On the first of November, World Vegan Day, which is followed by World Vegan Month, we celebrate a pioneering movement. The Vegan Society was founded in London in November 1944 by Donald Watson, Elsie Shrigley and four others. Concerned about the ethical implications of eating eggs and dairy products, they proposed a sub-group within The Vegetarian Society, who at the time decided not to give over space in their journal to promoting vegan ideas, as The Vegetarian Society preferred to focus on abolishing meat eating. The Vegan Society and a new journal, the Vegan News, were established. In the first issue Donald Watson wrote:
Can time ever be ripe for any reform unless it is ripened by human determination? [...] There is an obvious danger in leaving the fulfilment of our ideals to posterity, for posterity may not have our ideals. Evolution can be retrogressive as well as progressive, indeed there seems always to be a strong gravitation the wrong way unless existing standards are guarded and new visions honoured. For this reason we have formed our group, the first of its kind, we believe, in this or any other country.
Seventy years on, veganism has spread across the world, and resonates with an increasing number of people from all walks of life. New words have been created, such as 'veganise,' meaning: making a dish, product, or service vegan-friendly, and 'veganniversary', which means the anniversary of the date a person became vegan. There is a growing trend in vegan recipes and vegan dining. For example, the number of cookery books sold by Amazon with 'vegan' in the title increased from 145 books in 2011 to 255 books in 2012, and 385 in 2013. From Italian to Indian dishes, vegan burgers, bread, cookies, cheese and ice-cream to raw vegan food, superfoods, and wholesome plant-based nutrition and health, there is something for everyone.
In addition to reducing suffering and early death of millions of 'farmed animals', the health benefits of a plant-based diet are becoming increasingly obvious. Studies on cancer and nutrition show that the total cancer risk is 16% or even 19% lower in vegans than non-vegans. This is not necessarily down to any particular place in the body where cancer commonly occurs but there is an overall positive effect of plant-based food. Several lower risks of certain cancers have been identified in vegans though, such as colorectal, prostate, and pancreatic cancer.
The risk of early death is 40% lower in people consuming more than seven portions of fruit and vegetables a day. Vegetables are especially important, and some studies show that raw vegetables (salads) are particularly protective. The lower risk of early death is primarily due to a lower risk in heart disease. Vegans typically also have lower body weights, lower risk of developing Type II diabetes, and they experience other health benefits.
Many professional competing athletes thrive on a vegan diet, for example, ex-Everton and Swansea football player, Neil Robinson, who felt that his vegan diet gave him endurance and an athletic edge. Neil will give a talk at a football Conference match on the 1st of November of Forest Green Rovers vs Lincoln City, which is dedicated to The Vegan Society's 70th anniversary. A football first, and hopefully many more such events will follow in the next decades.
To challenge mainstream attitudes towards animal use by proposing a new paradigm benefiting other animals, people and the world was ground-breaking in 1944. While strong vested interests in exploiting other animals still prevail today, awareness of cruelty to non-human animals and information about the benefits of a plant-based diet is at an all-time high. Let us feel inspired by that simple but powerful word that captured hearts and minds during the past seven decades when millions of people believed a new way of living was possible and desirable. Hopefully one day it will catch on in the world as the new status quo: vegan.
If you're interested in trying vegan for a week or a month, consider signing up for the Vegan Pledge. Happy World Vegan Day!