The UK Vegan Society has always consistently misrepresented its own history. While we do not suggest that has always been deliberate, it does need correcting. The full details of what really happened are further down this page, but first a brief summary:
The word "vegan" was coined by Donald Watson in November 1944 when he began publishing a newsletter, which he called Vegan News, initially sent to a group of UK Vegetarian Society members commonly known as "the Non-Dairy Vegetarians."
The definition Watson gave "veganism" (in his widely distributed newsletter, before the UK Vegan Society was founded) was a type of vegetarian diet that excludes eggs, dairy products and all other animal-derived ingredients. Watson also defined veganism as "encouraging" giving up non-food animal-derived commodities, and "encouraging" the creation of alternative, non-animal products.
On April 8, 1945, Watson and his friends met for the first time to begin the founding of a more formal organization, which they named "The Vegan Society." The Society had the same definition and aims for veganism -- an animal-free diet, and encouraging people to avoid non-food animal products as well.
Watson's Vegan Society quickly grew in membership. Within a few years, it attracted the interest of some people that we would today call "animal rights activists." One such person, a man named Leslie J. Cross, was described by vegan historian Leah Leneman, PhD of Edinburgh University, as a "purist" with extremist animal rights views and a strident style.
Cross believed Watson should change the UK Vegan Society into an animal rights organization. Cross urged changing the definition of "vegan" from meaning a vegan diet and encouraging members to avoid animal-derived products, to instead mean animal rights. Cross wanted vegan to mean opposing circuses, dog fighting, hunting, whaling, sealing, trapping, bullfighting, vivisection, fur farming, circuses, zoos, bullfighting, rodeos, horse racing, fishing, etc. -- in addition to diet. And Cross wanted to make it a requirement of membership and of being vegan that animal rights were fully embraced, and not simply "encouraged," or else an individual could not be a member.
Watson and the original founders disagreed, and declined to make Cross's suggested changes. Watson was having a lot of success attracting people to veganism.
Watson stepped down suddenly from leadership of the UK Vegan Society in 1948, four years after he invented veganism. Some historians believe that pressure from and conflict with Cross was a significant factor in Watson's decision to leave. In the 1948 Annual General Meeting of the Society, Watson and the original vegan founders were awarded honorary lifetime titles. These titles carried no authority but recognized the important contributions Watson and the others had made in creating veganism and founding the Society. In the same 1948 meeting where Watson resigned and was honored, animal rights activist Leslie Cross was elected to the Society's committee (board of directors).
Two years later, in November of 1950, Cross engineered a takeover of the Society at the Annual General Meeting. By bringing in many fellow animal rights activists to the very small number of members present, Cross was able to control voting outcomes. Cross assumed leadership of the Society and put through a new Constitution. He also revoked and cancelled Watson's honorary lifetime title as well as the honorary titles of the rest of the founders. It was a symbolic gesture comparable today to when some extremist vegans tell other vegans "You aren't actually vegan!" Cross replaced nearly all the original committee members with new people, and -- six years after Watson had invented the word -- Cross formally changed the Society's definition of "vegan" and "veganism." The Society's new definition accomplished Cross's aim of making the word "vegan" equivalent to animal rights. (Other dietary vegan groups which had sprung up in other countries did not change their definitions.)
Through an editorial in the newsletter that appeared shortly after Cross assumed control, it was asserted that if someone were not vegan for animal rights, they weren't actually vegan at all. A later article in the newsletter asserted that Cross personally had been the inspiration for the creation of the UK Vegan Society, that the Society had been Cross's idea which Watson had merely taken when Watson created veganism. It was further asserted in the article that Watson hadn't been vegan himself at the time Cross inspired the Society. This is all completely disproved below. But it was to be one was one in a line of ongoing arrogant attempts by Cross to steal credit from and minimize the contributions of Watson, through speeches and newsletter articles.
Cross's re-definition of "vegan" and more militant and evangelical animal rights stance did not appear to resonate with a lot of members. Most members ended up cancelling their membership. Cross's focus on animal rights, a rigid ideology of who is and who isn't a true vegan, and a botched attempt to recast the early history of the organization -- severely damaged the Society. When Cross had assumed leadership in 1950, the Society had 600 members. By 1954, the Society's Treasurer reported only 240 members, of which only 140 of them actually continued to pay dues. The UK Vegan Society was in dire financial straits. The newsletter shortened in pages in order to save money, and an appeal was made to members and even life members to make additional donations above dues in order to pay printing costs, or it would no longer be possible for the Society to produce its newsletter.
Cross stepped down from leadership in 1957 to start a vegan company, the Plant Milk Society, which made non-dairy "milks." Shortly after this, the Society shifted its focus nearly entirely back to diet and health. With Cross gone, the Society amended its Constitution the same year and changed the definition of "vegan" a third time. In a Special 1957 Member meeting, the definition emphasized health and diet, and removed every mention of animal rights issues.
But Cross and his "Cross vegans" were not gone. They have seized and lost control of the UK Vegan Society at different times through several decades since. It is perhaps ironic that late in Watson's life, the Society decided to use him as a sort of mascot for the organization. In truth, Watson was almost entirely absent from the Society after he left in 1948. Between 1948 and 1988 he never attended a single Society event, and only appeared once in their magazine, in 1965. It was only in 1988, after Leslie Cross had died, that the Society decided to restore the honorary title to Watson which Cross had stripped from him in 1950. In the 1990s, Watson became a sort of kindly, grandfatherly poster child for the same organization which had, earlier on, twisted his idea, minimized his contribution, and discarded him. After his one appearance as the 1988 Society event to restore his honorary title, he never appeared at another UK Vegan Society event or meeting again.
The history of the UK Vegan Society reveals an ongoing internal struggle across the decades. On one side are the "Watson vegans" whose goal was never some idealistic perfectionism. The Watson vegans promote a vegan diet, a welcoming position to attempt to appeal widely, while pointing in a direction to encourage reduction of the use of animals for non-food products as well, as much as the individual can do. On the other side are the "Cross vegans" who seek a far more rigid, judgemental, more exclusive and combative approach to veganism, based on animal rights.
The Society's democratic rules allow a 75% majority of the very small number of members who actually attend the Annual General Meeting (AGM) to change the Constitution and thus control the organization. So the history of the Society appears to be a constant back and forth, one side bringing in enough members to an AGM who share their view in order to seize control of the organization from the other. The result has been years of infighting and ego clashes, and a diminishment of potential effectiveness for the Society to spread veganism to a wider audience.
Because of this, the UK Vegan Society is virtually irrelevant in the vegan movement today. The Society has changed its preferred definition of "vegan" 13 times since Watson created it, and may consider changing it again in the near future, based on the makup of its current animal rights-dominated committee. While veganism has been exploding worldwide in recent decades, the UK Vegan Society has been in serious decline.
Towards the end of his life Watson himself tried to cover up all this infighting. In an interview at the age of 92, long after Cross had died, he gave rather gushing praise to the work that his "great friend" Cross did with his plant milk business, and in the vegan "movement." But Watson never actually mentioned Cross's role in the UK Vegan Society.
This website explains in detail how Watson's Vegan Society was captured in 1950 by animal rights activists who immediately re-defined the word "vegan," disrespected and discarded Watson, and how a disagreeable and often ego-driven struggle played out over many years.
The modern UK Vegan Society has gone to some lengths to sanitize its own history about its beginnings; we endeavor here to present a more honest summary. The information on this site is based on published reports in the Society's own newsletters, which are freely available. It is no longer possible for the UK Vegan Society to misrepresent its history and the origins of veganism, now that all the original documents have been put online. Everyone can see the truth for themselves.
We are a small, vegan think tank group calling ourselves Vegan Society Today. We embrace Watson's original widely welcoming definition, motives, and approach, as detailed below. Our motivation is a results-oriented proposition which we believe maximizes the potential appeal of veganism, and thus could far more significantly lessen animal suffering. By following the original defintion created byDonald Watson, we believe it becomes very difficult for the ego-based, judgemental, "vegan vs. vegan" dynamic to exist -- which seems to be the unfortunate hallmark of the "I'm more vegan than you" animal rights approach. We feel too much energy is wasted with vegans attacking other vegans rather than focusing on the message, on appealing to new people, and on criticizing the animal abusers.
Our group is comprised of both vegans and animal rights proponents, and we agree with the aims of many animal rights activists and share many of their concerns and objectives. However, we believe many more animals will be saved when there is a separation between veganism and animal rights. Many more people can be attracted to a vegan diet and be encouraged to avoid non-food animal products, than to strident, Leslie Cross-style animal activism. There is room for both, but we believe a great deal of history -- especially the history of the UK Vegan Society -- shows it is a big mistake when animal rights captures and attempts to narrow veganism.
Nearly all the information reported on this page has been taken directly from newsletters of the first decades of the UK Vegan Society, all of which can be accessed online here: https://issuu.com/vegan_society Other sources are noted and linked in the article below.
IN 1944, DONALD WATSON CREATED AND DEFINED THE WORD VEGAN,
WATSON SAID A "VEGAN" IS A PERSON WHO EATS FOOD EXCLUSIVELY FROM THE PLANT KINGDOM
IN 1950, WATSON WAS DRIVEN OUT OF THE VEGAN SOCIETY HE HAD CREATED. THE MAN WHO TOOK IT OVER CHANGED THE DEFINITION OF "VEGAN" AND NEARLY DESTROYED THE ORGANIZATION.
As far back as at least 1806, there have been groups of people in the UK and United States which avoided the use of any animal products for food, clothing or labor. There were probably earlier groups, but little exists in recorded history about this topic.
In 1944 Donald Watson, and his fellow non-dairy vegetarians, made a request that a page in the UK Vegetarian Society's monthly newsletter (the "Vegetarian Messenger") be devoted to dairy-free, egg-free vegetarianism. This was rejected by the Society because its leaders said they wished to focus all the organization's energies on putting an end to flesh-eating. But they were sympathetic and suggested Watson form a separate group, which they would help publicise in the Vegetarian Messenger.
