The inception of the vegan movement began in the U.K. in 1944, by The Vegan Society, founded by six acquaintances to include Donald Watson (Founder), Elsie Shrigley (Co-Founder), and Leslie Cross (Vice-President) who were vegetarians for ethical reasons. They were dissatisfied that The Vegetarian Society back then, refused to condemn the consumption of animal products and by-products other than meat. In 1949, Leslie pointed out that the society lacked a definition of veganism. In his own words, he suggested, ‘the principle of the emancipation of animals from exploitation by man,’ he later clarified it as ‘to seek an end to the use of animals by man for food, commodities, work, hunting vivisection, and by all other uses involving exploitation of animal life by man’. Leslie became vegan in 1942, was a pioneer of the vegan social movement, as well as treasurer and secretary of the Plantmilk Society. The society was first registered as a charity in August 1964 but its assets were later transferred to a new charity when it also became a limited company in December 1979. The definition of veganism and the charitable objects of the society were amended and refined over the years. By winter 1988 the current definition was in use – although the phrasing has changed slightly over the years.
Fast forward to today, the vegan movement Leslie put into place years prior has now catapulted into the fastest growing trend with sales to increase by over $30 billion by 2026. And surprisingly, it isn’t because of the rise in the vegan population but because 90% of vegan food consumers are meat eaters. Yet even with these figures, over 79 million people on the planet are vegan the vegan movement has not paced forward as quickly as one would think. Mostly because of the lack of education and knowledge, as in the past vegans were thought of as ‘tree huggers’ and now people are realizing just how beneficial vegan food is, and the heavy marketing for plant-based and vegan foods is on the rise. The more that people learn, the more they want to make the switch.
As plant-based eating is on the rise, many are not doing so just for the health benefits, but because compassion for sentient beings is being embraced now more than ever. In the restaurant and culinary world for instance, more chefs are either introducing more vegan options on menus or they are going completely the opposite, by entirely taking the vegan or plant-based route.
Not only is the vegan movement taking chefs around the world to another level, but it should be understood that being vegan is just not about food, it is also a lifestyle, one that is ethical, compassionate, and empathetic. Animals suffer, feel physical pain and suffer psychological distress when bred, caged, are facing their fate. Interesting isn’t it how people are animal lovers and have emotional attachments to their pets, yet look at animals such as cows, pigs and chickens with no compassion. Animals raised for food make up approximately 14.5% of emissions which is more that what is emitted into the environment by cars, planes and boats on this entire planet. Researchers have concluded that if there were a global switch to diets that were plant-based only, by 2050 emissions from farmed livestock would be down by 70%, 8 million lives could be saved, greenhouse gas emissions would be reduced by two-thirds, and there would be a savings between $700-$1 billion US dollars per year on healthcare alone. The economic benefits of reduced greenhouse gas emissions from dietary changes could be as much as $570 billion US dollars, as plant foods require fewer resources, cause less emissions than animal foods and don’t require a lot of processing which results in using less energy.
So what does the future hold for vegan? In the words of Donald Watson, co-founder of the Vegan Society:
‘It is a profound thought that so much can be achieved toward health and peace simply by placing man in his true place in nature which is not as a carnivore nor as a parasite. We can now offer, after long experience, a lifestyle that is humane, healthy, aesthetic, pleasant, economical and sustainable. No other movement offers all these together or indeed separately. Humbly we take our place in history among the world’s great reformers.’
Changes in a society where policy makers, retailers, manufacturers, hoteliers, health professionals and many other organizations can all be influenced to create a world in which veganism can flourish, enforcing policies and practices to make the environment more vegan-friendly and changing perceptions through education, assisting those on their vegan journey, and partnering internationally to promote a united vegan forefront.