A brief history of veganism: how did we get to where we are today?

In aid of World Vegan Day, we take a quick look at the rise of veganism…

High street chains and supermarkets offer vegan food like it’s no big deal, while food markets, cafes and restaurants – including yours truly – seem to have more vegan food than non-vegan. Even the most unsuspecting places in the remotest parts of the UK will ask if you want plant-based milk in your coffee.

Vegan events and businesses are popping up everywhere you look, and Veganuary – the campaign to eat vegan throughout January – is getting bigger every year.

In 2016, the Vegan Society found that the UK’s vegan population grew from 150,000 to 542,000 over the previous 10 years. Numbers have been rising since then – and many more are cutting down on meat and dairy and replacing it with more plant-based foods.

But it hasn’t always been this way.

In 1994, 50 years after the Vegan Society launched, the world celebrated the first World Vegan Day. The word was coined in 1954, but the concept of not eating anything from an animal can be traced throughout recent history in India and in other societies around the world.

Vegetarianism has been around for centuries and is popular in some religions including some Hinduism and Buddhism. But the concept of veganism has been around for hundreds of years: in 1806, physician Dr William Lambe and poet Percy Bysshe Shelley publicly objected to eating eggs and dairy for ethical reasons

By the late 20th century, veganism was known as non-dairy vegetarianism, until in 1994, when Donald Watson, a British woodworker and soon-to-be founder of the Vegan Society, invented the word vegan by shortening ‘vegetarian’. He said it marked “the beginning and end of vegetarian”.

Watson stopped eating meat when he saw pigs being slaughtered on his uncle’s farm. He gave up dairy some years later, when he understood the implications of milk production.

He died in 2006 at the ripe old age of 95, but no doubt he’d be thrilled to see the advances of veganism we see today!

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