Watson's letter announcing the new group was published in the November 1944 issue of the Vegetarian Messenger (see right). Other interested members of the UK Vegetarian Society contacted Watson in response and asked to subscribe to Watson's "quarterly Bulletin."
Watson received 25 or 30 subscriptions (accounts vary slightly) at one shilling for the first four issues. But Watson wanted a new word to describe the non-dairy, egg-free vegetarian diet, and so he simply took the beginning and end of the word "vegetarian" -- and used that as the title of his first newsletter -- Vegan News -- suggesting that Vegans would be those who followed a vegan diet, and proposing that the new word be adopted by his group of subscribers.
Watson stated in his first newsletter that it had not yet been advertised (beyond his letter to the Vegetarian Messenger). So the word "vegan" and the first "Vegan News" were created within the membership of the UK Vegetarian Society.
The Bulletin Watson created and edited began life as "The Vegan News (Quarterly Magazine of the Non-Dairy Vegetarians)." It became the "Quarterly Organ of the Vegan Society" from May 1945, and simply "The Vegan" from November 1945 onward. (See screenshots of mastheads of first three issues at right.)
The very first edition of Watson's newsletter, November 1944, can be viewed here:
In the second edition of Watson's Vegan News newsletter, February 1945, Watson tells his readers that there had now been talk of forming a separate, formal "Society" for vegans. He put forth his own suggestion for what the definition of veganism might mean:
… it is proposed that the Vegan Society shall have but one rule, as follows:
“I desire to be enrolled as a Member of the Vegan Society, and during my period of membership I promise not to partake of fish, flesh, fowl, eggs, animals’ milk or any of its products, and also that I will not consciously use foods in any of the above are included. In their place I will use the wholesome products of the vegetable kingdom.”
This was just a proposal by Watson, not yet adopted as there was not yet a Vegan Society to adopt it. Later in 1945 when the organizaing committe met, they decided against having any pledges. But what is telling here is that Watson's proposed rule for the Vegan Society was simply a vegan diet.
At a meeting in London on April 8, 1945, almost six months after Watson invented the word vegan, a provisional committee met for the first time to begin the founding of a new organisation they decided to call "The Vegan Society." Watson and his small group of friends had decided to form their own independent group. As a result of this meeting, Watson published a "Manifesto" which stated his new Society's purpose. The Manifesto began:
Aims of The Vegan Society are:
1) To advocate that man's food should be derived from fruits, nuts, vegetables, grains and other wholesome non-animal products and that it should exclude flesh, fish, fowl, eggs, honey and animals' milk, butter, and cheese.
2) To encourage the manufacture and use of alternatives to animal commodities.
see: Joanne Stepaniak. "The Vegan Sourcebook" (2nd edition – 1998 book - note: Stepaniak is incorrect about her date of this "manifesto" document, according to the Society newsletter -- the manifesto was created after the first committee meeting which was in the April 1945, once the word "vegan" had been widely circulated and agreed upon) pages 4-5
So vegan meant an animal-free diet, and "encouraging" the use of alternatives to "animal commodities." Animal commodities referred to items derived from animals, such as clothing like leather or household items. The manifesto went on to discuss how avoiding all animal products in diet including dairy and eggs, and "encouraging" manufacture and use of replacement for non-food animal products would be most humane and lead man in the the proper direction, improve health and be a tonic for many of society's ills.
Vegan groups also sprang up in California, India and Germany, dedicated to a diet free of all animal products.
Note: In the Spring 1962 issue of The Vegan, there is a now famous quote from one of Watson's co-founders, Elsie Shrigley:
"The first meeting of 8 non-dairy vegetarians to choose a name and found the Society was in November, 1944, at the Attic Club in Holborn. It was a Sunday, with sunshine and blue sky, an auspicious day for the birth of an idealistic movement. From a long list of suggestions the word Vegan was chosen."
Unfortunately, writing many years later, Elsie got the date wrong. It can now be very clearly seen from the first three issues of Watson's Vegan News, that what Elsie describes could not have been possible in November 1944 - the "list of suggestions" did not appear until February 1945. The meeting she describes was in fact the one on Sunday, April 8, 1945. All that happened in November of 1944 was the first issue of Vegan News -- including of course Watson's invention of the word "vegan." There was no meeting until the following April. For more details on this, and more of Elsie's many memory lapses see: When Exactly Was the UK Vegan Society Formed?
Donald Watson and the first vegans created the word "vegan" to simply mean "non-dairy vegetarian" which also excluded consumption of eggs. The definition did not involve the treatment or use of animals beyond not eating them, though Watson said a purpose of the Vegan Society was to "encourage" vegans to consider avoiding other uses of animals, such as for clothing. Avoiding other uses of animals beyond diet, however, was never "required" to be vegan, merely "encouraged."
This was the same position that the UK Vegetarian Society had taken with vegetarianism for almost 100 years before this. They "encouraged" members to purchase non-animal commodities such as non-leather shoes and other "vegetarian" products, in order to lessen animal suffering. So it was not a particularly "vegan" enterprise to "encourage" members to avoid non-food uses of animals; Watson was merely extending the exact same philosophy of the UK Vegetarian Society -- in which he had been and was still deeply involved -- when inventing veganism. Watson confirmed in a 2002 interview that he had remained a lifelong member of the UK Vegetarian Society.
Beginning in May, 1945, with the third edition of Vegan News, the sub-title changed to refer to the newly formed UK Vegan Society. As is evident from that heading (pictured at right), Watson defined veganism as follows:
"VEGANISM is the practice of living on fruits, nuts, vegetables, grains and other wholesome non-animal products.
VEGANISM excludes as human food: flesh, fish, fowl, eggs, honey, and animals' milk, butter and cheese.
VEGANISM aims at encouraging the manufacture and use of alternatives to animal products."
We do know that Donald Watson was personally concerned about all animal issues, we have some of his comments about that. But just like the UK Vegetarian Society from which he came -- and where he continued to be a local Secretary for the Leicester group -- he did not seek to impose those views on all vegans. Instead, just like the UK Vegetarian Society which encouraged members to try to avoid non-food animal products, Watson also sought to "encourage" the use of alternatives to animal products, including non-food items which used animals in their creation. Prior to inventing veganism, Watson was vegetarian for reasons of compassion and health, but he did not have a background in and was never involved in animal rights issues beyond vegetarianism. Although Watson opposed the exploitation of animals, he expressed concern that activities of some animal rights activists could be "counterproductive."
In the same newsletter above, from May of 1945, Watson stated the requirements of being a full member of the Vegan Society:
It is particularly important that no one signs for full membership unless he or she intends to be absolutely strict at all times... Strictness implies that no foods containing milk, eggs, butter, cheese, or honey are allowed.
Watson also added that the Society should:
...work for the abolition not only for all food of animal origin, but also of commodities made from animal products, in particular, those from the slaughter-house.
As stated, this was also the position of the UK Vegetarian Society; leather is a slaughter-house product, whereas wool is not. Thus vegetarians (and vegans, per Watson) should be most concerned about animals and animal products derived by the slaughter-house. And again, being vegan did not require abstaining from non-food animal products; it was ultimately left to the individual vegan to decide, just as the UK Vegetarian Society had left it to the individual vegetarian.
Watson led the initial informal group beginning in 1944, when he coined the word "vegan." In December of 1945, Watson set up the group a little more formally to have a chairman (a "Mr. Barry Green"), and Watson was Secretary and Editor. Watson continued to write and publish the Society's newsletter -- even advancing his own money to operate the venture -- as he had from the start.
At this early point, Watson and the other board members toyed with the idea of having members sign a pledge promising to follow a vegan diet completely in order to be full, voting members. But Watson and the group discarded the idea, and instead decided to have no members, only "supporters." The specific stated reason to do this was to allow those supporters to decide individually how far they could follow the aims of the Society. Watson did not want any purity pledges or demands for perfection in order for people to join them.
One year later, in 1946, Watson and the group reversed this in part and brought in membership, establishing the UK Vegan Society as a formal society, and issuing its first set of "rules." The rules now stated that all members were entitled to vote, provided they "endeavoured" to comply with the aims of the society. Still Watson had no pledges for members to sign, no demands for perfection. They also did away with the post of Chairman and elected Watson as the first President. Watson went on to serve as President of the Society for the next two years.
Fay Henderson, Secretary of the UK Vegan Society, published the Society's official "rules" in 1947:
The word Vegan has been brought into use since the formation of The Vegan Society in November, 1944, [sic - they were already backdating their history] and it denotes a person who abstains from using animal products as food. Veganism is actually vegetarianism carried logically to a further stage...
The Vegan Society has been formed to coordinate and assist these pioneers in their efforts, it has a threefold aim:
1 - To advocate that man's food should be derived from fruits, nuts, vegetables, grains and other wholesome non-animal products, and that it should exclude flesh, fish, fowl, eggs, honey, animals' milk, butter and cheese;
2 - To encourage the production and use of alternatives to animal commodities;
3 - To extend and organise Veganism nationally and internationally, and to facilitate contacts between those following the Vegan Way of Life.
The rest of Henderson's article discussed the vegan diet.
In 1947 The UK Vegan Society joined the International Vegetarian Union (IVU), during the World Vegetarian Congress. As President of the Society Watson gave the first known public lecture using the word "veganism" in the title. A brief summary of this talk can be found on the IVU website here:
As can be seen from the summary of Watson's presentation, he spoke of veganism as being about eliminating dairy from the vegetarian diet. He felt that not eating dairy and eggs products (and meat) would establish for the first time a "right relationship" between man and animals, improve human health, improve the environment, and abolish famine in the world.
In his 1947 presentation, Watson never mentioned the treatment of animals beyond not using them for food.
Watson had gone non-dairy, and non-eggs in 1941, chiefly for humane reasons. He objected to the suffering inherent in the production of eggs and dairy. He also went vegan for health reasons, and was also what we today might consider a "health vegan." In the very first issue of his Vegan News newletter, Watson wrote about the health benefits of an unprocessed vegan diet, and noted that after going vegan he was able to ride his bicycle 230 miles in one day. Before going vegan, Watson wrote, he was only able to ride half that distance.
