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"Veegan, not Veejan"
February 13, 2013 5:22 PM   Subscribe

In November 1944, as Hitler's V-2 rockets rained down on England, Donald Watson's mind was elsewhere. Together with Elsie Shrigley and 23 others, he was starting a new society of ethical vegetarians who avoided dairy and eggs as well as meat -- an unheard-of innovation. The earliest issues of the group's magazine are now available online and provide a glimpse into the humble beginnings of what became a global movement. In its pages, members discuss animal ethics, health, wartime rationing, recipes and the thorny issue of what adherents should call themselves. (Donald Watson coined "vegan" in issue 1, but some members were unimpressed and wrote in with their own suggestions including Vitan, Dairyban, Benevore, Sanivore and Beaumangeur).
posted by dontjumplarry (48 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
We taught a lion to eat tofu!.
posted by thewalrus at 5:30 PM on February 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


Beaumangeur is my next band name the hero of my next Harlequin Romance.
posted by 2bucksplus at 5:47 PM on February 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


Is that really how it's pronounced? In my mind it rhymes with "raygun".
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 5:57 PM on February 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


Cool stuff! I was recently reading Gandhi's Experiments in Truth and was interested to see that he found a decently vibrant (if nichey) vegetarian scene in late 19th-century London. Gandhi did note, though, that he had a difficult time finding things to eat even at some vegetarian restaurants because they were very reliant on eggs (which traditional Hindu vegetarians eschew).
posted by threeants at 5:57 PM on February 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


In November 1944, as Hitler's V-2 rockets rained down on England, Donald Watson's mind was elsewhere. ...

Was it?

That is an interesting coincidence, and it makes me wonder whether there wasn't more than a tinge of ritualistic self-sacrifice and good behavior to ward off the random misfortune that was terrifying all London at that time in the genesis of this movement.
posted by jamjam at 5:58 PM on February 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


@Chocolate Pickle - Think Vee - gun, not vey, as in ray. Letter V + firearm - put them together and you have an adherent to a plant based diet!
posted by pdxjmorris at 6:00 PM on February 13, 2013


Yeah, Vegans (vay-guns) are aliens from the Vega system.
posted by vogon_poet at 6:12 PM on February 13, 2013 [6 favorites]


I live in Portland and I can confirm that it is vee-gun and not vay-gun
posted by chrchr at 6:25 PM on February 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


I like 'sanivore'. Nicely Orwellian.
posted by pompomtom at 6:27 PM on February 13, 2013


[Folks, you may find that if you actually interact with the linked content you have more to talk about than pronunciation. MetaTalk is always an option.]
posted by jessamyn at 6:37 PM on February 13, 2013


Perhaps it's because the linked content has the worst user interface imaginable.
posted by beukeboom at 6:45 PM on February 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Here's a more friendly copy of the first issue, in case anyone is having trouble with that horrible issuu thingy.
posted by unliteral at 6:47 PM on February 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Tofu comes across the sky. It has happened before, but there is nothing to compare it to now.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:55 PM on February 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


Tofu comes across the sky. It has happened before, but there is nothing to compare it to now.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:55 PM on February 13


Funny how tofu so easily replaces screaming.
posted by four panels at 7:04 PM on February 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Donald Watson comes on a bit much I think, when he says in that first issue:
"We know what happens to those who feed on the 'nourishing first-class proteins' recommend by orthodox dieticians - they nearly all die of malignant and filthy diseases." p.3 Issue 1. November 1944.
posted by unliteral at 7:34 PM on February 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


V-GINY
posted by thewalrus at 8:05 PM on February 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't get the no honey thing. Aren't the bees benefitted by having their needs tended to by a beekeeper? Is there some part of the process that causes them to suffer? Is it even possible for them to suffer? (Legitimately interested in the answers.)
posted by vorpal bunny at 8:50 PM on February 13, 2013


It's not just about whether or not an animal suffers. In the case of honey, the problem is that you're taking something from the bees which they would otherwise use for their own purposes.

