Essentially The Vegan Society came into existence due to a rejection of its vision by vegetarians, and we can see that vegan co-founder Donald Watson was critical of vegetarianism from the start. He and others had recognised that vegetarianism was, at best, a half-way house - but it really makes no sense even by its own principles of not wanting to live without killing other animals.
The Vegan Society was formed in the 1940s and there was immediate pressure to show that a human being could actually survive by not consuming animal produce. I believe that this pressure resulted in a lot of writing about health matters and less on "the vision thing." There was also the small complication known as World War II.
So, we have hints, statements, sentences, in writings from the 1940s and 1950s that alert us to that vision.
Rather than thinking expansively about veganism, modern vegans and, tragically, modern vegan societies (including TAVS), seem content to look narrowly at what veganism is, or what it could be - or should be.
There is a current and, to me, very depressing emphasis on health and diet but even when vegans do talk about ethics, they seem to suggest that veganism is limited almost exclusively to human relations with other sentient beings.
That, I suggest, is to badly misread the past history of the vegan movement, and the deeper far-reaching aspiration of the founders of it. Indeed, I think we are often guilty of betraying the early vegan pioneers.
Even though they were caught up in early concerns about health, they did sometimes explain veganism to be a grand overarching view about the future of humanity; about our relations with other sentient beings, of course, but also about how we live on the planet, and how we could live peacefully with each other.
They talk about peace and "peace aims," about human evolution, and they hinted that veganism could be central to a radical view of humanity. With global climate change brewing to be such an issue, to continue what they began is even more vital. We have to campaign for veganism in ways that make clear its vision of non-violence, of peace, and of justice for all sentient beings.
I believe that the early pioneers of the vegan movement thought in ways that we would now call "intersectional." Veganism, to them, was part and parcel of humanitarian aims. Humanitarianism has been described as "irresistible compassion" and "fellow-feeling," and is generally associated with concern about human rights and human welfare. I think they would be disappointed by the current vegan societies; the emphasis on human health, celebrity, and the endless pot lucks and "vegan cupcakes."
The earliest vegan pioneers talked, albeit often in vague terms, about veganism being connected to the moral evolution of humanity. They seemed convinced that veganism in some way was concerned, not only to peace and justice, but to human fulfillment, if only we would stop oppressing others.
Some points early vegan pioneer Leslie Cross (1914-1979) makes are strikingly similar to David Nibert's domesecration thesis, that the "domestication" of other sentient beings is directly associated with human-on-human violence and oppression.
Do you agree that we need to continue the conversation that the early vegan pioneers began - and really sort out what we stand for in terms of scope and radical vision for the future?
I think such a conversation would remind us that veganism is a vision of different human relationships with other sentient beings, the planet, and each other.