Watson's key cofounder of the Non-dairy Vegetarian Group in 1944 was a man named Dugald Semple. Semple was an Honorary Vice-President of both the UK Vegetarian Society and IVU, as well as President of the Scottish Vegetarian Society. He signed the letter (drafted by Watson) asking for the regular non-dairy page in the Vegetarian Messenger. Semple was well known for promoting the health benefits of eating an egg-free, dairy-free vegetarian diet. He had adopted the diet in 1905, and had lectured extensively around England about diet starting during WW1. He had even written a book about the superior health benefits of what would become the vegan diet. (In 1931 Semple even met Gandhi on his trip to London -- and challenged him about his use of goat's milk.) In Vegan News #1, Watson wrote: "Our friend and fellow member Dugald Semple tells us he has never tasted cheese, therefore it cannot be considered as an essential 'binding agent' for body and soul!"
Watson and Semple clearly believed that health was another cornerstone and important reason to go vegan. Watson wrote extensively in his newsletter about the health benefits of the vegan diet, about specific foods, vitamins, and minerals. He wrote about the inhumane treatment of animals required to make meat and dairy, but wrote only a tiny amount about the treatment of or use of animals outside of for food.
Later when Watson was both the Vegan Society's Secretary and Editor of the magazine, he included an article entitled "Vegan Commodities." The Summer 1946 article concerned items beyond food that vegans may wish to avoid, but with no demand that membership of the Society required avoiding them. To be "vegan" in the Society, you had to eat a vegetarian diet and avoid dairy and eggs, and if a member started to consume eggs or dairy, they would no longer be vegan. But there was no claim that they were no longer vegan if they failed to avoid non-food items derived from animals. That aspect of veganism was merely "encouraged" but not mandated by the UK Vegan Society.
The 1946 article on Commodities began: "Your leather shoes are the first thing the destructive critic picks on ... never mind." This referred to how meat-eaters would mock vegetarians because they wore leather shoes, but not to let that bother you. The article went on to give examples of some household items, in addition to shoes, which contained animal ingredients, and that the ultimate aim would be to avoid such products. Watson suggested a gradual process of shifting away.
Trying to avoid leather shoes -- as discussed in the article -- was nothing new for vegetarians. The Magazine of the UK Vegetarian Society carried advertisements as far back as 1851 for non-leather "vegetarian" shoes -- nearly 100 years before Watson coined the word "vegan." (See image at right.) The UK Vegetarian Society magazine featured articles advocating vegetarians attempt to avoid leather starting in the 1890s. A 1914 advertisement in the UK Vegetarian Society's magazine shows a "vegetarian jeweler" whose products contain no leather, bone or ivory (see ad at right). The magazine is filled with early advertisments from "vegetarian companies" selling non-food items which avoid animal-derived contents.
So it was not particularly new or even necessarily "vegan" for Watson and his Vegan Society to encourage members to avoid clothing and commodities derived from animals. It had already long been a concern of many English vegetarians for at least a hundred years before veganism appeared, and Watson merely copied the practices of the UK Vegetarian Society, where he continued as Secretary of his local group, when creating the UK Vegan Society and in the definition of "vegan."
Importantly, the UK Vegetarian Society would never suggest that someone was not "vegetarian" if they didn't use such products. And in Watson's Vegan Society, it was never said that in order to be vegan, one was "required" to avoid clothing or items dervied from animals. It was merely "encouraged," as it was in the UK Vegetarian Society. The definition of veganism left it to the individual vegan to decide what they might wish to do and how far they would go concerning non-food animal-derived items.
Watson was President of the formal UK Vegan Society for two years, from 1946 to 1948. After he stepped down, he had no further significant involvement after that date for 40 years. A review of all of the quarterly Society newsletters since 1948 shows that Watson was never mentioned again in the newsletter until one time, in 1965, when he came out of retirement to write about the founding of the Society, for a 21st year anniversary edition of the newsletter.
Things changed after Watson left the organization. He retired as President at the UK Vegan Society's Annual General Meeting on Nov 27, 1948. At that meeting, he was elected one of six Vice-Presidents -- this was a non-active role for life, a ceremonial and honorary role to permanently acknowledge Watson's tremendous contribution to the Society, and the contributions of the other founders. The role carried no authority.
Other significant changes happened in 1948. Honey was removed as a banned food; some of the founding vegans had continued to consume honey, and it had continued to be a subject of some discussion. So honey became vegan.
More significantly, at that same 1948 Annual General Meeting, a man named Leslie J. Cross was elected, for the first time, as a committee member -- a member of the board who could have a vote in the direction and operation of the Society. Cross was an "emancipationist," the equivalent of what today we would call an "animal rights activist." Emancipationists and animal rights activists had -- and have -- at various times, tried to take control of the UK Vegetarian Society to make it an animal rights organization. But they failed each time.
Cross's central purpose in joining the committee seems to have been to try to push the UK Vegan Society into becoming an animal rights organization. In the Society's newsletter during 1949, Cross sought to make a case that the organization should no longer just focus on health and environmental motivations that Watson had written about extensively, but that the defiition of "vegan" should be changed to mean animal rights.
To support this, Cross deceptively tried to make a case that Watson and the original members of the Society had not only been inspired by compassion for animals -- which was true -- but that they actually been motivated by and wished to have veganism mean animal rights, rather than simply diet. (The part about Watson wanting animal rights, of course, flew in the face of nearly all evidence to that time.) Cross argued that it made sense that veganism should be about all issues relating to animal rights, such as opposing the use of animals for vivisection, entertainment, labor, silk, horseback riding, hunting, and so forth. He acknowledged that veganism had originally been defined to mean only diet, but felt strongly it should be "expanded" beyond Watson's original definition.
In a two-part article written in 1949 for The Vegan, as the society's journal was now called, Cross attempted to make his case. In the Part One he wrote:
The Vegan Society was formed in the Constitutional sense on March 15th, 1947, when a special general meeting adopted for the first time a set of rules. There was, however, still no attempt to find an agreed definition of veganism. Rule 2, which laid down three of the many possible "aims" of the Society, was — and is — quite silent about many other aims which might equally be regarded as being "vegan." The stated aims refer only to diet, commodities, and the spreading of vegan teaching. They do not mention other aims which might equally be regarded as being vegan — such aims, for example, as opposition to hunting, vivisection, performing animals, and the castration and enslavement of animals for transport and other work. See: https://issuu.com/vegan_society/docs/the-vegan-summer-1949
So one can see that Cross acknowledged that Watson and the Society in its formal set of rules had identified "veganism" as meaning a diet, and as encouraging the use of non-animal-derived non-food items ("commodities"), as well as attempting to spread veganism. But there were no requirements in Watson's definition of veganism beyond food, there was no pledge, and nothing "required" relating to other animal rights issues. By simply eating a vegan diet, you were a "vegan," according to Watson's original definition of "vegan."
Cross then gave birth to the lie that no definition of "vegan" actually even existed at the UK Vegan Society in 1949, when he wrote his article. Of course "vegan" always just meant a diet, as Watson and his Society had defined it. But since Cross had repeatedly tried and failed to persuade Watson to change the definition to mean animal rights, he was now trying to convince Society members there really was NO definition of the word in existence since the Society had been created, and now he had one to supply. (On their website and in their literature, the modern day UK Vegan Society still perpetuates this lie that in 1949 "the Society lacked a definition of veganism" ever since Watson had created the word and founded the organization -- see image at right.)
In his first article, Cross very clearly proposed that his new rules would require "allegiance" of all members. The Society would no longer be about encouraging or endeavouring, it would be about perfection in all areas of animal rights. He ended with a direct comparison between animal use and human slavery -- Watson had mentioned the subject in passing in his first newsletter, speaking about food -- but Watson never sought to impose his views on others, always seeking to allow members to find their own way. Cross clearly intended to impose strict rules with his proposal, bringing up bans on hunting, vivisection, visiting circuses, etc. for the first time at the UK Vegan Society.
In the second installment of Cross's article, Cross began by responding to some apparent pushback to his first article. Cross admitted that changing the the definition of "vegan" to mean animal rights did not necessarily reflect the current views of the UK Vegan Society or it's members. He started Part Two stating:
It should be held in mind that the views expressed [in these articles] are the writer's, and in no way commit the Society or any other member.
In this second installment of his article in the Autumn 1949 issue, Cross reviewed what he said was the Society's history so far. And the first quote of the Society he presented in his article is a letter-to-the-editor which Cross himself wrote to the UK Vegetarian Society newsletter (the Vegetarian Messenger) in 1943. He quoted his own animal rights treatise he had sent to the UK Vegetarian Society, implying that this letter in that other organization's newsletter was what inspired Watson to found the UK Vegan Society. Therefore, Cross argued, his own letter in the UK Vegetarian Society's Messenger newsletter should be viewed as part of the "history" of the UK Vegan Society, and asserted that the idea of the Vegan Society had been started by him because he was "the first" to have written on the subject in 1943. (In fact, a review of Vegetarian Society newsletter archives shows that the discussion had been started in 1942 by G. Harry Lewin and other Vegetarian Society members, whose own letters published in the Vegetarian Messenger newsletter had started the discussion about non-dairy vegetarian diets, not Cross.)