Regarding beekeepers taking care of bees: bees got along fine without humans before beekeeping became a thing.
posted by paleyellowwithorange at 8:56 PM on February 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


And I suppose depriving bees of their honey is causing a form of suffering (i.e. deprivation). Not all suffering is in the form of physical pain.
posted by paleyellowwithorange at 8:58 PM on February 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


The most satisfying explanation I've heard was, "Well, I'm not sure what would cause a bee to suffer, so I'd better not put myself in a position where it would matter."

I mean, I'm still not a vegan, so obviously I didn't find it all that compelling, but I dug the epistemological humility. In general, "Don't fuck around blindly in territory you consider morally hazardous" is a pretty solid principle.
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 9:00 PM on February 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


Is that really how it's pronounced? In my mind it rhymes with "raygun".

I envy your life where you don't hear the word 'vegan' several times a week, often from people you're trying to eat a meal with. Or where you worked at the cafeteria so you got the last choice of food, including tasteless vegan deserts.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 9:01 PM on February 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


In general, "Don't fuck around blindly in territory you consider morally hazardous" is a pretty solid principle.

That's kinda why I'm vegan. Why consume animals and animal products when it's not necessary?
posted by paleyellowwithorange at 9:06 PM on February 13, 2013 [8 favorites]


What struck me was how quintessentially "English eccentric" some of the early members were. So much so that I wonder if veganism would have got started at all if it hadn't been for that adorable free-thinker streak in the English middle-class.

Not Donald Watson himself, I don't think -- seems pretty clear he was coming from a well-considered, committed ethical stance (the catalyst, apparently, was seeing a pig slaughtered by his parents as a child, and then later observing dairy farming practices). But others in that early group seem to have got involved for other oddball reasons such as the impact of milk on dental health.

Also curious to note that despite its origins (and despite Peter Singer writing Animal Liberation while he was in Britain) veganism seems to be relatively rare in the UK today. At least in my experience. Perhaps that is because vegetarianism -- which has a much longer history there -- is so widely popular.
posted by dontjumplarry at 9:10 PM on February 13, 2013


vorpal bunny: I don't get the no honey thing.

Yes, according to science, bees are indeed capable of experiencing pain. I'm going to keep this short: yes, some bees do suffer and die as a result of this industry. For example, queen bees often have shorter lifespans, being killed by beekeepers who then replace them with new queens, rather than being allowed to die naturally and themselves select the next queen.

It's not just about honey either — beeswax, royal jelly, bee pollen, propolis and a couple other things are also sourced from bees' toiling. These particular by-products will actually all be used by bees themselves, but they are harvested by the bee-keeping industry for other uses. It truly is unnecessary for the beekeeper to harvest honey or anything else from the colony: the honey bees produce for their own requirements of life and their continued existence. No help needed.

By definition, these honey bee by-products are animal products, hence they aren't vegan. Maybe that makes me sound like I'm talking in circles? Well, veganism is not only a lifestyle that avoids contributing to animal suffering and cruelty, but it also avoids the exploitation of animals. Treating bees as commodities for human usage is exploitative.
posted by mayurasana at 9:33 PM on February 13, 2013 [11 favorites]


Also curious to note that despite its origins (and despite Peter Singer writing Animal Liberation while he was in Britain) veganism seems to be relatively rare in the UK today. At least in my experience. Perhaps that is because vegetarianism -- which has a much longer history there -- is so widely popular.

Vegatarianism seems easier and less self-flagellating. Even I can see the moral and health benefits of a vegetarian diet, and I occasionally eat meatless meals. I, and I suppose most people, can see themselves giving up eating meat for a time, the same way people occasionally stop drinking alcohol for a bit.

Veganism is just convoluted and requires so much self-sacrifice that its resembles a religious ritual more than a diet. My friend asking a waitress of her mushrooms were cooked in butter or even touched any animal fat reminded me of kosher dietary restrictions. Its not a broadly appealing lifestyle.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 9:51 PM on February 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


Well, veganism is not only a lifestyle that avoids contributing to animal suffering and cruelty, but it also avoids the exploitation of animals.

