International Vegetarian Union (IVU)
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The Vegetarian Society of the UK:

150 Years in the Forefront of Vegetarian Campaigning
IVU News - Issue 3 - 1998

logo Since its foundation on 30th September 1847, the UK Vegetarian Society has been a basic source of reference, motivation and encouragement for local and national vegetarian societies and individuals worldwide, who still regard Britain as the leading pioneer of the vegetarian movement.

The Roots and Goals of a Revolutionary Movement

The historical significance of the birth of a movement destined to transform our vision of nature and our place within it -- sustained by a philosophy going back thousands of years to the oldest established religions such as Buddhism and Jainism, and the teachings of early philosophers such as Pythagoras, Porphyry and Plato -- lay in its direct challenge to the unwarranted centuries-old human dependence on animals and their flesh, by a fresh approach and evaluation of food and ideas.

The adoption of the following resolution — by a group of committed and life vegetarians at a meeting held at the Northwood Villa Vegetarian Hospital in Ramsgate, Kent —, summarised the same objectives and aspirations which still motivate dedicated vegetarian activists worldwide:

"To induce habits of abstinence from the flesh of animals as food, by the dissemination of information upon the subject, by means of tracts, essays and lectures, proving the many advantages of a physical, intellectual and moral character resulting from vegetarian habits of diet, and thus to secure through the association, example and effort of its members, the adoption of a principle which will tend essentially to true civilization, to universal brotherhood, and to the increase of human happiness generally."

The relevance of the Vegetarian Society for the fledgling vegetarian movement of the late 1840s, and its vital influence on other local and international societies, became a reality with the issue of the first 5,000 copies of the society’s magazine, The Vegetarian Messenger, on 15th October 1848. In that year, a new group was formed in London. By then, the society had grown to 478 members. The figure then fluctuated between 125 in 1870 to well over 2,000 members in the 1890s — a period of rapid growth for vegetarianism, with 34 vegetarian restaurants open in London out of a total of 52 in Britain as a whole.

Mohandas K Gandhi, Secretary of the London Vegetarian Club in Bayswater, 1888 to 1891
Two of the society’s distinguished supporters and campaigners were George Bernard Shaw, who joined the original society based in the Manchester area, and Mohandas K. Gandhi, who collaborated with the London Vegetarian Society and in 1888 became secretary of the London Vegetarian Club in Bayswater, working with Sir Edwin Arnold and Dr. Joseph Oldfield, the editor of the society’s magazine The Vegetarian, which continued to be published since the London branch broke away to become a second national society until both societies decided to reunify in 1968.

In a more recent development, as part of the society’s increasing interest in international co-operation, IVU Deputy President Maxwell Lee has been appointed as the society’s ambassador, in recognition of his work for the national and international vegetarian movement.

Vegetarian or vegan?

The strong ethical objections raised by vegans and vegetarians alike concerning the use of animal foods such as dairy products and eggs was a subject of a great deal of debate within the Vegetarian Society long before the establishment of the Vegan Society in 1944. The vigorous correspondence in The Vegetarian Messenger between 1909 and 1912 shows a clear support for a diet free of eggs, milk butter or cheese, listing a number of ethical and health objections to the use of these animal products, still regarded as optional foods for vegetarians so long as they are obtained from free range animals living in relatively natural conditions.

The 1909 correspondence quoted recently in The UK Vegan Society magazine, began with an inquiry by a member who wrote: “the longer I go on, the less I like the idea of being responsible for the taking of life, even indirectly, as in using eggs, milk, etc.”. Other Vegetarian Society members, such as 84-year-old C. P. Newcombe, also questioned the use of milk and eggs: “The consumption of these articles adds greatly to the number of animals killed, and the cruelties incident to the trade.” When the first British vegan cookery book — “No Animal Food” by Rupert H. Wheldon — appeared in 1910 containing 100 recipes and two essays on why eating animal food was not a good idea, the Vegetarian Society’s sympathetic reviewer echoed similar comments: “this is undoubtedly a point demanding the attention of vegetarians...The recipes show that it is not at all impossible to obtain a variety of palatable dishes without recourse to either eggs or milk.”

The Benefits of Vegetarian Campaigns: a Matter of Public Health and Education

The increasing interest in vegetarianism throughout the 1970s and 1980s, and the society’s leading role in campaigning and education, created the need for a food and cookery section to teach nutrition and vegetarian cookery skills through courses and demonstrations. By 1983, the ever popular food and cookery section was replaced by The Cordon Vert Cookery School, which today runs courses almost every week of the year for all levels of expertise from beginners to professional chefs.

The 150th Anniversary of the Vegetarian Society...

logo The famous seedling symbol, first used as the logo of the combined societies in the early 1970s, has helped to make shopping easier while contributing to the proper labelling of vegetarian foods since it became part of a scheme in 1987 which licensed its use by manufacturers of vegetarian products.

Just a few of the society’s campaigns in recent years include the ever popular National Vegetarian Week, held this year from 1st to 7th June, culminating in Vegfest ‘98, a vegetarian food and lifestyle festival at which everyone in the United Kingdom is encouraged to give vegetarianism a try.

An infamous case attracting worldwide attention and of great concern to the society has been the proven link between Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) or “mad cow disease” and its human equivalent Kreutzfeldt Jakob disease or CJD. The government ban on sales of beef on the bone was condemned by the Vegetarian Society as farcical and illogical since the ban on bone and bone marrow — which can carry the disease just like the spinal cord and brain tissue — did not extend to gelatine, a gelling agent derived from animal bones and skin currently used throughout the food industry in jelly, sweets, fitness drinks, vitamin tablet capsules, yoghurts, and so on.

Another bone of contention for the society and for vegetarians generally as well as for ethnic and religious minorities is the use of carbonised cow bones — allegedly from India and Pakistan — for water filtration at ten treatment plants run by Yorkshire Water, the only water authority to use cattle bones for this purpose, with plans to install the process at six more plants. The company’s refusal to supply water meeting reasonable dietary, ethical, medical and religious requirements led the Vegetarian Society to launch a hard-hitting publicity campaign defending the rights of consumers to enjoy uncontaminated water.

Since its foundation 150 years ago, the society's pioneering role — symbolic of the historical determination and profound ethical roots of vegetarian ideals — has been a rich source of motivation which has greatly contributed to furthering the essential message of the worldwide quest for peace as well as the firm commitment of the vegetarian movement to a healthier and more humane future for our threatened green planet.

The Vegetarian Society, Parkdale, Dunham Road, Altrincham Cheshire WA14 4QG, UK
Tel. +44-(0)161 9280793 Fax +44-(0)161 9269182. Website: E-mail:

--- Francisco Martín, IVU General Secretary

Contributions to IVU News are welcomed. Material published does not necessarily reflect the views of the editor or the policy of the International Vegetarian Union.