose. Another term is environmental veganism, which refers to the avoidance of animal products on the premise that the harvesting or industrial farming of animals is environmentally damaging and unsustainable.

Well-planned vegan diets can reduce the risk of some types of chronic disease, including heart disease. They are regarded as appropriate for all stages of life including during infancy and pregnancy by the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dietitians of Canada,[and the British Dietetic Association.

Vegetarian History

Vegetarianism has its roots in the civilizations of ancient India and ancient Greece. Vegetarianism is the theory and practice of voluntary non-consumption of the flesh of any animal (including sea animals), with or without also eschewing other animal derivatives (such as dairy products or eggs). The earliest records of vegetarianism as a concept and practice amongst a significant number of people concern ancient India and the ancient Greek civilizations in southern Italy and Greece. In both instances the diet was closely connected with the idea of nonviolence toward animals (called ahimsa in India), and was promoted by religious groups and philosophers.

Following the Christianization of the Roman Empire in late antiquity (4th-6th centuries), vegetarianism nearly disappeared from Europe. Several orders of monks in medieval Europe restricted or banned the consumption of meat for ascetic reasons, but none of them abstained from the consumption of fish; these monks were not vegetarians, but some were pescetarians. Vegetarianism was to reemerge somewhat in Europe during the Renaissance, and became a more widespread practice during the 19th and 20th centuries. The figures for the percentage of the Western world which is vegetarian varies between 0.5% & 4% per Mintel data in September 2006.


There are two kinds of Vegetarians—one a strict form form(vegan), the members of which eat no animal food whatever; and a less extreme form, those who do not object to eggs, milk, or fish.

In 1843 members of Alcott House created the British and Foreign Society for the Promotion of Humanity and Abstinence from Animal Food, led by Sophia Chichester, a wealthy benefactor of Alcott House. Alcott House also helped to establish the UK Vegetarian Society, which held its first meeting in 1847 in Ramsgate, Kent.

An article in the Society's magazine, the Vegetarian Messenger, in 1851 discussed alternatives to shoe leather, which suggests the presence of vegans within the membership who rejected animal use entirely, not only in diet. The first known vegan cookbook, Rupert H. Wheldon's No Animal Food: Two Essays and 100 Recipes, was published in London in 1910. The consumption of milk and eggs became a battleground over the following decades. There were regular discussions about it in the Vegetarian Messenger; it appears from the correspondence pages that many opponents of veganism came from vegetarians.

During a visit to London in 1931, Mahatma Gandhi—who had joined the Vegetarian Society's executive committee when he lived in London from 1888 to 1891—gave a speech to the Society arguing that it ought to promote a meat-free diet as a matter of morality, not health. Lacto-vegetarians acknowledged the ethical consistency of the vegan position but regarded a vegan diet as impracticable and were concerned that it might be an impediment to spreading vegetarianism if vegans found themselves unable to participate in social circles where no non-animal food was available. This became the predominant view of the Vegetarian Society, which in 1935 stated: "The lacto-vegetarians, on the whole, do not defend the practice of consuming the dairy products except on the ground of expediency."

In August 1944 several members of the Vegetarian Society asked that a section of its newsletter be devoted to non-dairy vegetarianism. When the request was turned down, Donald Watson, secretary of the Leicester branch, set up a new quarterly newsletter in November 1944, priced tuppence. He called it The Vegan News. He chose the word vegan himself, based on "the first three and last two letters of 'vegetarian'" [..] because it marked, in Mr Watson's words, "the beginning and end of vegetarian", but asked his readers if they could think of anything better than vegan to stand for "non-dairy vegetarian". They suggested allvega, neo-vegetarian, dairyban, vitan, benevore, sanivores and beaumangeur.

The first edition attracted more than 100 letters, including from George Bernard Shaw, who resolved to give up eggs and dairy. The new Vegan Society held its first meeting in early November at the Attic Club, 144 High Holborn, London. Those in attendance were Donald Watson, Elsie B. Shrigley, Fay K. Henderson, Alfred Hy Haffenden, Paul Spencer and Bernard Drake, with Mme Pataleewa (Barbara Moore, a Russian-British engineer) observing. World Vegan Day is held every 1 November to mark the founding of the Society.