Surely, harvesting cherries from a tree is depriving birds of food? Harvesting grain is depriving ants? And bees are not just kept by bee keepers in order to produce honey - other farmer hire bee keepers to bring their beehives near their crops in order to get the bees to pollinate their plants. That seems a little like exploitation, as well? Veganism seems to go just as far as it possibly can into caring about animals, but stops once it bumps into ecology.
posted by Jimbob at 9:52 PM on February 13, 2013 [12 favorites]


My philosophy is simple: no other animal cares about the welfare of its prey, so these animal lovers are ignoring the logic of the nature they revere.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 9:54 PM on February 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


Veganism seems to go just as far as it possibly can into caring about animals, but stops once it bumps into ecology.

For me, the point of veganism is to minimize harm to ecology. Yes, if I eat a cherry, that's a cherry a bird can't eat. But it's better than eating the bird. I could do the environment a favor and not touch it in any way, but that would result in me dying before too long, and that seems like an unreasonable proposition from most perspectives.

I most definitely do care about the ecosystem around me, and not consuming animals (as food or in other ways) is just a part of my veganism.

animal lovers are ignoring the logic of the nature they revere

Not ignoring. Just not expecting the same from ourselves as that which we observe around us. I enjoy observing the natural world, and learning from it, but I don't necessarily obtain my ethics from that source alone.
posted by paleyellowwithorange at 10:06 PM on February 13, 2013 [8 favorites]


I'm impressed by how in depth and comprehensive these issues of TVS were even back in the '40s, though I'm definitely amused by certain facets. Vegans were such vegans, even back then, ha. The recipes are interesting; over the years I've learned about a couple of unusual cooking techniques originally sourced in early vegan newsletters and zines that are extremely difficult to find. I'm curious to see if I'll find more in these issues. I'll enjoy reading through a bit further over the weekend. Thanks for this.
posted by mayurasana at 10:21 PM on February 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Surely, harvesting cherries from a tree is depriving birds of food?

Yeah, yeah, if you dig deep enough you come across the fundamental inconsistencies and hypocrisies of any religion or philosophy, but that's not really all that interesting, now is it? It's like the old saw about most people wanting to eat meat, but not want to see the animals being slaughtered for their meat.

Personally I'm off the opinion that there's no morality in nature other than that which we ourselves bring to it, so I'm not convinced by the arguments of exploitation vegans use, but that doesn't mean veganism is bogus or artificial.
posted by MartinWisse at 10:41 PM on February 13, 2013


[Comment deleted. Hey guys, this isn't really a referendum on whether you like vegans, or even a "Vegan Yay or Nay?" vote. This is a post about an historical document relating to the origin of the movement that may be interesting to discuss.]
posted by taz at 11:26 PM on February 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


Jimbob, that's a common refrain. There's only so much that grows on the earth. The vegan and vegetarian positions are that there is a greater yield for all if we follow a vegan/vegetarian diet.

A friend of mine has recently started working at the UK vegetarian society in education. He had some very interesting off-(this)-topic information to impart. By way of moving back on topic, he told me the two oldest vegetarian societies (not cultures, not institutions) in the world were the UK's, first, then the US's, second, which was created by whacky-eatin' emigrating Brits.

I shall now review the post, all the time wondering what early US vegetarian propaganda was like.
posted by davemee at 1:33 AM on February 14, 2013


tasteless vegan deserts

You just haven't met the right vegan desserts. Vegan baking is a huge thing for some people, and I've had some amazing stuff.

I have friends who are vegan so I like to know the basics about being able to cook for them, and they're the kind of awesome, non-annoying vegans who invite me out to eat on their tab and don't even blink an eye if I opt for the big fat cheeseburger while they get the bean or veggie burger.

But a lot of the time I'm more inclined to ask what they're having because it's usually really good - but, granted, we live in Seattle so there's really good vegan food all over the place, sometimes at the same exact places where I'm might opt for something carnivorous.

My only complaints about veganism is that A) it's really expensive to do well in the US which leads to B) it's sometimes hard to get enough protein and such without too many carbs and fillers and C) which seems like it takes a lot more planning than being an omnivore-slash-scavanger.

