Vegan on a desert island

A rough history of veganism

The rise of veganism over the past decade has be cataclysmic. It seemingly came from nowhere and its growing popularity almost mirrors the rise of the internet.

Change seems to happen so much more quickly in the 21st century, but much of that is down to perception as technological advances overshadow the changes in society itself.  However, the increasingly availability of vegan products and vegan options on restaurant menus cannot be underestimated.


The word “vegan” itself was coined in 1944 by British man Donald Watson. He is said to have created the word to describe vegetarians who also reject dairy products and eggs – something he felt very strongly about. Tuberculosis had been found in 40 per cent of the UK’s dairy cattle the previous year and Watson used this to his advantage, claiming that vegans are protected from tainted food. The modern parallel with bovine TB and the badger cull cannot be ignored here.  It proves that problems with industrial farming are by no means a new issue, and things have got worse rather than better in that respect.

Watson’s newsletter, The Vegan News, was printed and distributed in November 1944 and he formed the Vegan Society. The Vegan Society is still going strong today, as it their newsletter. Watson died in 2005, aged 95.


Several years before the creation of the word, one of London’s best known vegetarian restaurants had been named The Vega. Opened it 1934, it was the brainchild of Walter and Jenny Fleiss. The couple had a restaurant under the same name in Cologne, but had fled Germany when it became apparent that Walter was on a Gestapo list.


The first animal product-free cookbook was named Kitchen Philosophy and was published in 1949 by William Horsell, also from London, UK. The recipes excluded butter and eggs, so it is considered the first vegan cookbook – published many years before the word even existed.


Of course, discussions over the rights and wrongs of using any animal products had been raging long before “vegan” came into being as a word.

Vegetarianism was first mentioned by philosopher Pythagoras (his mathematics theories provoking groans in school children everywhere) around 500 BCE (before the common era). Followers of Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism have long rejected meat, considering it wrong to inflict pain on other animals. Also, the Ephra Cloister, a strict religious sect formed in Pennsylvania in 1732 advocated vegetarianism and celibacy.

The first Vegetarian Society was formed in England in 1847, three years later, the American version came into being.

The point I’m making is that veganism and vegetarianism aren’t new concepts, they are not trends that suddenly appeared with the birth of the internet, they are compassionate theories that have developed over time – and, incidentally, no, Hitler wasn’t a vegetarian, that’s a myth that has also developed over time.

When I first became vegetarian, there was a limited number of processed foods available, soya was the only plant milk and vegan cheese was unheard of, so in that respect, things have changed very quickly. Market forces have certainly given us a huge range of vegan products over the past few years, and social media means the word is definitely out. Things are looking very bright indeed for the future of veganism.