This was the first in a line of Cross's narcissistic credit-grabbing attempts over Watson, to imply that Watson had taken his own -- Cross's -- supposed idea to create the UK Vegan Society. Cross was apparently arguing that the UK Vegan Society had begun in 1943 as part of the UK Vegetarian Society. An exchange of letters from 16 different individuals printed in the UK Vegetarian Society newsletter were part of the "history" of Watson's Vegan Society, he claimed. And he quoted a short and ill-tempered rant of his own which had been printed in the Vegetarian Messenger newsletter in 1943 as somehow the keystone to everything that motivated Watson, supposedly. (And again, Cross's letter hadn't been a keystone but one of many letters different members had written before and after him.) Of course Cross hadn't been part of the actual creation when Watson actually invented the word and later formed the Society. Cross hadn't even joined it until 1946, but he claimed his letter was the foundation of Watson's entire enterprise. Cross went on in his article in an extremely selective manner, to cherry-pick and twist the meanings of a few short quotes from Watson in old Society newsletters, in order to assert that: "There is no evidence that Veganism was fundamentally concerned with anything other than the man-plus-animal relationship." Cross again went on to list various non-food, non-commodity uses of animals -- animal research, entertainment, labor, etc. -- and pushed in his article what was essentially an animal rights manifesto.
The claims Cross made in his article that veganism under Watson had been about the "man-plus-animal relationship" were very much at odds with the fact that 99% of contents of the Society's magazine to that point were about food and human health. The other 1% were about "commodities" -- leather shoes, clothing, and the same issues which had been part of vegetarianism for a hundred years. In the entire five years from the first issue Vegan News in 1944 to 1949 when Cross wrote his infamous two-part article, there was only one single mention of other animal concerns, beyond food and commodities. It was a letter from an American who asked the society to send a letter supporting his campaign against the use of animals in atomic bomb tests. The Society did send the letter. That was the entirety of the Society's involvement in non-food, non-commodities "animal rights" issues during it's entire existence. Cross's two articles in 1949 were an extraordinary attempt to rewrite the Society's history under Watson.
Moreover, had Watson actually agreed with Cross, Watson could have simply changed the definition of "vegan" to animal rights issues while he had been running the organization for the first four years. But Watson never did. Additionally, Watson could have written a letter or article in 1949 in support of Cross's assertions, and assuring that Cross's animal rights manifesto accurately reflected the his and the other founders' intentions. He could have written to the Society's newsletter that: "Yes, Leslie Cross is correct, veganisn was always about forcing members to swear allegiance to stopping hunting, circuses, vivisection, etc." But Watson stayed silent and did not attempt to assist Cross.
It is worth noting that some vegan historians strongly believe Watson resigned in 1948 from the Society he created -- because of Leslie Cross. This is based on the totality of the record and knowledge of the players and their personalities. The theory is that Cross was an ambitious, pushy, strident and perhaps narcissistic personality. Watson, on the other hand, was gentle, agreeable, accommodating, and non-confrontational. As Cross became involved in the burgeoning Society during 1946 and 1947, and attempted to influence Watson to change the definition of vegan, Watson may have felt bullied. Clearly, Watson did not create or envision creating a strident animal rights group, harshly judging others, screaming "murderers!" at people who consumed dairy or took their child to the zoo, or wore leather shoes and so on. And rather than live with the stress of being pressed by a fractious group of animal rights vegans led by Cross, Watson in 1948 simply retired and focused on his occupation as a woodworking teacher, leaving the organization altogether and for good -- as happened.
It took Leslie Cross two years after Watson stepped down to capture the UK Vegan Society. On November 11, 1950, at a Special Members meeting (separate from the AGM on the same day), at Friends Meeting House, opposite Euston Station, London, Cross pulled a coup. He introduced a new Constitution with all new rules for the Society, making it an animal rights organization rather than what Watson had created.
The Annual General Meetings were usually attended by a very small number of actual members. At the time, the UK Vegan Society had grown to about 600 members, with about 100 new members a year signing up since Watson created it. Since fewer than 40 members atteded the special meeting, Cross was able to get his agenda fully passed by insuring enough animal rights friends showed up to vote his way.
Cross's new Constitution provided "New Rules" for the Society and a new definition of "vegan" -- which Cross had written himself. The new defintion was:
"The object of the Society shall be to end the exploitation of animals by man... The word veganism shall mean the doctrine that man should live without exploiting animals... The Society pledges itself in pursuance of its object to seek to end the use of animals by man for food, commodities, work, hunting, vivisection and all other uses involving exploitation of animal life by man."
Mr. Cross explicitly termed this change:
"a considerable widening of the original 'non-dairy' motivation of the Society."
Cross didn't just turn the Society into an animal rights group by changing the definition of "vegan." As part of his new Constitution he also stripped Watson of the lifelong honorary title the Society had voted to give him in 1948. Cross also replaced nearly all the original committee (board) members with new people. For several years prior to 1950, the governing committee had been quite stable. But by the end of that meeting, most all the old guard were gone; almost all the committee and the president had changed.
And Cross's new Constitution replaced Watson (and the other ceremonial vice-presidents) with one new person who would have actual authority and increased power, an "Executive Vice-President." A vote by the majority of Cross's supporters at the meeting gave that role to none other than -- Leslie Cross.
So in other words, in 1950 -- six years after Watson had created the word "vegan," the Society's new leadership succeeded in changing Watson's original meaning of "vegan." It went from being a non-dairy, non-egg vegetarian diet designed to promote health, compassion toward animals, to improve the environment and combat famine -- to simply mean an animal rights enterprise. While Cross asserted he was "widening" the scope of veganism by making it synonymous with animal rights, he actually limited the definition by favoring only one of the reasons that had prompted Watson to create veganism and the Society. And by requiring adherence to an animal rights doctrine, rather than simply "encouraging" avoidance of products that cause animal suffering, as the original meaning meant, Cross raised the bar higher to vegetarians and omnivores who might be interested in going vegan.
Cross's decision to strip Watson of what was just a symbolic, ceremonial title may suggest he wanted to send Watson and the rest a strong message that: "There's a new sheriff in town, and only MY ideas are relevant to the UK Vegan Society now." Watson and his group had largely resisted Cross's push to turn veganism into animal rights. Cross's hostile gesture clearly showed he didn't believe Watson deserved the appreciation the Society had bestowed, so Cross made sure to rescind it at the AGM.
What is interesting is that the German, US and Indian vegan societies then in operation as well did not adopt Cross's new definition that veganism was now about animal rights, and may not have even known about it at the time. They continued on as dietary vegan organizations.
Although all of these major changes to the Sociey took place in November of 1950, they were not reported in the Society's newsletter until the Spring 1951 issue. That was because the editor of the Society's newsletter, a Watson follower, had resigned after the animal rights coup, so there was no Winter 1950 issue as a result. In 1951 Cross brought in a new editor. In her first issue the new editor introduced herself by stating that she believed that when all "mankind" had become vegan, the "good vibrations" would be absorbed by the animals, and they would then stop eating each other. This seemed a rather odd notion, that lions would stop eating zebras if mankind would only go vegan. Aapparently there were still major issues raging behind the scenes at the UK Vegan Society during 1951, as the Summer and Winter 1951 issues of the Society's newsletter were both cancelled.
Within months of pushing through his new Constitution, Leslie Cross was suddenly gone from the Society. He wrote to the committee saying he was ill, needed complete rest, and resigned from everything. Several other new people whom Cross had brought in, including the President, also became ill or died. (This was not a great advertisement for whatever the animal rights vegans were eating.) The result was that a woman named Elsie Shrigley, one of the 1945 founding committee, was elected President later in 1951. When the magazine resumed printing, it went back to being nearly all about food, health and nutrition. Shrigley just seemed to forget Cross's new rules and carried on as before. (For lots more of Elsie's other memory failings see this page.)
The 1951 Annual General Meeting report in the newsletter mentioned an attendance of 44 people, out of the 500-plus members. However the Treasurer's report noted that there had been more cancellations of membership than new members. The Society had begun losing members since the animal rights activists had moved in.
In mid 1953 the UK Vegan Society was desperate to find new editor for the newsletter, to replace the one who thought "good vibrations" from vegans would stop animals eating each other. (The Society's excuse was that they wished to find a new editor because the current whacky one lived part time in France.) The committee appointed a man named John Heron -- described in the newsletter as having "recently joined the society" -- and presumably recently become vegan, and knowing little about it. This was the perfect candidate for controlling the society's main channel of communication.
Heron came from an unusual occult background, the "Kosmon Community" near London. He wrote a number of spiritualist articles in the newsletter, probably because his background was in teleportation and Biblical "end of times" speculation. It is apparent Heron had carefully read the new animal rights rules, but apparently he didn't notice that everyone else was ignoring them. In his first editorial he tried to define veganism. He opined that only those primarily motivated by animal compassion were vegans. Those concerned with eating only plants for health, mostly in the United States, he thought, were Hygienists, and not vegan at all. He also thought there was a third, spiritual, dimension for veganism, and wished to find another word which vegans could use for that. He wrote other stronger articles equating veganism with animal rights, repeating that the health-only vegans were not vegans at all.
Meanwhile, at the end of 1953, Leslie Cross returned to the UK Vegan Society board, this time just as an ordinary committee member, not its Executive Vice-President. Cross and his team had ousted the Watsonites in 1950, but that had been largely reversed in practice at end of 1951 by the return of the absent-minded Elsie Shrigley. By the end of 1953 Cross was set for battle again, to put the Society's new animal rights definition into greater force.
The Non-Dairy Vegetarian Group had begun in 1944 with 25 "members," becoming the "Vegan Society" in April 1945. After four years of direct leadership by Donald Watson it had risen to 500, an average of 100 new members per year during that time. The success in attracting new vegans was largely based on Watson's "all are welcome" approach. Watson retired in 1948, and by the end of 1950, membership had risen to 600, meaning new membership had slowed after Watson left to only 50 new members per year.
The treasurer's report at the end of 1952 showed that there had been almost 100 cancellations of memberships after Cross's new Constitution and his re-definition of "vegan." There had been only a handful of new members since the animal rights vegans took over in late 1950. In the Spring 1954 the Treasurer reported in the newsletter that the membership was now down to 397.
In the same issue reporting the Society was in dire financial staits, John Heron repeated his "veganism equals animal-rights" editorial style. There was also a summary printed of a talk given about veganism, to a World Congress of Animal Welfare Societies. The talk was about emancipation of the animal slaves, an emancipationist/animal rights talk and defining veganism in those terms. The speaker was Leslie Cross.
In addition to the animal rights diatribe by Cross, the Winter 1954 issue carried an article about the first 10 years of the Society, written by Elsie Shrigley. The article had a strange re-writing of history, claiming that Leslie Cross had proposed the idea of the UK Vegan Society in 1943, a full year before Donald Watson created it. Not only had Cross come up with the idea first, the article also asserted that Watson had still been using eggs and dairy at that time and wasn't even vegan, whereas Cross had already been vegan by then, and thus had been vegan longer than Watson. (This 1954 article was contradicted by a letter-to-the-editor published in the Society's Autumn 1946 Society's magazine eight years earlier. The letter was written by Cross and an Editor's note described him and his wife as "new converts to veganism," suggesting Cross was now fudging dates.) Watson later wrote that he actually went vegan himself around 1941. (For a full review of errors by Elsie Shrigley in describing the founding of the Society, see this page.)
Cross continued in later years to claim he had come up with the idea for Watson's Vegan Society. The Autumn 1965 issue of The Vegan featured an article by Donald Watson for the first time since he retired from active participation in 1948. Watson was asked to write about "The Early History of the Vegan Movement" for a 21st anniversary edition. In the issue following the one spotlighting Watson, Winter 1965, a letter appears from Leslie Cross in response. Cross mentions Watson and then again asserts that he (Cross) had actually been the impetus that prompted Watson to create the Society, claiming he had given Watson the idea. Cross claimed he was the first to raise the non-dairy question in the UK Vegetarian Society magazine in 1943, which prompted Watson's actions. In his 1965 letter, Cross also claimed that he had been one of the "founders" of the Society and present at the beginning organizing. Cross finished his short article giving a plug to his soymilk business.
The issue of whether Cross was "the first" to raise the non-dairy question, as he asserted, was researched by Leah Leneman, PhD, a vegan history academic at Edinburgh University. She reported that another individual had actually first raised the non-dairy subject in the UK Vegetarian Society's newsletter before Cross had, in 1942, and that the debate had been continuing on and off since 1909. Also, Watson himself discussed the impact of a talk he attended in 1938 that had a big influence; Watson never mentioned Cross as having any influence or role in Watson's creation of the Society. Thus Cross was not "the first" to raise the subject, as he'd asserted. Leneman's text is entitled, "No Animal Food: The Road to Veganism in Britain, 1909-1944" (published 1999), and can be found here. (Regarding Cross's extremist views and strident tone, Leneman wrote: "To the purist like Cross, if one did not give up all animal products one might just as well be a cannibal.")
In terms of Cross being a "founder" of the UK Vegan Society, there have been several published accounts by different individuals who were involved the founding and early meetings of the Society -- none of these accounts mentions Cross, and none cite his being present or involved in any way at the start as he claimed.
In any event, this was one of a number of examples of Cross's feeling the need to attempt to grab credit from Watson. He apparently couldn't allow a compliment to Watson to go unanswered without an attempt to try to tout his own horn and elevate himself. That did not speak well of Cross's character, and underscored why one might not want to be a follower of Cross, but instead a follower of the modest and more decent Watson. Cross's published response reflects a measure of arrogance, narcissism, and apparent resentment harbored toward Watson. Printed appreciation for Watson in the newsletter prompted Cross to thump his own chest, rattle off his own alleged "founding" the Society, and give a plug for his soymilk business. (Again, the Society record shows Cross did not become actively involved in the Society until 1948 when he joined the committee.).
Of interest is that after leaving the UK Vegan Society in 1948, Watson was very reculsive when it came to the Society, and had very little involvement the rest of his life. He always declined to attend Society events, and did not attend the 1965 anniversary event. He attended one more event in his life, in 1988. After that, he never took part in any further Society activities.
In 1954, John Heron made an extended trip to the United States, and reported on it in the newsletter, now apparently even more confused about the meaning of veganism since the American terminology had evolved in a very different way. Heron reported what he found in an article in the newsletter. It was a glowing report about the huge increase in the number vegans in the US, using figures from the Natural Hygiene Society -- the same group of US dietary vegans whom he had previously asserted in the newsletter were "not vegan at all."
Veganism in America had a far stronger emphasis on health, more along the lines of the Watsonians. Heron reported a high proportion of Americans calling themselves "vegetarians" were in fact not using any eggs or dairy and were in fact vegans. And he claimed that the vegans he met -- for example, Dr. Catherine Nimmo in Oceano, California, who was co-founder of the first Vegan Society in the US -- were "humanitarians," meaning they shared some concerns about the treatment of animals. Presumably Heron mentioned this to justify the fact that he was talking to them at all. But from Heron's descriptions in the newsletter, the American vegans he met clearly had health as their vegan priority.
In the Spring 1955 newsletter, the Treasurer reported that membership was now down to only 240 members (down from 600 when Cross had taken over), and that the finances were in trouble. The Society was forced to shorten its newsletter in order to save money, or it would no longer be possible for the Society to produce its newsletter.
The American trip, and perhaps the financial problems of the Society, seem to have had a major impact on John Heron -- his first editorial for 1955 was entitled "Plants," merely mentioning briefly the concern for "animal welfare" before concentrating on the importance of plants for good health. His second editorial, Summer 1955, was entirely about "Vitamins." He continued in a similar style for the rest of the year, in stark contrast to the animal rights agenda in his articles the previous year. All the articles other than contributions from Cross, became entirely about food, nutrition and health again -- including articles on veganism and health contributed by Dr. Nimmo.
It is very clear that by the end of 1955, John Heron had completely abandonded Cross's animal rights doctrines, and had moved to veganism as being primarily about food and health.
In 1956, there was an editorial announcement of plans by Leslie Cross to form a Plantmilk Society with a view to it becoming a business. (It did and is still available today as the "Plamil" brand.) In the Spring 1956 issue, the Treasurer stated that the society had no funds, and appealed for donations, including for life members to pay another subscription to keep the magazine going. The number of pages had been considerably reduced.
John Heron's first editorial of 1956 appealed to members to take health more seriously. Heron stated that compassion for animals was not enough on its own. The tone of the magazine's articles shifted significantly from "How can I survive following my ethics without eating animals?" to "Eating plants is healthier than eating meat." There were more such articles from Dr. Nimmo, now a regular contributor. In the autumn issue the Treasurer stated that 100 members had failed to pay their subscriptions which were due the previous January, the Society still in trouble. It had gone from 600 paying members when Cross took over and began pushing animal rights, to only 140.
At the end of 1956 Leslie Cross departed from involvement in the Society to concentrate on his plantmilk society. John Heron was then elected President of the UK Vegan Society.
On April 13, 1957, as the new President, John Heron, called a Special Members Meeting to revise the Constitution. He did the same thing that Leslie Cross had done in 1950 -- changed the definition of veganism as he felt necessary. He would have had ferocious opposition from the animal rights activists in attendance. But he had apparently planned timing well and got enough of the Donald Watson-type vegan supporters to the meeting in order to carry the vote.
Heron must have been convinced that the Society could only be saved by wiping out all of Leslie Cross's 1950 emancipationist language, for that is what he did. It was a remarkable turn. The new official definition of vegan and the Society's objects in full were printed in the next newsletter:
"Veganism is the practice of living on the products of the plant kingdom - to the exclusion of all animal foods - proceeding from a wide consideration of man's place in nature. The objects of the Vegan Society are to provide in thought and practice for the advance of veganism, and to relate veganism to every aspect of creative co-operation between man and nature."
Heron subsequently renamed the regular "Vegan Commodities" section of the magazine to "Humane Commodities," the signifcance being that "vegan" was about diet (rather than animal concerns), and "humane" was about treatment of animals. "Vegan" itself once again meant only diet, and "humane" was necessary to use to signfiy how vegans believed animals should be treated. The UK Vegan Society's definition of veganism was no longer about animal rights, or even much about animals at all -- only food.
John Heron had gone from being Leslie Cross's cohort on making veganism into animal rights, to becoming Dr. Nimmo's biggest fan, who defined veganism as only diet. The man who had once editorialized in the Society's newsletter that essentially "you had be vegan for animal concerns or you weren't vegan," had completely changed his tune. You only had to avoid eating animals to be vegan. And as far as the treatment of animals, vegans were encouraged to strive to be "humane."
Later in 1957 Heron, as the Society's President, gave a talk at the International Vegetarian Union congress in India, found here:
The first words of his talk were:
Veganism is the practice of living on the products of the plant kingdom - to the exclusion of flesh, fish, fowl, eggs, animal milk and its derivatives."
In other words, Heron as President of the UK Vegan Society was now telling the rest of the vegan and vegetearian world that the Society's position is that veganism is a diet. The rest of Heron's 1957 speech, as can be seen at the link above, is about veganism as a diet. Nowhere did he mention avoiding honey, leather, silk, fur, other clothing, zoos, circuses, animal testing, vivisection, hunting, horseback riding, or any other non-food issues that Leslie Cross had previously deemed part of "veganism."
The Society and its approach remained the same through the rest of Heron's presidency. The committee remained very stable, finances and membership gradually improved, and magazine got more pages again. And there was a lot of cooperation and positive interaction between the Society with other vegetarian and vegan groups (whereas Cross previously had gone to "war" against the various vegetarian societies attacking them for allowing dairy). The Society gave some publicity to animal welfare/rights groups, but kept it clearly separate from veganism. Veganism was just about diet, and the newsletter was chiefly about health, nutrition, and lots of recipes. John Heron retired from the presidency at the end of 1960 -- and things soon began to change once again.
During 1960, the Society had a brief report in the newsletter from American H. Jay Dinshah about his new organization, the American Vegan Society (AVS). Dinshah had just founded AVS. He was a health vegan and board member of the vegan Natural Hygiene Society (today called the National Health Association or NHA). Since it's founding in 1948, NHA promoted a vegan diet for health purposes. When Dinshah founded AVS he strongly promoted his version of animal rights as "ahimsa." It seems apparent that, like Watson and Heron and other vegan groups, Dinshah saw veganism as just a diet, because if veganism meant animal rights to Dinshah, why would he have needed to include "ahimsa" along with veganism in his organization? What was the difference between veganism and ahimsa? And why did he need both? It seems clear Dinshah initially saw veganism as a diet, and ahimsa as everything else. (In more recent times, some AVS members have tried to assert that veganism always meant ahimsa from the very beginning, that there was no difference between the two and they were interchangable.)