But that's really more of a food distribution and subsidy issue here in the US. Meat and dairy wouldn't be so cheap without all the cheap grains and feed streams and feed recycling above and beyond the industry subsidies and lobbying of the meat and dairy industries. Go somewhere like India and meat is much more of a luxury and vegetarianism and semi-veganism is much more the default.
posted by loquacious at 3:35 AM on February 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


How did vegans manage to get all the nutrients they needed before all the vitamins were recognised? Was it just trial and error? Did people regularly fall off the wagon while they replenished their store of vitamins, and was this recognised, if so?
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:00 AM on February 14, 2013


Seconding the comment about vegan desserts. If you haven't had good ones, it doesn't mean that good ones don't exist.

I disagree that veganism is expensive to do well in the US or in any other First World country. I live in Canada now, where food costs are higher than they would be back home; my husband and I eat a very balanced diet as vegans. We buy dried beans in bulk from the co-op, as well as nuts and seeds. These keep indefinitely. We buy tofu from Costco and freeze it to use as needed. I'm coming up on two years of being strictly vegan and you know what? I do not eat the things ominvores think I eat. I don't leave off only lettuce, tofu--in fact, I eat a lot less tofu/fake meats as a vegan than I did as an vegetarian. I make amazing vegan meals because I took the time to learn, to do research, and feed myself properly within the constraints of my new diet. Anyone who thinks eating as a vegan means depriving yourself is either a:) unable to feed themselves properly as an omni, or b:) willfully deliberately being a jerk because mocking vegans is low-hanging fruit.

In fact, I have friends who are going vegan for Lent and it's driving me nuts that they're going "OMG, IT'S SOOOO HARD! I had, like, half a pita, an avocado, and a salad and I'm SOOO HUNGRY!" Of course, you are, you idiot. You haven't bothered to figure what makes a well-rounded, nutrient-dense meal that tastes good and will fill you up. Before the Internet, I could understand people being ignorant and automatically assuming that this is how vegans eat, but with Google, a whole amazing array of cookbooks, and websites, if this is how you think vegans eat...again, you have the options I've presented above.

Being vegan isn't hard. It really isn't. And it's much easier when you see the leaps and bounds vegan cuisine has made in less than ten years.

But omnis are always gonna come into vegan-themed threads and be jerks, I guess.

Back on topic, thanks for the info about the beginnings of veganism!
posted by Kitteh at 4:08 AM on February 14, 2013 [13 favorites]


Anyone who thinks eating as a vegan means depriving yourself is either a:) unable to feed themselves properly as an omni, or b:) willfully deliberately being a jerk because mocking vegans is low-hanging fruit.

Those are, of course, not the only two options (what does the first one even mean?). It's also not very nice to refer to your "friends" as idiots or willful jerks.
posted by adamdschneider at 7:44 AM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Had a whole big rant tapped out, thought better of it and decided to get out my Defensive Omnivore Bingo cards instead. Anyone else want a dauber?

Having RTFA, thank you for the post! I can't wait to dig into these issues over the weekend. It is extremely depressing to note that people have been documenting consistent, ongoing animal abuse inside of factory farms for 60+ years, with nary a widely-applicable, large-scale change for the better in sight. On a lighter note, I am very curious to know the ingredients of 1940s-era "soya meat."

Also, what Kitteh said. Following a vegan diet means abstaining from meat, dairy, and all other animal products. We are allowed to eat absolutely everything else under the sun, and it is super-delicious. I eat better, cook better, and am quantifiably healthier than I ever was as an omni. And unless you rely upon weirdo specialty products like fake meats (99% no) and fake cheese (100% no) it's also quite inexpensive, once you have your basic pantry stocked with spices and dry goods. I'm getting back into rant territory, but on behalf of my fellow herbivores, we're all very weary with being told that vegan cooking is bland, strange, and/or inherently unhealthy. I won't get into the weird cognitive dissonance required for these barbs to be delivered by people who regularly and happily wolf down hormone-laden animal flesh and mechanically-collected milk laced with pus and blood, but vegans just eat fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, and legumes. It's really not a big deal. We're gonna be OK.
posted by divined by radio at 8:23 AM on February 14, 2013 [6 favorites]


Those are, of course, not the only two options (what does the first one even mean?). It's also not very nice to refer to your "friends" as idiots or willful jerks.

