The history of the vegan movement knows a very specific date of birth. Vegans officially see the light on November 1, 1944, when Elsie Shrigley and Donald Watson leave the Vegetarian Society and invent a new term. We are in England. We are at war.
The two are convinced that the vegetarian choice should be updated. If it wants to be a coherent position, it must impose the renunciation not only of the pleasures of meat, but also those of milk, eggs and derivatives. However, the proposal does not like it. It is rejected. It is not a trifle, it concerns the very principles of the association. Watson and his companions just have to go out and found a new movement. “Vegan” is the term that was coined then, taking the first two and last three letters of “vegetarian”. The Vegan society is born.
However, the definition of veganism is not immediately clear. It is established with a slight delay. To give it is Leslie J Cross who, in 1949, speaks of a “principle of emancipation of animals from human exploitation”. This is not a dietary definition, but an ethical one. It’s not just what you eat at stake. It is an overall lifestyle and that is: a philosophy.
Donald Watson (1910-2005)
Donald Watson hadn’t been a dietician anyway. He had been an activist and a pacifist. Born in 1910, he had seen the two great wars of the short century and had declared himself a conscientious objector during the second. While in parliament, on May 13, 1940, Churchill inflamed British patriotism by promising “tears, sweat and blood”, Watson, in spite of everything, declared that he did not want to know. Perhaps a questionable choice.
But at the time, the Nazi horrors had not yet come to light clearly. And even as of November 1, 1944, at the birth of the movement, not much was known precisely. In the summer of that year the Soviets were the first to see some concentration camps. But the retreating Nazis are anxiously trying to eliminate all traces. Only with the beginning of the following year did the atrocities of Auschwitz, Dachau, Mauthausen become apparent.
The Vegan News
Instead, what is immediately clear to Watson and his companions is “the indisputable cruelty connected with the production of animal derivatives”. These are the words of Donald himself, written in the first issue of “The Vegan News”. A parallel holocaust. Which the horrors of the Jewish Holocaust illuminate by reflection.
Sunset and sunrise. The history of the vegan movement and the history of the West.
The history of the vegan movement, therefore, begins in a historical plot that sees the end of Nazism and the discovery of its horrors. It begins with the awareness of a civilization that has discovered the terrible power of technology. Vegans are born at the sunset of a West that has experienced mass extermination and the atomic bomb. But vegans are born as the hope of a new possible world is born. They are born at the dawn of a peaceful future.