How has western vegetarianism risen, within living memory, from fringe to mainstream choice? And how has veganism gone from nowhere to everywhere?
Episode 15: Liberation
This final episode recounts the growth of veganism, vegetarianism, and the modern animal advocacy movement.
Ian treads in the footsteps of the handful of pioneers who set up the vegan movement in the 1940s, and meets a life vegan born in 1951.
He investigates the sixties counterculture that combined the philosophy of ethics, activism, and new ways of living and working, visiting one of Britain’s first vegetarian wholefood co-operatives.
And as vegetarian and vegan movements increasingly link up around the world, he looks at developments in China and India. In New Delhi, he meets the vegan politician who is also the most prominent animal advocate in the world’s largest democracy.
- Dr Samantha Calvert (@SamCalvert)
- Edwin Cluer, Wimbledon
- Prof Julia Twigg (University of Kent, Canterbury)
- Reg Taylor, founder of the precursor of Suma Wholefoods
- David Jarvis, Les, George, and others, Arjuna Wholefoods Cambridge
- Dr Vincent Goossaert (Groupe Sociétés, Religions, Laïcités), Paris
- Dr James Staples (University of Brunel, London)
- Maneka Gandhi (Parliament of India) (People for Animals) (Wikipedia)
- Members of Bengaluru Vegans (Vegan Bangalore on Facebook)
- Donald Watson archive interview with George Rodger by kind permission of The Vegan Society (transcript of full interview [PDF]).
- Jay Dinshah at Vegan Society of South Jersey, Health Expo. Moorestown, NJ, USA, Nov 10 1990, courtesy of The American Vegan Society
- Richard Ryder, talking in 2001’s “Animal Rights”, courtesy of Vegetarian Guides.
- Francis Moore Lappé, talking in Diet for a Small Planet, 1974, courtesy of Bulldog Films.
- The Vegeburger Rap, courtesy of Gregory Sams
- Open Door, 1976, by the BBC and The Vegan Society
- Various (Alice Bonus, Dugald Semple, Florence Sexton inter alia) “The Vegetarian Messenger and Health Review”, 1909-12, referenced in Leneman (see below)
- A Guthrie Badenoch, Letter, British Medical Journal, 1952
- Cyril Pink, 1952, see below
- Ruth Harrison, the start of “Animal Machines”, 1964
There was a gap of months between the broadcast edit and the podcast of this episode.
This is partially because the episode had quite a different script for broadcast and podcast. Many of you who listen to the podcast are also part of the movement this episode is about; it’s not like previous episodes, where I can talk about long gone vegetarian groups in the third person on the certain basis that no listeners are part of them.
I also wanted to give the podcast edit more of a global scope. It’s okay for a radio show broadcast in London to centre on London. In this episode, I talk more about what’s going on in the rest of the world.
And I think that trimming the episode to the broadcast slot took a lot of stuff out; the podcast edit is two thirds longer.
The conclusion at the end is completely different – and if you’re interested you can listen to the broadcast edit of Episode 15 on the Resonance FM Mixcloud.
The End and the Beginning
Kickstarter backers and Resonance FM listeners might notice I changed the title. From the start of the project, the final episode title(s) were going to be “The End and the Beginning”, referring to Donald Watson’s comment that “vegan” was the beginning and end of “vegetarianism”.
There were a couple of problems with this. Firstly, I never explained the reference in the show.
In fact, as I learnt from Samantha Calvert during production, Donald Watson originally had a very different background for the word vegan. (Via the Hendersons suggesting “Allvega”, probably inspired by the “Vega” restaurant.)
Plus, coy references for episode titles don’t cut much ice with search engines. So I went for “Liberation”, as a nod to Peter Singer’s “Animal Liberation”, and a word that became very important to the movement in the late twentieth century.
Birth of the Vegan Society
As veganism becomes more influential, there are more active debates about its beginnings. My comments on that will be a blog post of their own, but let me confess to leaving a couple of things out of the show.
Dr Samantha Calvert credits Elsie Shrigley as a co-founder of the Vegan Society, because of her role bringing people together. I missed that out because I don’t think it’s that unambiguous, and there wasn’t time to delve into it.
One interesting thing that got cut for time was how the vegan movement got some national attention in its first ten years. I didn’t have time to mention them all in the show:
- Dec 1946 – Vegan meal in House of Commons, Westminster
- Mar 1951 – The Daily Mirror publishes a sympathetic article about the Vegan Society with the headline “600 people who’ll only kick a vegetarian football.”
- Mar 1951 – BBC broadcasts two vegan episodes of its “Vegetarian Dishes” TV cookery show
You can read Mabel Cluer’s “family notes” in the Spring 1959 edition of The Vegan. The Vegan Society published a feature interview with Mabel Cluer on their 70th anniversary. Alan Cluer’s reminiscences of running a health food shop in Wimbledon were printed in the Wimbledon Society Newsletter February 1989 (PDF).
For full disclosure, the Cluers ate honey. No-one in organised veganism seemed to challenge the Cluers’ status as vegans, either then or now, so I haven’t either. (Even though many contemporaries clearly thought honey wasn’t vegan; I suspect people were less likely to jump from “I think that isn’t vegan” to “So you’re not a vegan” back then.)
How many vegetarians and vegans?
I tried to trace changes in the numbers of vegetarians, but the number of people who describe themselves as vegetarian varies enormously according to how you ask the question. And most of these surveys haven’t publicly revealed their questions.
The number of vegetarians can be three times higher if you ask “are you vegetarian?” instead of breaking it down into “Do you eat (a) red meat (b) poultry (c) fish? Please tick where applicable.” And the margin of error is often higher than the percentage of vegetarians or vegans.
One ill-constructed British survey in 2003 put 2% of the population as vegetarian, 7% as “vegetarian who eats fish” and 3% as “vegan or other”. This led to much vegan rejoicing, until folk realised that the 3% included confused omnivores.
So the numbers jump up and down. Maurer 2002 p16 put the number of vegetarians in the USA at 1%-2.5%.
In Britain, there was a jump in the numbers identifying as vegetarian in the 1980s – from 2.1% in 1984 to 5.4% in 1997. One person who was across the surveys speculated this represented a real growth in vegetarianism in the midst of the UK’s Bovine Spongioform Encephalopathy (“mad cow disease”) scare, and that some people returned partially to meat-eating whilst still thinking of themselves as vegetarian.
The Vegan Society commissioned a very thorough survey from MORI in 2016, suggesting 3.25% of the British population is vegetarian, including 1.05% vegan. That suggests a slow (if any) rise in the number of vegetarians, but a very dramatic increase in the proportion who are vegan.
Of course, the western vegetarians and vegans are a blip compared to south and east Asia. In India, 40% of the population is vegetarian, including 31% who follow the traditional Indian definition and also exclude eggs.
I’d like to take a moment to remember the people who passed away during the time I was working on the series. (These are also people I never interviewed before it was too late.)
Folk interested in vegetarian history might have followed the prolific work of Rynn Berry, who died at the start of 2014.
Mabel Cluer herself died in 2015. Mary Bryniak, a founder member of the Vegan Society and part of a pioneer veganic gardening family, died later that year. Joan Court was a veteran Animal Rights campaigner who met Gandhi whilst working in India in the 1940s.
And finally, I’d like to mention a place. London’s last vegetarian vestige of the hippy era – Food for Thought – was a victim of rising rents. It was open from 1971 to 2015. Roann Ghosh’s short film about it portrays it perfectly.
The theme music is by Robb Masters. Variations for the Healing of Arinushka by Arvo Pärt is performed CC-BY Markus Staab. Les Sylvains, Op. 60 by Cécile Chaminade is performed CC-BY Takashi Sato, and the clip of “Summer of Love” is CC-BY Saul Rouda. With the voices of Amy Saul, Jeremy Hancock, Brian Roberts, Robert MacDougall, Julie Cummings, Akshay Dave, and Sally Beaumont.
Episode 15 is generously sponsored by Kickstarter backer Jaysee Costa.
The cover picture is of the 2017 Animal Rights march, in London, by “Animal Rights Photography”, used with permission.