International Vegetarian Union (IVU)
IVU logo


The Vegetarian World Forum

No. 1 Vol. 2 - THE VEGETARIAN - SPRING 1948 pp.23-27

by Donald Watson

The proposal to amalgamate the two national vegetarian societies of Great Britain in the hope that unity would give greater strength, carries no guarantee that the hope would be realised in practice. Two societies working separately and amicably are to be preferred to a union that would probably be unpopular with both through disturbing long-established loyalties.

More important than the nationalising of administration appears to be the reforming of the movement itself, both here and abroad. Every movement must accept the need for occasional overhaul if it is to progress and meet the reasonable criticism of its opponents. If a plan for the reform of the vegetarian movement can be made generally acceptable, unified administration, if desired, should be easier, as the movement will be starting a new phase of its evolution.

The need for considering reform is suggested by the fact that after a century of propaganda not one person in a thousand is a vegetarian. This may not be the fault of the movement, but it is the duty of the movement to make sure the failure lies outside itself. It is wrong to suppose that only this small fraction of the community is sufficiently developed morally and intellectually to accept a reform promising such universal advantages. If there have been offending features in vegetarian propaganda, or if the claims have been false or exaggerated, or if the fatal impression of priggishness has been conveyed, these should be corrected. To be strong, the movement must consist of people who are self-critical, truth loving, scientific, careful in judgment and eager to yield to evidence even if it tends to weaken their case. Those unable or unwilling to pass such a test are a liability. The case itself must be impregnable against fair criticism, and its presentation should be guided by psychology.

To meet these conditions, the following suggestions are made.

Resulting from investigations carried out during recent years, two facts of great importance to the vegetarian movement have emerged. The first is that a sensibly arranged diet free from animal food is safe and practicable. The second is that there are no grounds for making a distinction between the moral objections to the use of flesh foods and to those concerning the use of dairy products, unless it is that milk production necessitates an even more callous type of exploitation. This should now be accepted, as it is based on factual evidence. Clearly, if it is wrong to kill calves for veal, it is equally wrong to kill them for milk. If it is wrong to kill poultry for their flesh, it is also wrong to kill them when they are no longer an economic asset in the production of eggs. Thus, the elimination of flesh-foods from the diet is a desirable reform only on condition that it is not accompanied by an increase in consumption of other animal foods. If this takes place, the whole case falls to the ground. It is no more moral, nor economic, nor aesthetic than the mixed diet containing flesh, and it may involve even more cruelty.

There is no provision made in the constitution of vegetarian societies to prevent this undesirable possibility; in fact, much is done officially to create it. However expedient it may have appeared to accept the offer of a special ration of cheese, the price in terms of surrendered principle was too high. There would seem to be no point in the vegetarian movement teaching the enormous economic advantages of arable over livestock farming if in a time of national emergency a concession is taken which is solely a product of animals, nor does it strengthen the moral appeal when the butcher is called upon to provide the rennet to make the scheme work. An opportunity here was lost for proving the economics of vegetarianism, for if flesh-foods are unnecessary, so are their substitutes. This concession should be surrendered.

Every aspect of the issue concerning the use of dairy products by vegetarians bristles with challenges that have long been recognised by many within the movement, and which now can be denied by none. The problem has been to know how to reform the movement without largely abolishing it; for comparatively few of its members can promise to live strictly without food from animals. Most people in the movement are, at times, if not permanently, trapped by circumstance which compels them to sacrifice a measure of principle in the art of living, principle and courtesy can be strong competitors for the loyalty of the individual. There may even be occasions when temporary and deliberate departure from rigid practice is considered advisable to make possible the wider contacts needed by the propagandist.

These conditions of environment suggest that pledged membership should be discontinued. The movement should grant to the individual the' right to judge how best to meet each personal problem as it arises, and there should be no inferior section reserved for those who cannot live consistently according to the movement's definition. Loyalty cannot be measured merely by the standard of consistent practice attained, nor can a person's value to the cause be assessed in this way. Difficulties are greater for some than for others. The pledge has never been more than a qualification for entrance into a select company, and this is a' bad psychological error. Select companies usually remain select. The present pledge is worse than useless to the movement, as it is broken by the vast majority of members when they use cheese, and also by those who take foods containing slaughtered animal fats. Whatever its original purpose; its abolition now would strengthen the movement by removing a source of dishonour which critics are quick to notice.

The great need is for the movement to accept a logical and consistent objective to which all can aim, and then use its energies to make the realisation of the objective possible, easy, and safe. If it did this it would in one stroke make itself impregnable against nearly all the criticism it has ever received,' or is ever, likely to receive. Individual members would continue to be' criticise4 for their imperfections, but the movement itself would stand like a rock. Its duties would not include the finding of excuses to cover those who fall short, nor would it advocate one set of cruelties in exchange for another, as is the case at present. The time has come to revise the definition of vegetarianism which permits the taking of more animal food than was taken before the time of conversion. Vegetarianism, should mean the practice of living with out food from animals. If this were understood now, within a short time it would seem inconceivable that it could ever have meant anything other. The change would create no problems for anyone except those who make an irrational distinction between slaughter necessitated by the demand of the flesh-eater, and similar slaughter necessitated by their own demands. Such people, because, of their basically wrong outlook and not because of their inconsistency in practice, would, in spirit, be outside the newly constituted movement. They would need converting to the right idea in the same way as does the meat eater.

This change would leave The Vegan Society free to concentrate on the allied work of finding substitutes for animal materials used in commodities, and the two movements could work in close contact throughout the world. It is a disturbing fact that some hundreds of the keenest vegetarians in this country have had no alternative than to organise themselves outside the vegetarian movement in order to advocate consistent vegetarianism.

Vegetarian literature should be secular. There must be thousands of vegetarians, both theists and atheists, who regard most religious doctrine as mythical and unintelligible and who do not, therefore, wish to be associated with it. To introduce it into vegetarian magazines, or to portray religious incidents on Christmas cards issued by vegetarian societies, is a sure way to create disharmony within the movement.

The association of the vegetarian movement with religious bodies should be one of enquiry, if not of open challenge. Probably the chief reason why otherwise decent people behave so callously to creatures as highly sentient as themselves is because the Church teaches that such creatures were sent by a provident creator for man's use. It is the duty of the movement to recognise and oppose this sinister aspect of religion which can readily be proved absurd and which bars the way to vegetarian reform. The foundations of the slaughter house are safe so long as this falsehood survives.

The movement's literature should be confined to vegetarianism. It should not include articles concerning irrelevant cults and superstitions. In this respect, advertisements too need more strict control.

The practice now rife among many vegetarian writers of using highly coloured phrases with a superfluity of capital letters should be abolished. So far from adding weight to the appeal, it gives the literature a fanatical appearance to the thoughtful outside reader, and it is anathema to the scientist, whose attention is particularly required.

The moral and economic arguments for consistent vegetarianism appear to be impregnable. More care is required when stating other aspects of the reform. The following theories, frequently quoted as facts, are typical of many which find their way into vegetarian literature, as though part of vegetarian teaching:
(a) That all life is one.
(b) That vegetarian diet creates peaceful disposition.
(c) That cruel people must suffer for their cruelties.
(d) That man has fallen from a perfect state.
(e) That the universe is moral.

Propagandists should use more care in sorting out facts that can be demonstrated, from personal beliefs and wishes.

These suggestions are made for study and criticism in the hope that the vegetarian movement will be reformed and strengthened and its literature made more acceptable to a wider public. The beginning of the second century of the movement's existence seems an appropriate time to bring about such reform.


Vegetarian World Forum Index