The vegan community is missing an opportunity to tap into a vast source of power. If we want a vegan planet we start by stepping back to see the big picture. Up to now, we have heard how environmental sustainability, for example, is dependent upon a global switch to a vegan diet. Less obvious is how veganism is dependent on solving many other major issues of our time. In fact, the relationships between veganism and other issues are complex. As I’ll explain in three parts of “The Unlimited Vegan”, each issue is deeply dependent on the success of the others.
Issue interdependency was hinted at in November, 1944, when Donald Watson and others initiated the word “vegan” and founded the Vegan Society: “We can see quite plainly that our present civilisation is built on the exploitation of animals, just as past civilisations were built on the exploitation of slaves….”
In 1951, Leslie Cross, then vice-president of the Vegan Society wrote that the “…Vegan Society adopted revised and extended rules which among other things clarify the goal towards which the [vegan] movement aspires…. The Society pledges itself ‘in pursuance of its object’ to seek to end the use of animals by man for food, commodities, work, hunting, vivisection and all other uses involving exploitation of animal life by man…. – veganism is itself a principle, from which certain practices logically flow…. If, for example, the vegan principle is applied to diet, it can at once be seen why it must be vegetarian in the strictest sense and why it cannot contain any foods derived from animals. In a vegan world the creatures would be reintegrated within the balance and sanity of nature as she is in herself.”
In Cross and Watson we see the unfolding of what the “vegan principle” means when applied to subjects other than diet. Further along, in 2002, Donald Watson stated, “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….”
Watson 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—the big picture. With a little exploration we will see that to be consistently applied the “vegan principle” requires us not to only end exploitation and commodification of others across species but also to see the connections between a reckless human population explosion, for instance, and how it increases suffering due to the number of animals killed, wild and domestic, to feed the now 7.2 billion people on Earth. Also inseparable to human population growth is the increase in crops fed to those animals that should instead be grown for human consumption, a direct cause of social and economic justice and increased destruction of ecosystems.
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.”
Yes vegans are “on to something really big” but what is the most effective way to define it? It’s our human ecology and the power to effect change is at its core.
Next, Part II, Making Sense of the Whole