We lost the struggle for the original definition of “vegetarianism” and “vegetarian” in 1847, 168 years ago. That’s when dairy- and egg-consumption became acceptable to the Vegetarian Society. Donald Watson and his peers were right in 1944 to in effect regain the original intent of the term vegetarian (-ism) by declaring themselves “vegan” and founding the Vegan Society. Vegans are now the original vegetarians.
It’s true that Watson described himself and veganism as being part of the vegetarian movement.[i] But in this, the 21st century, it’s time to acknowledge what is self-evident: Veganism has become smothered as a lesser idea struggling for air and the truth of what it accomplishes. Veganism, as I have documented, is defined as just one of many types of vegetarianism. Organizations and businesses have demonstrated they are afraid of or don’t care about “vegan” because they can operate or turn a profit using the more generic, decidedly nonvegan word, “vegetarian.” In the preceding four parts I described and gave evidence for the confusion this creates, how it diminishes veganism. Unlike veganism, all other vegetarian-isms (excepting fruitarianism) harm and eventually kill chickens and chicks, cows and calves, goats and kids, and camels and their calves.
India’s 375 million lacto-vegetarians represent some 70% of the estimated half-billion vegetarians in the world and are glued to their cultural and religious customs. It’s a hopeless mission to think we can overcome that fact and reclaim the original definition of vegetarianism. The only way to acknowledge that reality is to declare that vegans are not vegetarians.
We celebrate and rely on the pioneering work that created contemporary veganism. However, we must not forget that vegan history and its evolution is a continuing process. It is people building upon earlier foundations as our understanding of nutrition, environmental science, sentience, food technology (not to be taken as better than raw food veganism), and the sophistication of social media tools grow our movement. Today, we are tasked to create what comes next. The purpose of veganism has not changed; its core goal is to end the exploitation and lethal injustice humanity wages against sentient beings and from that create the benefits flowing visibly to humans, non-humans, and ecosystems.
We are at the decisive point where vegans must convince vegetarian organizations to call themselves “vegan” and stop advocating vegetarianism’s harm to others. Note how we do not hesitate to criticize environmental organizations for ignoring dietary environmental impacts and its exploitation and killing of billions of sentient beings yet give a free pass to vegetarianism. That is inconsistent, and it is wrong to think they aren’t endorsing lethal brutality.
Remember that the history-makers of 1847, 1944, and others lived in their own eras that reflected time-specific social, cultural, and technological circumstances and traditions. So when people quote Donald Watson to say vegans are vegetarians, we must look at what is best for veganism, sentient beings, ecosystems, and the well-being of humanity now in light of our current circumstances and state of the world. That can be done by walking on the clearest and most direct path that ends the confusion vegetarianism creates about veganism. It’s time to stand up and come home.
In 2002, Donald Watson said,
“And, when I think that the world population, which was about 2 billion people in 1944, is now … this astronomical explosion of over 6 billion, along with… a corresponding explosion of animals to feed most of them. And those animals are there, fed on food that should be growing for the Third World, where people are having big families, because they have to, they’ve no social security, they have to have many children because many of them in every family are likely to die….”[ii]
He goes on to include his concerns about extinctions, reforestation, food additives, and “man’s expectation of surviving for much longer on this planet.” Those are, of course, among the pivotal issues we face today,—issues we know can be addressed with veganism and not the many varieties of vegetarianism. At the end of Watson’s interview, George Rodger asks, “Donald, do you have any message for the many thousands of people who are now vegan?” Watson replied, “Yes. I would like them to take the broad view of what veganism stands for. Something beyond finding a new alternative to, shall we say scrambled eggs on toast, or a new recipe for a Christmas cake. I would like them to realise that they’re on to something really big, something that hadn’t been tried until sixty years ago, and something which is meeting every reasonable criticism that anyone can level against it.”[iii]
Yes, we are “onto something big.” According to one example, interest in veganism appears to be trending upward, in this case outpacing vegetarianism. In “Meat atlas shows Latin America has become a soybean empire,” The Guardian revealed that “A Wikipedia article on veganism was viewed 145,000 times in August 2013 – more popular than the post on vegetarianism which was viewed 123,000 times. In fact, veganism was viewed more than vegetarianism in English, French, Spanish, German, Russian and Portuguese versions of the site. The only exception was the Japanese language where vegetarianism received almost twice as many page views as the post on veganism.”[iv]
I don’t want to mislead you; global meat, dairy, and egg consumption is increasing monumentally. Despite The Guardian article, it will never makes sense to advocate for vegetarianism with a hope it will lead to veganism. Veganism stands strong and true on its own virtues because it actually accomplishes what vegetarianism never will.
Some of many honest questions we should be asking are, what is the most effective way organizations with “vegetarian” in their name can change it to “vegan” and while doing so bring their members and supporters along with them? Who will create an international vegan congress of nonprofits, and should it be open to self-identified vegetarian organizations for a set period while they make that transition? We can participate in “vegetarian” conferences but only to educate and advocate for veganism with unconditional love. The two-way communication must never stop.
Only veganism can end the atrocities suffered by sentient species and ecosystems. We can, without judgment, state as a fact that vegetarianism fails to stop violence and injustice, the destruction of ecosystems, address global warming, and prioritize food for the poor over food for farmed animals mercilessly taken to slaughter. The sooner we acknowledge that veganism, without the confusing integration with vegetarianism, is the best strategy and hope for the world, the better. The sooner we declare ourselves and campaign as vegans divorced from vegetarianism, the more able we can succeed as a unified, clearly identifiable movement.
If Donald Watson and all the vegan advocates before us had not persisted in defending core values and practices, there wouldn’t be a vegan movement. Shouldn’t we be doing that today? Veganism and vegetarianism are two distinct decisions and lifestyles with opposite outcomes. They are not at all alike given dairy and egg production is calculated to kill their sources whose flesh is then sold to carnists. It’s instructive to learn how the term “vegan” evolved, but let it continue to do so. Vegans own the word. Veganism is not vegetarianism; vegetarianism is not veganism. Vegans are the original vegetarians and we have come to reclaim the one accurate word that tells it true: