The Vegan Society may have been established 70 years ago but veganism has been around much longer. Evidence of people choosing to avoid animal products can be traced back over 2,000 years. As early as 500 BCE, Greek philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras promoted benevolence among all species and followed what could be described as a vegetarian diet. Around the same time, Siddhārtha Gautama (better known as the Buddha) was discussing vegetarian diets with his followers.

Fast forward to 1806 CE and the earliest concepts of veganism are just starting to take shape, with Dr William Lambe and Percy Bysshe Shelley amongst the first to publicly object to eggs and dairy on ethical grounds.

In November 1944, Donald Watson (right and below) called a meeting with five other non-dairy vegetarians, including Elsie Shrigley, to discuss non-dairy vegetarian diets and lifestyles. Though many held similar views at the time, these six pioneers were the first to actively found a new movement – despite opposition. The group felt a new word was required to describe them; something more concise than ‘non-dairy vegetarians’. Rejected words included ‘dairyban’, ‘vitan’, and ‘benevore’. They settled on ‘vegan’, containing the first three and last two letters of ‘vegetarian’. In the words of Donald Watson, it marked “the beginning and end of vegetarian.”

Although the vegan diet was defined early on it was as late as 1949 before Leslie J Cross pointed out that the society lacked a definition of veganism and he suggested “[t]he principle of the emancipation of animals from exploitation by man”.This is later clarified as “to seek an end to the use of animals by man for food, commodities, work, hunting, vivisection, and by all other uses involving exploitation of animal life by man”.

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