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Veganism from 1806

This is a brief summary of a talk I gave at the International Vegan Festival in Malaga, Spain, June 4-12, 2011, and at the Midlands Vegan Festival, Wolverhampton UK, October 29, 2011.

1806 – Dr. William Lambe FRCP, in London, England, changed his diet at the age of 40 – and gave us the first known unambiguous statement: “My reason for objecting to every species of matter to be used as food, except the direct produce of the earth, is founded on the broad ground that no other matter is suited to the organs of man. This applies then with the same force to eggs, milk, cheese, and fish, as to flesh meat.

1811 – John Frank Newton, a patient of Dr. Lambe, in his book 'Return to Nature' expanded Lambe’s medical ideas to include ethical values towards all animals.

1813 – Percy Bysshe Shelley (right), poet, joined a ‘vegan commune’ which alternated between Newton family homes in London and Bracknell.

1830s – Sylvester Graham (left), in Boston USA, had been promoting the ‘vegetable diet’ – generally ‘with or without’ eggs/dairy. In 1837 he exchanged letters with Dr. Lambe, and his 1839 book clearly claimed that ‘without’ was more effective for health.

1830s – Dr John Snow (left), ‘vegan’ since reading Newton’s book when he was 17. Moved to London in 1838 and eventually achieved fame for discovering the way in cholera was spread. In 2003 British doctors voted him the greatest physician of all time.

1838 – James Pierrepont Greaves opened  ‘Alcott House Academy’, a school near London run entirely consistent with the ideas proposed by Lambe and Newton. It ran for the next ten years.

1842, April – the first confirmed use of the word ‘vegetarian’ in the Alcott House journal. All other early uses were by people close to Alcott House, and all using it for what we now call ‘vegan’.

1842 June – Bronson Alcott (right), from Boston USA, already veg*n thanks to Sylvester Graham, visited Alcott House, named in honor of him and his earlier school in Boston. In 1843,with new English friends, he ran the short-lived ‘Fruitlands’ near Harvard, MA – again run on totally ethical ‘vegan’ principles.

1845-6 – Henry David Thoreau (left) lived by Walden Pond, near Concord MA, living solely on plant foods plus some fishing – but wrote about how much he regretted the fish…

1846 – William Horsell (right) moved the hydrotherapy institute from Alcott House to Northwood Villa, in Ramsgate, Kent, England. This again followed Dr. Lambe’s principles of plant food plus purified water.

1847 – The Vegetarian Society was founded at a meeting in Ramsgate, launched jointly by Alcott House and the (ovo-lacto) Bible Christian Church from Salford near Manchester. The compromise was to set the objective as merely ‘abstaining from the flesh of animals’ – and the confusion over everything else has continued ever since.

1874 – Dr. Russell Trall (left) had been running a hydrotherapy institute in New York City since 1850. This changed to exclusively plant food plus water in 1862 – and in 1874 produced the first known ‘vegan’ cookbook.

1887 – John Harvey Kellogg (right) privately removed eggs/dairy from his diet, though his books and sanitarium, in Battle Creek, Michigan, continued to use them. 40 years later he returned to using yogurt – but then discovered soy milk…

1910 – Rupert Wheldon in England, published ‘No Animal Food’, the first British ‘vegan’ cookbook. This was reprinted by Dr. Elmer Lee in New York. A 1910 article about Lee in the NY Times included the first known use of the phrase ‘plant foods’.

1909-14 – The Vegetarian Messenger, journal of The Vegetarian Society, carried much discussion about the use of eggs/dairy. There seemed to be a possibility of significant change, but all momentum was destroyed by the First World War.

1931 – Mahatma Gandhi spoke at a meeting of the London Vegetarian Society (left), making it clear that he objected to the use of milk and milk products. Such high profile support must have emboldened the minority who called themselves ‘non-dairy vegetarians’.

1944 – Donald Watson and friends coined the word ‘vegan’ and founded The Vegan Society – the first issue of their journal was subtitled ‘the journal of the non-dairy vegetarians’ – and made it clear that they had not wanted to separate from The Vegetarian Society, they just wanted a distinct section within it. Most retained their memberships of both societies, as many do today.

1947 – Watson was a speaker at the IVU World Veg Congress (right) – The Vegan Society had joined IVU soon after being founded, and has been a member ever since.

1960 The American Vegan Society was founded, joining IVU from the outset. This included a smaller group started in California as far back as 1948.

1957 – The first Indian Vegan Society joined IVU. We don’t know how long it lasted, but the new society is also prominent member.

1960-90s – many new vegan organizations were formed, and the word gradually spread.

1995 – records of printed media show a significant increase in the use of the word ‘vegan’ – this appears to have come from the rapid expansion of vegan websites, leading to a market for vegan books, especially recipes.

1997 – The IVU website started a recipe collection – agreed to be entirely vegan from the outset.  We now have over 3,000 in English with more in other languages.

1998 – IVU agreed that all food at IVU Congresses would in future be completely vegan, as it was in 1996.

21st Century – most veg organizations around the world now promote veganism as the ideal, regardless of whether they are called ‘vegetarian’ or ‘vegan’.
- by 2009 more books had ‘vegan’ in the title than ‘vegetarian’.
- 2009/10 surveys in the USA showed that 66% of vegetarians exclude eggs/dairy
- by 2011 there were as many Google searches for ‘vegan’ as for ‘vegetarian
- 22 organizations with 'vegan' in their title  are now members of IVU

Will all vegetarians eventually be vegan? We have no way of knowing, but the continuing trend seems inevitable.

For more about vegan history, see my free e-book: ‘World Veganism – past, present and future.” It has now been updated to include the above article, and more. You can download it for free, or replace your existing copy at: (8mb)

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Footnotes, added a couple of days after the blog was posted:

- it will be seen from above that there has been a significant change towards veganism within IVU over the last 15 years. This is mostly due to the work of The Vegan Society (the original one in the UK). Such changes inevitably take time, and TVS deserves credit and respect for the manner in which they have promoted their cause - and they won't give up...

- the day after the blog was posted, I went back to the 'Truth Tester' journals edited by William Horsell at the Ramsgate Hydrotherapy Institute. The winter 1846/47 issues contain a recipe for 'Sago Pudding' - normally made with some animal products - this one ended by proudly proclaiming what can be done 'without milk, eggs or butter'. So far this is the earliest deliberately vegan recipe that I've found, and in a vegan journal. There were plenty of earlier recipes that didn't happen to need animal products, but none I've seen that deliberately substituted them.

- the question of the lack of women above was raised. There must have been some, but the men of the time didn't bother to write about them, so we don't have any details. If anything comes to light another update will be posted.

- alongside the vegan Dr. Lambe above, the founder of the ovo-lacto Bible Christian Church in 1809 was the Rev. William Cowherd... honest! Hollywood couldn't have named them better :-)

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