According to vegan historian, Leah Leneman PhD, Dinshah's approach to veganism was cult-like. The American Vegan Society approach, according to Leneman, was "that veganism is almost a religion. You even give up sex, according to Jay Dinshah." Leneman noted that Dinshah was "was on about celibacy. Whole new life, purity, etc, etc." See: http://www.veganviews.org.uk/vv34/vv34leahleneman.html
In the Summer 1962 issue of the Society newsletter, the definition of "vegan" was changed again. This appears to have been from a change to the Constitution at the end of 1961, but there are no specific reports about that. The new definition was almost back to Leslie Cross's version (Cross was still influencing the Society behind the scenes from his plantmilk society role). The version begins:
Veganism is a way of living which excludes all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, the animal kingdom ...."
The definition continued at some length, eventually getting to what vegans eat. So animal rights went back at the top again at the Society, this time for 10 years.
In the early 1960s, the ceremonial vice-president role was also reinstated by the Society. This was the honorary title bestowed on people the Society felt had made important contributions, and was a life-long appointment with no actual authority. The Society had given this title to Watson in 1948 when he resigned -- Cross had stripped it from Watson two years later, in 1950. Now the early 60s, the Society gave this title to a few new people, including Dr. Catherine Nimmo and Jay Dinshah. But the hand of Cross seems to have been still present, at least behind the scenes, because the Society seemed to have forgotten about Donald Watson.
Cross died in 1979 and so finally, in the Spring 1989 issue of the magazine, it was noted that Watson had been added back to the honory Vice-Presidents list -- a decision made at the November 1988 Annual General Meeting, 38 years after Cross had stripped Watson of it. This happened only because the UK Vegan Society "rediscovered" Watson in 1988, while trying to locate copies of the original newsletters. In late 1987 or early 1988, the Secretary of the Society wrote in the Society's newsletter asking if anyone had any early copies of the newsletter for their archive. Watson saw the article and wrote the Society offering the complete set of original newsletters. The Secretary had no idea who Watson was, as Watson had said in the letter he wrote, only a couple of the board members would remember him or have any idea what role he'd played. He was right. After having his Vice-President title restored, Watson was invited to write a regular column in the magazine about the history and early days of veganism. Watson's column was ended after just a few columns, and came to an abrupt end in Spring 1990. It looks like Watson's main crime in his history articles was to write about how helpful the vegetarian societies had been in the early formation of the Society. By 1991, the Magazine was going through its most vitriolic anti-vegetarian phase ever, and there was no room for Watson praising how helpful the vegetarian societies had been in creating veganism. After Watson's one appearance at the 1988 Society event to receive his honorary title, he never appeared at another UK Vegan Society event or meeting again.
In the 1990s, Watson was given an honorary role of "Patron of the Society," and he appears to have retained that until he died. It is worth noting that when interviewed in 2002, Watson said words of praise about Cross and described him as "a great friend," mentioning that he and Cross had corresponded shortly before Cross died. This was the man who had stripped Watson of his honorary title in 1950, and who repeatedly sought to claim credit for himself whenever Watson was publicly acknowledged for founding the Society. Watson praised Cross in this interview largely for Cross's dedication to his own soymilk business and the "cause" of veganism -- but never made any mention at all of Cross's role in the UK Vegan Society. But this was long after Cross had died, and Watson was a very kind soul. He was not the type to speak ill of the dead.
In 1972, the defintion of vegan was reversed again by the Society:
"The Vegan Society advocates living on the plant kingdom to the exclusion of all food and other commodities derived wholly or in part from animals...."
Then it goes on to the "all forms of cruelty and exploitation" part, and ends with a new concept of caring for the environment. So at least they put the food first again. An important figure at the UK Vegan Society during the 1960s and 1970s was Eva Batt. Batt got involved in the very early 60s and rose to be Society Secretary for many years, into the 70s. In her articles in the early years she attemped to expand veganism to include raw food-only, nuclear disarmament, and various other "new age" issues. Veganism was a little "all over the place" during this period. (To see each of the 14 various definitions of "vegan" the Society has preferred at different times, visit our page on Honey.)
Animal rights issues, and even the term "animal rights activist," only became common in the late 1970s, following Peter Singer's 1975 book Animal Liberation. Singer used the term "speciesism" that had been coined in 1970 by British psychologist Richard Ryder, and generally taken to mean the assumption of human superiority leading to the exploitation of animals. The term is used inconsistently and taken to the usual extremes by some vegans to argue that the value of the life of a fly is equal to the value of the life of your children -- not a particularly successful argument to attract the average person to veganism.
In Animal Liberation, Singer wrote about animals being imprisoned in factory farms and labratories. (Singer personally had no problem with free-range cows out in the field being milked -- he was a lacto-ovo vegetarian at the time.) Singer's book led directly to the founding of animal rights organizations. The British Animal Liberation Front (ALF) was created the year after Singer's book was published, in 1976. Singer's book is also credited with inspiring the founding of a major animal rights foundation in the US, by a British expatriate -- Ingrid Newkirk -- who created People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) in 1980. PETA's mission is stated as:
"PETA operates under the simple principle that animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, or use for entertainment."
PETA's 1980 mission is practically identical to what Leslie Cross and his emancipationist followers had changed "vegan" to mean in 1950. But veganism in the UK Vegan Society to this point in the late 1970s was almost exclusively about diet. In 1985, as the animal rights movement outside the Society was taking off, the Society put the exploitation first again in their definition (and apparently decided they didn't care about the environment after all -- removing all mention).
Vegan historian Leah Lenehan PhD was interviewed in 1985 and touched on the state of the UK Vegan Society up to that time. She described it as being in a "state of flux...desperately needing changes." She described the Society newsletter as "extremely stuffy and self-righteous." She also objected to the Society's attemps to tie veganism with New Age philosphies. Lenehan noted that there were many reasons people went vegan, such as health and ecology, and since these reasons also saved animals, they were as important as any other reason. But importing other philosophies and tying outside issues into veganism had the potential to put off many vegans, which is where she saw the Society was heading. Leneman also noted that during that period in the 1980s, the UK Vegan Society had once again removed the ban on honey, and vegans could eat honey. In fact, for 30 years of its history, the Society has allowed honey as vegan (for a full discussion of the Society's changing of positions on honey, click here).
There have been some tortured attempts to rewrite the early history of the UK Vegan Society, to try to make it appear that Watson had wanted the Society to be about animal rights. But Watson was clear in his newsletters and his "Manifesto" (linked above) that veganism was about 1) a vegan diet and 2) "encouragement" that vegans try to avoid non-food animal products such as leather, if they wished, and 3) try to spread veganism. The Society itself has taken great pains to present a "unified" picture not just of the start of its organization, but ongoing battles, and generally buries or downplays the embarrasing facts.
It is telling how the common use defintion of the word "vegan" was perceived by the English public at large. In Jo Stepaniak's 1998 "The Vegan Sourcebook," she lists the Oxford English Dictionary's definition of "vegan," which first appeared in 1962 (see image at right):
It is clear from the dictionary definitions that when the word vegan was first published independently in 1962 by the Oxford Illustrated Dictionary, it was defined purely as diet. It was not until 1995 that common usage began to include a prohibition on using animal products outside of diet. This underscores that veganism in general to that point had not been focused on animal issues other than diet. Common usage was still precisely what Watson had originally articulated for the word -- a non-dairy, no-egg vegetarian diet.
Today this is the Society's current preferred definition:
"Veganism is a 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."
This is a fairly broad definition which is subject to individual circumstances and personal interpretation. Veganism, by the UK Vegan Society's current preferred definition, is about "seeking." It is about intent, and the current definition acknowledges that a person's application of veganism is subject to their own personal judgement about what they deem "possible" and "practicable." And what is "possible and practicable" for one vegan may not be for another. But according to the UK Vegan Society, both "seekers" are practicing "veganism."
The above definition applies only to members of the UK Vegan Society (which is a separate organization from our think tank group, which we call Vegan Society Today). The UK Vegan Society looks impressive on Facebook with 340,000 followers. But according to insiders at the Society, it has never been able to convert their Facebook "likes" into paying members or supporters. The latest annual report from the UK Vegan Society claims a big increase in membership -- now totalling 5,200 people. It was down to 4,000 a couple of years ago. But in any case, the UK Vegan Society is a tiny organization, with less than 1% of UK vegans as members, and a miniscule fraction of the world's vegans are part of it. It is fair to say that while the UK Vegan Society has some symbolic value, it has very little influence today in the vegan world or the greater world.
The UK Vegan Society manages to maintain an image of "greatness" thanks largely to the gentlemanly friendliness of its founder, the late Donald Watson, whose definition of veganism the Society rejected and changed. But the Society's greatness is pretty much an illusion now. According to an insider at the organization, it is struggling financially, has constant disagreements and infighting among its few employees and board members. The UK Vegan Society also experiences a very high employee turnover rate of its small number of employees due to what one insider said is "endless interference from elected board members."
A disproportionately large percentage of its the Society's vegan membership seem to be similarly engaged in infighting -- including physical violence against other vegans. At one UK Vegan Society Annual General Meeting in the 1990s, the police were called to break up fistfights. The dispute that prompted the altercation was that British health authorities discovered rodents infesting the factory at a noted soymilk company. England has extremely strict health and hygiene laws and the local authority ordered the company to eradicate the rodents, or the entire soymilk factory would be shut down. The company had no choice but to bring in pest control experts. Some vegans at the UK Vegan Society's Annual General Meeting demanded the soymilk company be stripped of its UK "Vegan Society-approved" logo, for killing innocent creatures. Other vegan members didn't share that view, but the vegans who did exploded and violence erupted.