To clarify: the first option refers to people who think that meals must be made with something derived from animal products, be it meat, dairy, butter. Meals made with anything else are just not worth eating. It's not too hard to learn how to cook animal-based foods properly, but it takes a lot of skill to make something so humble as veggies to taste good and be lauded on the same level as the former.

And I should apologize; it wasn't so much friends I was referring to as idiots as acquaintances who have gone vegan for Lent for no reason I can see other than whinge about "how does anyone do this? Why would anyone do this to themselves on purpose?" I'd be all about them going vegan only for Lent if I knew they were going into it with an open mind, instead of some weird challenge to prove that being vegan sucks.
posted by Kitteh at 8:36 AM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, going vegan for Lent seems like a weird thing to do.
posted by adamdschneider at 8:55 AM on February 14, 2013


Seeing the typewritten and duplicated/mimeographed(?) format takes me back. I'm hardly Methuselah, but I remember when lots of small radical magazines and pamphlets (and the odd punk fanzine) were made like this. I always loved the smell of the print - was it methanol?

Some people like to play the 'what about?' game - e.g. animals killed when a combine harvester rips through a field or whatever - as if the only consistent moral position for a vegan would be to suck on rocks. I don't see veganism as about an end point of cruelty-free purity, more an attempt to fuck with animals as little as possible/practical.

To be honest Im not even sure what my ethical basis for this is anymore (geekily I've been looking into ethics in general and my head is in a state of confusion around consequentialism and virtue ethics), but I still feel that if I can minimise my impact on animals, especially where there is unambiguously suffering involved then I should do so.

I don't understand the idea that it's self-flagellating. I genuinely do not find it that hard. Obviously we are denying ourselves a substantial part of what's normally seen as food, but there's a shit ton of other stuff out there to eat. It's not like I'm going hungry or glumly staring as others tuck into their meat or dairy.
posted by spectrevsrector at 9:27 AM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, going vegan for Lent seems like a weird thing to do.

My friends had me under the impression that it was a typical choice for Lent! The number of monthly cooking dates I have hits its annual peak during Lent.
posted by mayurasana at 9:43 AM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Vegan for Lent is common in Greece, IIRC.
posted by dontjumplarry at 11:33 AM on February 14, 2013


The best part of this is that I now know for certain that it's "vee-gan" and not "vay-gan."
posted by rhiannonstone at 12:04 PM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


My philosophy is simple: no other animal cares about the welfare of its prey, so these animal lovers are ignoring the logic of the nature they revere.

Good luck with that society, I guess? I'll be watching from waaaaaay over here.
posted by threeants at 2:37 PM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't get why so many omnivores get so defensive about vegetarianism/veganism. Well, I get why, but I think it's pretty pathetic. I'm a vegetarian and can recognize that the reason I'm not a vegan is because my willpower is floppy pasta in the face of dairy. But I appreciate the fuck out of vegans for reducing overall suffering and carbon emissions. Like, I don't donate 50% of my income to children with cancer but if someone else did I wouldn't be all "Ugh, you self-righteous prat! Cavemen didn't donate money to dying children! Teeth digestive tract something!" I'd be more like, "Thank you for doing something good that for whatever reason I don't/can't."
posted by threeants at 2:42 PM on February 14, 2013 [4 favorites]


Let me pull out a phrase from that comment and put it in all caps: CARBON EMISSIONS. Anthropogenic climate change is going to destroy much of what we know and love. You should be making out with a vegan in thanks, not snarking at one.
posted by threeants at 2:44 PM on February 14, 2013


I've done both simultaneously.

And how has this gone so long without someone saying "Once you were a ve-gan, but now you will be-gone?"
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 2:46 PM on February 14, 2013


I'd like to think that, collectively, vegans will make a big difference re: climate, but...I don't.
posted by adamdschneider at 9:54 PM on February 14, 2013


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