|International Vegetarian Union (IVU)|
A thesis presented to the London School of Economics, University of London,
The author is now Professor of Social Policy and Sociology at Kent University, England, and has given permission for this previously unpublished thesis to be published on the IVU website. The ownership and copyright remain hers and no part of this thesis may be used elsewhere without her express permission.
CHAPTER EIGHT THE MODERN PERIOD
[Numerical links are to the author's footnotes, use your back button to return to the same point in the text. Text links are to relevant items on the IVU website, all open in new windows]
One innovation that dates from this period is veganism. As a term it had its origins in the Vegan Society founded in Leicester in 1944. Although the word was newly coined, the diet had been known in vegetarianism since its early days. (1) The principal motive for veganism has always been the rejection of all animal exploitation, for vegans argue that milk production is inextricably bound up with the meat industry - in the UK and EEC, three quarters of beef production comes from the dairy herd – and that it is cruel in its practices, such as the almost immediate removal of calves from their mothers and denial to them of their milk. As we shall see, however, veganism does not confine itself to the humanitarian issue alone.
From the start, relations with the orthodox societies were uneasy; the vegans had broken away from the Vegetarian Society because of its refusal to publicise their view; and there are veiled references to conflict and. bad feeling, especially in the early years. Relations between the vegans and lacto-vegetarians are now better, though not without their tensions and rivalries. Today most lacto-vegetarians accept the logic of the vegan position, and many speak of it as the ideal. There are, however, reservations; the chief of which has concerned the healthfulness of the diet. It was in the early fifties that the B12 problem was discovered. B12 is a vitamin that can only be synthesised by micro-organisms and the main dietary source is dairy produce. (2) B12 deficiency can result in anaemia and, most seriously, in irreversible damage to the spinal cord. A number of vegans in the early fifties became ill, and only made a recovery when they moved to a lacto-vegetarian diet. Once the problem had been understood, it was solvable through tablets and the fortification of vegan foods like plantmilk with cultured B12, or the use of fermented substances like miso (popularised by the macrobiotic diet), and through checks on the B12 levels in the body. (3) In the question of B12 and nutritional adequacy, the vegetarians were fortunate in having among, their number Drs Frey Ellis, Frank Wokes and E. Lester Smith, FRS., all distinguished researchers in the field, of vitamins, and it was their work that identified the nature of the problem and ensured that the response when it came was one based on scientific understanding. (4) Despite the dominance of the scientific-nutritional approach, which as we shall see marks post-war official vegetarianism, some of the ideas expressed concerning the diet - such as the belief that man could once make B12 for himself - reflect more mythic concerns, often touching on the natural status of the diet, something of importance in the wider ideology, Veganism does see nature as a moral, whole:
Differences between the vegans and the lacto-vegetarians relate riot just to the health aspect. Many in the Vegetarian Society have expressed concern that the vegan position is off-putting and unattractive to the wider public; and some find it a stage further than they themselves wish to go. In particular they mean here the social aspect. Veganism does put severe restrictions on social life; most restaurants can manage an omelette and most friends some sort of dairy dish, but a fully vegan meal can baffle people's resources and provoke considerable annoyance; and the McKenzie study in the sixties confirmed this pattern of social isolation. (6) The progression from vegetarianism to veganism often occurs, though it cannot simply be regarded as the natural product of growing involvement and commitment, since many active vegetarians of long standing and fully activated by the animal cruelty aspect, have not adopted veganism. In many ways, the relation between veganism and lacto-vegetarianism parallels that of vegetarianism and dominant culture. Just as many meat-eaters acknowledge the animal-cruelty argument for vegetarianism and yet continue to eat meat, so too lacto-vegetarians acknowledge vegan arguments but do not act directly on them, seeing them as being pushed beyond the socially normal and sensible. Vegans are often regarded by lacto-vegetarians as perfectionists and at times even as slightly difficult people, with a hint of the holier-than-thou - negative perceptions that mirror some of dominant society's characterisation of vegetarians.
There is, however, a sense in which veganism can be understood as a more intense version of the vegetarian ideology; thus when McKenzie looked at samples of vegans, lacto-vegetarians and non-vegetarians, he found that vegans scored higher on all the parameters of the vegetarian ideology, and not just on the ones with implications for animal cruelty. Thus they ate more brown bread and less frozen food and they showed more support for CND and herbal medicine and greater belief in spiritualism. (7)
If we turn to the example of milk, which is the focus of vegan dispute, we can see how, though they argue their position primarily from the cruelty aspect, they draw upon the full range of vegetarian concerns. Milk is condemned as unhealthy, carrying illness and leading to enervated children. This criticism which many lacto-vegetarians reject - has been a minor theme in vegetarianism from the nineteenth century. (8) It was only in the nineteenth century that cow's milk came to be widely recommended in the feeding of babies; and the vegans have always regretted the development and promoted strongly the practice of breast feeding. (9) The growing consumption of milk, promoted in the late thirties and after by the government in Britain as an important nutritional food, is similarly criticised. In particular, the vegans attack the wide public perception of milk as the 'perfect food', arguing that its perfection is strictly confined to calves, its intended recipients. Some of the other ways in. which milk is described also echo aspects of meat: thus milk and blood are directly equated: 'Milk may be regarded as blood which has been bereft of its red colouring matter’. (10) The theme of the animalisation through the ingestion of animal products is also present: 'If man is to supersede himself and become really man, not merely half animal and half man, he will be compelled to leave the animal part completely behind him, including the leaving of dairy produce out of his diet'. (11) Similarly its effect on spiritual status and intuitive faculties echo those believed to result from meat: 'The psychic properties of animal foods reflecting the instinctual animal nature, probably tends to align themselves with the animal nature in man and cloud over the receptivity of the outward personality to the interior life of the spirit'. (12) Though this last quotation is taken from the five-part official declaration of the Society, not all would put these aspects foremost. For many – their current secretary Mrs Jannaway for example - veganism appeals, after the animal issue, most strongly on the ecological/economic grounds; (13) it is the vegan diet that holds out the promise of being able to feed the third world. This last aspect, together with the rise of animal activism whose arrival is well charted in The Vegan (14) - more so indeed than in the magazine of the Vegetarian Society - has been a major source of recruitment to veganism, particularly among young people in the 1970s.