In perhaps a final irony, the soymilk company which had been forced to kill the rodents was Plamil -- the company founded by Leslie Cross, the UK Vegan Society animal rights activist who had changed Watson's defintion of "vegan" in 1950. Cross had died in 1979 -- he lived to only 65. Unlike Watson (who lived in robust health to age 95), Cross was not a health-oriented vegan.
An problem acknowledged by many vegans is a subgroup of animal rights "Cross vegans" who wish to judge and attack other vegans, and who use the UK Vegan Society's definition as a weapon to do so. These animal rights Cross vegans are a small but vocal minority whose personal identity, ego and/or income is often closely tied up with a pride or self-admiration of being vegan. Such people seem to have lost sight of veganism's objective that Watson originally articulated of attracting others to stop eating animals, encouraging avoidance of non-food animal products, and improving human health as well as the environment. Instead, they use veganism to attack other vegans. They may focus time and attention especially on prominent, influential, or celebrated people who become vegan, or on leading organizations which promote veganism. They attempt to find what they adjudge as shortcomings or deficiencies, based on their interpretations of the UK Vegan Society definition of veganism, and then attack other vegans in order to feel better about or attract attention to themselves. Such animal rights Cross vegans will often end up attacking people who in reality agree with them 95% of the time.
Although the vast majority of vegans are kind, compassionate and reasonable human beings -- as Donald Watson and the first vegans clearly were -- to put it bluntly, these Leslie Cross-type vegans can give a bad name to veganism, making vegans look silly and even mentally disturbed. Today's animal rights Cross vegans seem to either be the "never satisfied" types, or vegans who see conflict and drama on social media as a way to increase their fame and income. Though they usually will often loudly proclaim what they are doing is "FOR THE ANIMALS," most reasonable people see through this.
Another vegan who has tried to rewrite UK Vegan Society history was animal rights activist Gary Francione, a law professor at Rutgers, New Jersey. It appears in the 1990s Francione was motivated at least in part because he was upset that veganism in the US was centered on diet and had not sufficiently embraced animal rights concerns. Francione's argument was that the original slavery abolitionists would never have campaigned for better welfare conditions for the slaves, or a reduction in the use of slavery -- they wanted total abolition. So Francione wanted total abolition of slavery for animals, in every way an animal might be used, not just as food.
When Francione started the "abolitionist approach," he clearly saw it as a type of vegan -- one who wants complete abolition of all animal slavery as opposed to those who only avoided eating animals, and tried to avoid animal products. It was only later that Francione changed this to begin claiming that anyone who isn't an abolitionist vegan isn't actually vegan at all.
According to Francione's abolitionist position, if you are a vegan who supports a project like "meat-free Mondays," you are saying it's okay for people to eat meat Tuesday through Sunday, and thus you are a "promoter of murder." Without going into a discussion of the merits of abolitionist veganism, it's relevant to know that Francione has attacked just about every vegan organization and high profile vegan out there...PETA, Mercy for Animals, Farm Sanctuary, FARM and of course the UK Vegan Society, which he once likened to "pedophiles." (Francione even attacks his friends, such as those who created an Abolitionist Society in Boston in 2013, and shortly thereafter Francione disavowed the entire operation, see -- http://www.abolitionistvegansociety.org/ )
Just as Leslie Cross had done 40 years earlier, Francione asserts today that his abolitionist definition of veganism is what Donald Watson intended by the term from the beginning. He cites a couple carefully selected sources from Watson, and ignores 95% of the rest of Watson's writing and conduct to assert Watson was an abolitionist, and therefore "vegan" equals abolitionist. And anytime Francione sees something he disagrees with, he invokes Watson "rolling in his grave" as his gimmick. Conveniently, Francione ignores the fact, as clearly shown, that Watson never sought to impose his personal views on animal rights (whatever they may have been) on the word vegan or on members of his Vegan Society -- it took Leslie Cross to do that. But it's worth noting that Francione is just one in a line of animal rights Cross vegans who has little allegiance to fact, and deceptively invokes Watson's name and the UK Vegan Society's current, preferred definition of veganism to try to attack other vegans.
This is from the UK Vegan Society’s newsletter, The Vegan, in 1981: "There has been a tremendous increase in interest in veganism in the last ten years, and the circulation of The Vegan has jumped from 500 to nearly 4,000."
During the 1970s, membership of the Society steadily increased. This coincides with the period of time when the Watson vegans were in control and had removed the dominance of animal rights from the organization, focusing on the vegan diet. The same thing had been seen in 1957, after Leslie Cross left the Society. Cross and his animal rights extremist followers had taken control in 1950, and driven the Society nearly bankrupt, driving off 4/5ths of the Society's membership within five years. Then in 1957, animal rights was removed from the definition of "vegan." Animal rights virtually disappeared from the magazine, which focused largely on diet, the membership began to return, the organization started to recover. Animal rights came back in 1962, membership fell. Watson vegans took over in the early 1970s, membership grew.
And a pattern emerges which can be seen clearly: when the Society’s newsletter is emphasizing animal rights, membership declines. When the Watson vegans take over and focus the organization and newsletter on diet, membership begins to increase. So in the 1970s, the definition and emphasis in the newsletter had returned to food, hence the eight-time increase from 500 to 4,000 paying Society members by 1980.
Shorly after, when the Society changed again and returned to emphasizing animal rights, it declined. The pattern is very graphic by simply glancing at some of the covers of the Society's newsletter. In the late 80s and early 90s, the newsletter covers sometimes looked like a graphic horror magazine -- scared animals in brutal experimental cages -- even when the magazing was reporting on a festive party. Animal rights vegans dominated the Society's board, like Arthur Ling (the late Leslie Cross's business partner from Plamil) and Robin Webb. Webb was a spokeman for the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), which undertakes criminal and violent acts to promote animal rights. After an undercover TV team showed that Webb was directly involved in some talks and planning of illegal actions, a British court ruled in 2006 that Webb was bound by an injunction against protests, and that Webb was a "central and pivotal figure" in the ALF and related groups. Though Webb was personally never convicted of any of the criminal and violent acts of ALF, most vegans do not wish to follow guidance of or have their veganism defined by people involved in fringe -- but criminal -- animal rights activities.
During the tenure of these two hardcore animal rights vegans, feature article titles on the front covers of the Society's newsletter, from Summer 1990 to Spring 1994, included: Silkworm Dread / Vegans Must be Greens (a political party) / An Animals Defender / The Nastiest Business / Lab Animal Suffering Exposed / The Honeybee / Fish Factories / Invertebrate Pain / Animal Pharm Genetic Engineering / Strategy for Animal Rights / Should Vegans Procreate? / Better Safe than Slurry
Did vegans want gruesome articles? Did vegans all agree they "must" be members of the same far-left political party in order to call themself "vegan?" Did vegans believe they should abstain from having children? Did vegans need a strategy for animal rights? Somehow the magazine's focus here did not bring the members rolling into the Society. Instead, they lost members, as expected.
For a brief period in 1995, this changed when some Watson vegans were added to the board. In Winter of 1995, newsletter titles changed to "Plants for a Future" followed in the Spring by "Tantalising Tomatoes." But it didn't last long and the animal rights vegans re-assumed control.
Despite the explosion of the internet and the explosion of interest in veganism, including hundreds of new vegan cookbooks and vegan products – the UK Vegan Society experienced a significant loss of members since the 1980s. In 2012, their membership had fallen from 5,000 to fewer than 3,500. The UK Vegan Society, under the control of the Cross vegans, had focused on the animal rights message and had lost many members. Elsewhere around the world, new vegan organizations focusing on diet had spring up and taken off.
It would be very difficult to argue that the UK Vegan Society has had any relevance to veganism in the past 30 years, given that while veganism was flourishing and booming around the world, the Society declined.
Further proof of concept is that in 2012, the Society tried a more Watson-esque approach, bringing in a diet-focused vegan to run the organization, putting animal rights on the back burner and minimizing any mention of it in the newsletter or website. The focus instead was largely food. This more open approach since 2012 has increased the membership by 50% in just three years, from 3,500 to 5,200. But with the departure of some key Watson-vegan leaders, and the committee shifting back to the Cross vegans, there are signs the Society is going into reverse once again.
A letter just published in the Society newsletter, Spring 2016 (online), describes a small study conducted by the Birmingham Vegan Society. They sought to find out why people were now going vegan. Their study showed that documentaries and video, mostly viewed through the internet, were far and away the leading reason people were going vegan. Video presentations through the internet are now what is most relevant to attracting new people to veganism, according to their survey.
While the UK Vegan Society has been on the decline, a recent article in the UK Guardian newspaper cited an explosion in new teen vegans, all of whom mentioned YouTube as their reason for going vegan. (None mentioned the UK Vegan Society -- very few likely even know or care about its existence.)
Some UK Vegan Society leaders assert that the Society still plays an important role by defining what veganism is. But this is simply not true. The word was invented under the UK Vegetarian Society, and then the UK Vegan Society got it and redefined veganism 13 times since then, as its battles rage between the factions and egos.
Many other vegan groups have their own approaches, and most vegans today are savvy enough to realize that people who go vegan for animal compassion realize this is a decision purely of conscience. Vegans don't need an arcane and obselete organization of battling personalities -- which cannot figure out how to successfuly attract people to become vegan -- to lay down a list of "rules" all vegans must follow, including what political party to join and whether to have children. In this regard, the Society looks ridiculous. Vegans today follow their own conscience, and since it is impossible to live in the world without inflicting some measure of suffering to animals, each vegan makes their own decisions about their own vegan life and circumstances. No two vegans are going to follow the same exact path. And that's how it should be.
Many new vegans look to social media-famous vegans to suggest how they might approach their own veganism. These internet vegans have far more influence, impact, and effectiveness in creating, inspiring and teaching other vegans, and each has their own approach or twist on veganism.
