An older friend of mine recalls his pioneering times as a new Vegan in the 1960s and 1970s.
Introduction to the Old-Fashioned Vegan.
I hate to admit it, but yes, I am unquestionably old, and, of course, unfashionable therefore, what greater qualifications could one wish for an old Vegan to speak as the “Old Fashioned Vegan”.
Many years ago, before factory processed alternatives began to dominate supermarkets and without the publicity garnered from Vegan celebrities advocating some sort of Vegan change , there was a pioneering Vegan community in the UK which, somehow, survived and flourished despite having absolutely nowhere to dine out or, being subject to an unfair general classification as; cranks, hippies, nutters or lentil heads, plus ca change.
As way of background to the Old Vegan’s later story here is my brief history of early Veganism.
History of the Nascent Vegan lifestyle.
Donald Watson, from the UK, coined the term “Vegan”, and subsequently founded the world’s first Vegan Society in 1944.
Donald, I would like to think, was not only thinking of the welfare of animals when he started the Vegan Society, but also had in mind the obvious nutritional benefits to be had by complete abstinence from meat- eating and the adoption of a healthier plant-based diet.
His early values viz.; eating carcass free, promoting a complete abstinence from meat consumption, highlighting various animal cruelty issues and trying to adopt a caring interest in animal welfare, must have been completely out of synch with the prevailing meat-eating (and male) establishment at that time.
Even now I sometimes feel hard done by living as a Vegan today, especially (for instance), if I cannot find any almond milk in my local supermarket, but just think how it must have been sheer torture for Donald and his fellow Vegan Society members in the 1940s having a basic range of Vegan food products and Vegan clothing etc.. to choose from in those early post war pioneering days when rationing was still in force within the UK.
Anyway, the answer to the prime question, what did Early vegans think or do? is probably best answered by locating and reading early editions of the Vegan Society’s magazine “The Vegan” which has been continually published since 1946 and is still available to Vegan Society members today.
By the way the earlier Vegan Society editions were, called “The Vegan News”.
At any rate , I feel it is worth trying to locate these publications since there are a lot of quirky and informative statements concerning Vegan attitudes and frustrations (at that very early time) contained within the pages of these notable publications, so please do try to find copies online for a broader outline and brief introduction to early Vegan thought and philosophy.
The Old-Fashioned Vegan: Vegan lifestyle in the 1960s and 1970s.
Despite the romantic films and revisionist history I do not wish to bore people on how it is mostly true that we early Vegans did (indeed) exist on a diet of lentils, vegetables and regularly practised yoga. We were also considered by the wider public as far-out hippies, freaks or, irrelevant misfits with no impact on the average person’s life.
This is such a well-known stereotyping of Vegans and far from the truth. If I recall correctly, most UK Vegans in those days were just ordinary people living and working in ordinary places, loving animals unconditionally; and were per se: absolutely miles away from the millionaire Hollywood hippies of then and, for that matter, today.
In fact, most “Vegans” were, in my experience, just peaceful animal lovers looking for a public voice to amplify and promote their pioneering thoughts on animal ideals, viz.
1, The beauty of the appearance and lifestyle of animals.
2, To discourage healthy humans interested in nutrition from consuming disease-ridden meat and start a campaign to close down slaughterhouses (as modern Vegans are trying to do today).
3, Softly educating the UK general populace to the barbarism of animal cruelty practised in slaughterhouses and the banning of soi-disant sports such fox hunting and Grouse shooting in the UK, Bull fighting in Spain in the 60s and 70s, and dog fighting in the rest of the world.
4, Highlighting to a majority of meat eaters the nutritional benefits, to human health, of following a nutritious plant based non-meat-eating Vegan diet.
Anyway, it was up to humans in those days (in the 60s and 70s) to educate themselves on the benefits of following a Vegan lifestyle and the accompanying diet, nothing was forced or promoted by fanciful celebrities in those days, so it really was a simple (but hard choice) for the average individual between not eating animals for health and animal welfare reasons.
At any rate, from a (personal point of view) the best part of life for Vegans in the 1960s and 1970s was that most people had no idea what a Vegan was or represented, which meant we could say anything we liked about the nonsense of meat eating without any credible response, or academic challenge. We were invisible to the establishment and even the politic discourse because we were seen as a minority pressure group with little influence
To be honest most Vegans in those days were admirably uninterested in politics because of the deplorable standard of law makers and their support of animal cruelty, disguised as tradition, which made them, chiefly, pro-grouse shooting and fox hunting.
Vegan food and other items in the 1970s.
In the early days (the 1970s) when Vegans were seen as nothing more than obscure diet followers and yoga freaks, trying to advocate the strange practice of, on the one hand, not eating meat and promoting animal welfare on the other, just to live a healthy cruelty-free lifestyle was seen ( to any average person of any age that is) as dangerous to health and a pipe-dream mainly because adhering to a non-meat diet would lead to a person eventually becoming “far too skinny and unhealthy” and as such they (Vegans) would need to be ‘fattened up’ by the method of persuading them to indulge in the far healthier practice of consuming high protein meat” .
This muddled anti-Vegan mantra, largely pronounced as fact in those days, could be seen as quite close to the single most quoted pro- omnivora mantra of today viz.
“Physical health benefits come from consuming daily quantities of meat, mainly to increase protein levels, and promote overall strength”.
I am sure all Vegans today still hear this ridiculous (protein) reason for eating and promoting the consuming of meat.
In addition, it might come as a horrible surprise to most modern Vegans that in my experience meat eaters in those days were convinced that protein came only from the eating of animals and not from any other protein source such as plants, nuts, fruit, seeds etc…
I think it right to point out that even early Vegans did find it difficult to find certain difficult items (even more than food products) that were virtually non-existent in local shops, such as , non-leather shoes, cruelty free clothes, or grooming products which are readily available today. Sometimes it was just impossible to source such items, so unfortunately compromises had to be made.
All in all and despite the severe lack of choice when it came to the sourcing of Vegan products in the 1960s and 1970s, and mostly talking to closed minds concerning animal welfare to boot; the Vegans I knew were extremely compassionate people when it came to caring for animals, and indeed humans, (come to think of it) and I was so glad to have lived in an era of tolerance for non-establishment individuals trying to make a small difference in a non-consumer era.
When the Old-fashioned Vegan finished his brief story, I was reminded of a project which I have been trying to undertake for the last few years and that is to run and manage an oral history of Vegans and Veganism.
So far, I have had little luck in locating any old Vegans willing to discuss their experiences of the early days mainly because the Vegan Society does not release details of early members due to the new General Data Protection act.
Whilst I understand this ruling I feel it is a shame that there is now little hope of an oral history project, featuring older participants, might never be undertaken and accomplished, and that would be a disservice to not only early Veganism and Vegan history, but more importantly a greater disservice to early Vegans themselves.
If anyone is interested in Vegan history, then please visit our history blog in the main website