If you are someone who thinks Veganism is a relatively modern lifestyle, then you’re wrong. It is true that we’ve been acquainted with the term only recently because of the growing influence of social media. But Veganism has been around for a long time now. The philosophy of animal welfare was present even in ancient civilisations. Veganism is a strict form of vegetarianism. The term Veganism was coined in 1944, but the vegetarian lifestyle dates back long before that.
The concept of vegetarianism can be dated back to ancient societies all around the world. Many followers of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism advocated vegetarianism. It was also mentioned by the Greek mathematician Pythagoras of Samos around 500 BCE. He claimed that it was wrong and unnecessary to eat animals. Pythagoras argued that all living things have souls and the capacity to suffer, and he wanted harmony among all species, including animals.
It was in 1944 that English animal rights campaigner Donald Watson coined the term “vegan.” He was one of the founders of the Vegan Society in the UK. The term veganism originally meant being a “non-dairy vegetarian,” but by May 1945, it started abstaining from all animal-derived products.
Where did Veganism originate?
It is difficult to pinpoint exactly where veganism started. Some of the earliest civilisations around the world could have been vegans. Studies have also shown that people in the Palaeolithic or Stone Age diet collected up to 55 different types of plants to eat and relied heavily on vegetarian foods for nutrition and survival.
In Egypt, Pharaoh Akhenaten banned animal sacrifices believing that it was a sin to take any life given by the Aten God. He believed in the vegan philosophy of causing no harm to animals. The Japanese Emperor Tenmu banned the eating of meat from cows, horses, dogs, chickens and monkeys, and this led to the ban of eating meat in Japan for 12 centuries. Indigenous cultures like the Choctaw Nation were vegetarians and built homes out of wood, mud, bark and cane instead of animal skins. Ancient Greek society also had a plant-based diet, and severe vegetarianism was called “abstinence from beings with a spirit.”
The blind Arab poet Al-Maarri, who lived from around 973 to 1057 was the first documented vegan. He believed in the idea that no living creature should be harmed. He adopted an ascetic lifestyle and adopted a strictly vegan diet. He followed a strict diet in which he abstained from all kinds of meat, seafood, eggs, milk, and honey.
The earliest vegetarianism was seen in India around the 5th century BCE. Jainism, Hinduism, and Buddhism all religions promoted vegetarianism. The concept of ahimsa is inspired by the notion that all living things, including animals, have divinity. Jainism believes that because divine energy is all-pervasive, harming someone is also harming oneself. Approximately 23-27% of Indians are vegetarians in today’s age.
Veganism was already an essential part of many countries’ cuisines due to the long history of vegetarianism and veganism in many civilizations. This is why adopting a vegan lifestyle is comparatively easier for such people and the vegan population keeps growing rapidly.
The History Of The Concept
The veganism movement started in the 19th century when William Lambe, a physician, said that a plant-based diet could cure anything from tuberculosis to acne. He also rejected the consumption of dairy, making him the first vegan. Dr William Lambe and poet Percy Bysshe Shelley were among the first to oppose eggs and dairy on ethical grounds. Due to their poor health, both were members of The Vegetarian Society of England. They both tried vegetarianism, but soon became ardent supporters of the diet because it significantly improved their quality of life.
The “Sylvester Graham’s vegetarian Graham diet” was created in the United States by Sylvester Graham, who also created the Graham Cracker. It became popular in the US. He founded the Vegetarian society in the US. Graham believed that meat was a temptation which was gluttonous and corrupted the body and soul. He advocated vegetarianism, abstinence and frequent bathing. His followers who were known as Grahamites followed his rules.
In November 1944, Donald Watson and his wife Dorothy, held a meeting with other vegans to discuss their lifestyle and diet. The Vegan Society website states that they examined numerous titles instead of “non-dairy vegetarians,” like “dairyban,” “vitan,” and “benevore.” In the end, they decided to use the term “vegan” to describe their diet and way of life.
Donald Watson was an animal rights advocate who was against the exploitation of animals for food and other items. His compassion towards animals made him a vegan. He found a group of people who shared his ideas and created the Vegan society with them. In 1945, there were approximately around 100,000 vegetarians in the UK.
People started seeing the truth behind intensive factory farming and animal experimentation. Some began to move towards a vegetarian diet. There was an increasing focus towards animal welfare. By the time Watson died at age 95 in 2005, there were about 250,000 self-identifying vegans in Britain and 2 million in the U.S.
Veganism wasn’t a western concept, but it slowly paved its way in the west. Now there are millions of vegans all around the world. With social media, people can get a peek into the vegan lifestyle of influencers. This increases their awareness of veganism. The Vegan Society is still active today via its website and social media, and its goal is to persuade people to adopt a vegan lifestyle.