When we look back to see UK Vegan Society factions have hijacked veganism in a different direction every so many years, it could happen again. Some current vegans of the Society support the view that the use of fossil fuels for air travel -- especially for long-haul flights -- is a "non-vegan activity." (It's worth nothing those vegans who most loudly object to air travel are those who can't afford to fly.) So far the UK Vegan Society has not tried to change the definition to rule that "veganism excludes air travel" (along with circuses, rodeos etc.), and that anyone who flies is not a vegan. But there are UK Vegan Society board members who may try to do so. And this would really be no different to what Leslie Cross first tried and succeeded doing with Watson's definition in 1950. It would be ridiculous for any sane vegan to let their own veganism be defined by what long ago become a silly organization.
As the UK Vegan Society may quarrel internally whether air travel is vegan, and struggles to simply keep its doors open, there are hundreds of other more effective vegan societies around the world. Many of them -- like the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) -- don't even use the word "vegan" in their organization name. (On their websites and in their literature, PCRM uses both "vegan" and "vegetarian" to mean the same thing as the original definition by Watson, a non-dairy, non-egg vegetarian diet.) Each of these vegan societies has its own particular philosophy, which may be different from the next organization's definition and approach.
For the much greater number of vegans in the world than the tiny number who are part of the UK Vegan Society, we recommend the philosophy of groups like PCRM, and like the American charitable organization Vegan Outreach, which takes a very reasonable approach in encouraging vegans not to take an extremist, "all or nothing" attitude with the definition of vegan. If you look at the Vegan Outreach page on vegan definitions, you will see statements by some leading, longtime vegan activists and advocates, who have decades of trial and error experience promoting veganism. These individuals clearly have learned a great deal about what can have the greatest impact for saving the most animals: http://www.veganoutreach.org/faq_guide/definingvegan.html For example, from the page just linked, longtime vegan activist Fred Fishman goes so far as to say vegans should set their own limits and define themselves:
When the term “vegan” was coined, times were different, and animal products weren’t in almost everything. You could eliminate all animal products and still live a relatively normal life. Nowadays you’d have to eliminate the use of phones, books, computers, cars, bicycles, planes, etc. (all of which contain some elements of animal products) to be “vegan” by the original definition. So, since I’m assuming you’re not willing to do that, you’ll have to define your own version of veganism, and live your life accordingly. —Fred Fishman
It's becoming clear to many seasoned animal activists that the UK Vegan Society's somewhat rigid approach and definition of veganism can be an unintentional obstacle to widening the scope of compassion in the greater world, and to achieving a significant reduction in the suffering of animals and people.
We embrace the common usage definition of the word vegan -- which happens to be very close to Donald Watson's original definition. This is what the word vegan currently means:
A "vegan" is a person who strives to eat food exclusively from the plant kingdom.
Most vegans also seek to avoid or minimize animal exploitation or cruelty to animals for clothing, furniture, or for entertainment, or for use in science, as well as to avoid use of animal products in non-food items. And many vegans strive to avoid products which may have been tested on animals. But such actions, embraced by most vegans, are not required to actually be "vegan." Vegans, according to common usage, quite simply, do their best not eat or drink animal products.
It is interesting to note that even the UK Vegan Society on their website advises its members NOT to avoid taking any medications your doctor recommends simply because those medications are tested on animals. So animal testing on medicines for human consumption is considered "vegan" according to the UK Vegan Society's dogma. There are other examples of exceptions made by the UK Vegan Society where the use of products whose creation causes animal suffering is okay. This is why they inserted the subjective words "possible and practicable" (i.e., reasonable, sensible, do-able, practical) in their own definition.
In other words, just like most other vegan groups, the UK Vegan Society uses its own "vegan reasoning" to pick and choose what level of animal exploitation is appropriate for its members, and it attempts to codify to some degree which animal exploitation fits with its own current preferred definition of veganism.
Some vegans may feel they need a "play book" like the UK Vegan Society provides to its members. Some may feel it important to have an organization formally decree what they can and cannot do according to a set of rules "from on high," as most religions provide. But most vegans are sophisticated enough to make their own decisions and draw their own lines in their lives, based on their own experiences, conscience, judgement, financial conditions, etc.
Whether someone goes vegan to lessen animal suffering, to lose weight, to cure their heart disease or to make a smaller impact on the environment, all are valid and important reasons. Often vegans who adopt a diet of plant foods to get rid of health problems will, over time, began to recognize and object to animal cruelty as well, and embrace the idea of avoiding as many animal-derived products as possible. At the same time, people drawn to veganism initially because of animal cruelty concerns may, at some point, find their way to a healthy vegan diet in order to improve the quality and length of their own lives.
It is interesting to note that in a 2002 interview, Donald Watson said he did not believe that vegans should take medications which have been tested on animals. This is suprising since some vegans could die if they followed Watson's belief and avoided a life-saving medicine because it had been tested on animals. Watson explained he felt vegans have a solemn responsibility to make sure they eat a healthy vegan diet, and not a junk food vegan diet. He said he felt wearing leather was less cruel than taking medicines, since leather was a by-product from a death caused by the demand for meat. But human medications tested on animals directly caused animal deaths, just as eating meat does. Watson's position flies in the face not only of the UK Vegan Society's position, but it is at odds with many vegan organizations and some vegan dietitians, who encourage people to go vegan by eating veggie burgers, fake chicken sandwiches and junky soy products. Making it "easy" to be vegan by encouraging an unhealthy vegan diet to save animals -- is something Watson felt was misguided. Protecting your own health is one very important way to lessen animal suffering, according to Watson. But again, Watson never sought to impose his personal views about non-food animal product usage on anyone else.
In every case, whatever one's reason is for going vegan, it is a win for animals, no matter how far that new vegan wishes to take it. If you are most concerned about results, then it doesn't matter what anyone's reasons are for going vegan. Ego, pride, judgement, competing with other vegans or feeling smug and superior -- doesn't save animals, and could harm them.
A "plant-based diet" is defined as a diet which is based on foods derived from plants, including vegetables, whole grains, legumes and fruits, but which can also contain a small percentage of animal products. Thus, a "plant-based diet," is based on plants but it is not a 100% plant-only diet. A 100% plant-only diet is a vegan diet, and people eating that way are vegans. Some dietary programs like the Pritikin or Fuhrman diets do allow small amounts of meat or dairy, and they are actual "plant-based" diets. But diets like Dr. Esselstyn's and Dr. Campbell's are vegan, even if they sometimes referred to themselves as "plant-based" in order to avoid any stigma that some in the public attach to the word "vegan."
"Veganism is the practice of living upon fruits, nuts, vegetables, grains and other wholesome non-animal foods."
-- Donald Watson, Vegan News 1945
Our advice is not to let anyone try to redefine veganism, including people in the UK Vegan Society who took control after Watson left, and changed his work. Let your own conscience be your guide regarding your veganism.
The best thing we can do is to work toward making the word vegan unnecessary by helping to make the avoidance of animal consumption the new normal. When enough people are vegan, the greater animal industries will fall and fail because it will no longer be profitable for them.
In 2002 Donald Watson was interviewed by the then-Chair of the UK Vegan Society, George Rodger. One of the final questions he asked Watson was: "Donald, do you have any message for the many thousands of people who are now vegan?"
So what came most to Watson's mind in answer to this overarching question of what veganism stands for? The rights of animals? How veganism combats mistreatment of animals for clothing, circuses, vivisection and so on? No. That would have been Leslie Cross's answer; Watson talked about food and health:
Donald Watson: Yes. I would like [vegans] to take the broad view of what veganism stands for. Something beyond finding a new alternative to, shall we say scrambled eggs on toast, or a new recipe for a Christmas cake. I would like them to realise that they're on to something really big, something that hadn't been tried until sixty years ago, and something which is meeting every reasonable criticism that anyone can level against it. And I would say that this doesn't involve weeks or months of studying diet charts or reading books by so-called experts. It means grasping a few simple facts and applying them, just as the early sailors, who were at sea for months, found they developed scurvy because they were lacking in vitamin C, because they were living on dried meat and biscuits, and when they made port, and had access to fruits like limes, their illnesses vanished. Simple proof, like that, that someone once wrote a book, I think his name was Otto Carque and he called the book "Vital Facts About Food". That was written a long time ago, and we could add to it today, with many things that have been discovered by trial and error, over the last sixty years. I think all vegans should make themselves familiar with these very simple facts and remember, all the time, what an awful lot of danger they're avoiding. In the early days our critics used to say, "You don't know what you're missing!" We know now! We're missing an awful lot that they're having! Conditions so serious that it shortens their life by many decades, gives them pains and illnesses very soon after the first flush of youth has passed, and ties them to that medicated regime for the rest of their lives. That is what vegans are missing, providing, as I say, they obey a few simple, commonsense, rules. That's my message to vegans who have not been long in the cause.
And in the Summer 1948 issue of Vegetarian World Forum, an independent journal, as President of the UK Vegan Society Watson wrote this on the question of judging the "consistency" of any individual vegan in their attempt to follow the vegan diet and aims:
The movement should grant to the individual the right to judge how best to meet each personal problem as it arises, and there should be no inferior section reserved for those who cannot live consistently according to the movement's definition. Loyalty cannot be measured merely by the standard of consistent practice attained, nor can a person's value to the cause be assessed in this way.
It appears Watson was forseeing how some vegans might attempt to use vegan purity as a weapon against other vegans, and he wanted none of it.
FOR AN IN-DEPTH EXPLANATION OF THE CREATION OF THE UK VEGAN SOCIETY, INCLUDING LINKS TO ORIGINAL SOURCES, READ THE ARTICLE BY VEGAN HISTORIAN AND FORMER MANAGER OF THE INTERNATIONAL VEGETARIAN UNION, JOHN DAVIS. ARTICLE IS "THE ORIGINS OF THE VEGAN SOCIETY."
To see a list of the 14 different definitions for "vegan" which the UK Vegan Society has had since it was founded, and what the date of each is, CLICK HERE FOR OUR PAGE ON HONEY.