A short history of veganism

November 6, 2018
November 6, 2018 Roger Lane

A short history of veganism

Man’s Plant-based Past

Recent fad diets like paleo and the raw foods movement would have you believe that our earliest ancestors turned to animal meat for their main sources of protein. Research and archeological studies, however, suggest that early man turned to animal protein only during lean times, when foraged nuts, seeds, and wild grains were scarce and tough to scavenge. Early man’s impulse towards a plant-based diet was driven by necessity and access rather than a moral compass. Flash forward 30 million years: when in history did humans switch from forced veganism to philosophical veganism?

Hindus, Buddhists, Ancient Greeks, Egyptians and Taoists were among the early moral eaters vowing to abstain from the consumption of animal flesh. Based on the ideals of non-violence to all living forms, leaders advocated benevolence among all species, framing animal harm and suffering as an early social justice issue. This sentiment gained momentum throughout the classical age and into recent history.

Veganism in the Modern Age

Vegetarian societies pop up throughout the industrial age as a virtuous rebuke to the perceived indulgences enjoyed by modern man. Vegetarianism, temperance, abstinence, and cleanliness presented aspirational goals these communities believed in and pioneered. Then, in 1944, Donald Watson created a new word to describe this plant-based lifestyle, one that marks “the beginning and end of vegetarianism,” containing the first 3 and last 2 letters of the word “vegetarian” or vegan. The values of animal welfare, moderation and care for the planet as a whole became guiding principles for vegans in today’s meat-eating world.

The Future of Veganism

Vegans have since assumed the mantle as social justice warriors and have taken their values into the mainstream; creating industry disruption in food and drink to beauty, fashion, and beyond. Counterculture hippies from the 1960s have shepherded new generations of vegan activism – from the punk scene in the 1980s, to the straight edge movement of the 1990s, to idealist millennials intent on challenging the status quo. Today, the label “vegan” itself faces a new development where so-called “plant-based eaters” are not considered “vegan” and vice versa. Thirty million years later, the evolution of our modern eating behavior comes full circle with our Neolithic, plant-based past.  And research shows that vegan values that have remained constant for millennia will continue to drive this lifestyle into the mainstream for decades to come.

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