The following is an abridged version of vegan pioneer Donald Watson‘s writing in the very first newsletter of the UK Vegan Society in 1944, long before factory farming became commonplace. Watson, who passed away at age 95 in 2005, would have celebrated his 110th birthday on September 2nd.
The recent articles and letters in “The Vegetarian Messenger” on the question of the use of dairy produce have revealed very strong evidence to show that the production of these foods involves much cruel exploitation and slaughter of highly sentient life. The excuse that it is not necessary to kill in order to obtain dairy produce is untenable for those with a knowledge of livestock farming methods and of the competition which even humanitarian farmers must face if they are to remain in business.
For years many of us accepted, as lacto-vegetarians, that the flesh-food industry and the dairy produce industry were related, and that in some ways they subsidised one another. We accepted, therefore, that the case on ethical grounds for the disuse of these foods was exceptionally strong, and we hoped that sooner or later a crisis in our conscience would set us free.
That freedom has now come to us. Having followed a diet free from all animal food for periods varying from a few weeks in some cases, to many years in others, we believe our ideas and experiences are sufficiently mature to be recorded. The unquestionable cruelty associated with the production of dairy produce has made it clear that lacto-vegetarianism is but a half-way house between flesh-eating and a truly humane, civilised diet, and we think, therefore, that during our life on earth we should try to evolve sufficiently to make the ‘full journey’.
We can see quite plainly that our present civilisation is built on the exploitation of animals, just as past civilisations were built on the exploitation of slaves, and we believe the spiritual destiny of man is such that in time he will view with abhorrence the idea that men once fed on the products of animals’ bodies. Even though the scientific evidence may be lacking, we shrewdly suspect that the great impediment to man’s moral development may be that he is a parasite of lower forms of animal life. Investigation into the non-material (vibrational) properties of foods has yet barely begun, and it is not likely that the usual materialistic methods of research will be able to help much with it. But is it not possible that as a result of eliminating all animal vibrations from our diet we may discover the way not only to really healthy cell construction but also to a degree of intuition and psychic awareness unknown at present?
A common criticism is that the time is not yet ripe for our reform. Can time ever be ripe for any reform unless it is ripened by human determination? Did Wilberforce wait for the ‘ripening’ of time before he commenced his fight against slavery? Did Edwin Chadwick, Lord Shaftesbury, and Charles Kingsley wait for such a non-existent moment before trying to convince the great dead weight of public opinion that clean water and bathrooms would be an improvement? If they had declared their intention to poison everybody the opposition they met could hardly have been greater. There is an obvious danger in leaving the fulfilment of our ideals to posterity, for posterity may not have our ideals. Evolution can be retrogressive as well as progressive, indeed there seems always to be a strong gravitation the wrong way unless existing standards are guarded and new visions honoured. For this reason we have formed our Group, the first of its kind, we believe, in this or any other country.
WANTED – A NAME
We should all consider carefully what our Group, and our magazine, and ourselves, shall be called. ‘Non-dairy’ has become established as a generally understood colloquialism, but like ‘non-lacto’ it is too negative. Moreover it does not imply that we are opposed to the use of eggs as food. We need a name that suggests what we do eat, and if possible one that conveys the idea that even with all animal foods taboo, Nature still offers us a bewildering assortment from which to choose. ‘Vegetarian’ and ‘Fruitarian’ are already associated with societies that allow the ‘fruits'(!) of cows and fowls, therefore it seems we must make a new and appropriate word. As this first issue of our periodical had to be named, I have used the title “The Vegan News”. Should we adopt this, our diet will soon become known as a VEGAN diet, and we should aspire to the rank of VEGANS.
OUR RELATIONS WITH THE LACTO-VEGETARIANS
The object of our Group is to state a case for a reform that we think is moral, safe and logical. In doing so we shall, of course, say strongly why we condemn the use of dairy produce and eggs. In return we shall expect to be criticised. It will be no concern of ours if we fail to convert others, but we do think it should concern them if, deep in their hearts, they know we are right.
To resign oneself to lacto-vegetarianism as a satisfactory solution to the diet problem is to accept a sequence of horrible farmyard and slaughter-house incidents as part of an inevitable Divine Plan. Need it be added that it would imply too accepting the spectacle of a grown man attached to the udder of a cow as a dignified and rational intention on the part of Nature!
Without making any claims to self-righteousness, we feel in a strong position to criticise lacto-vegetarianism, because the worst we can say will be but a repetition of criticism we have already levelled against ourselves. Therefore we shall express the Truth as we see it and feel it, and though our friends the lacto-vegetarians may reject our ideas if they wish, we hope they will not reject us for stating them.
So far as we are aware, every Member of our Group has discarded the use of dairy produce for humanitarian reasons. We are not by any means ignorant of orthodox dietetic theories, and in exercising our moral conviction we find we must refute some of these theories. We do so without fear because we feel that a moral philosophy combined with a dash of common sense is a more rational guide than theories hatched in vivisection laboratories. We will not accept that adequate nutrition need violate conscience. We question very strongly whether those dieticians who laud the praises of animal proteins have ever tried living on a sensible diet free from such proteins, and if they have not, we fail to see how they can pass useful judgment. We know that man’s anatomy is unquestionably frugivorous. We know that milk drinking by adults is an absurdity never intended by Nature. We know that we are at least as well without dairy produce as we were with it. We know that 40% at least of cows are now tubercular. We know that pasteurisation enables the milk retailers to sell milk several days old. We know what happens to those who feed on the ‘nourishing first-class proteins’ recommended by orthodox dieticians – they nearly all die of malignant and filthy diseases. Heaven help us if our diet fails us to anything like the same degree!
Apart from saying that we are ‘Quite well, thanks’, we consider the time perhaps premature to make any great claims for the physiological superiority of our diet. Humbly, your Secretary is able to state that he can now cycle 230 miles in a day, whereas years ago when he stoked himself with milk and eggs he was ready for Bed and Breakfast after doing half that distance. He can also dig his allotments for ten hours a day without feeling any different next morning, but we must be careful in making claims lest the world hears of us and expects to meet eight foot rosy cheeked muscular monsters who are immune to all ills of the flesh. We may be sure that should anything so much as a pimple ever appear to marr the beauty of our physical form, it will be entirely due in the eyes of the world to our own silly fault for not eating ‘proper food’. Against such a pimple the great plagues of diseases now ravaging nearly all members of civilised society (who live on ‘proper food’) will pass unnoticed. It is as well that we gird ourselves to meet our critics! In our more reflective moments we cannot help thinking that there are greater risks in life than living on clean salads, fruits, nuts, and whole cereals. We can hardly wish to be classed as moral giants because we choose to live on a diet so obviously favouring self preservation.
CONCERNING THOSE NOT YET WITH US
We agree that to eliminate all dairy produce creates personal difficulties which vary in magnitude from one individual to another. We agree also that the present is not the easiest time to make such a change, but we think that in laying the foundations of our Movement now, many will soon join us as one of their ‘Peace Aims’. We know that there is particular unrest in the minds of vegetarians generally concerning the use of rennet in cheese making, and as this appears to be the most glaring inconsistency of lacto-vegetarianism, we suggest that others do as we did and eliminate cheese first. Our friend and fellow member Dugald Semple tells us he has never tasted cheese, therefore it cannot be considered as an essential ‘binding agent’ for body and soul!
During the war eggs have all but vanished, and they can readily be dispensed with for good without any sense of loss if one dwells on the fact that they are for the most part nothing more than reconstituted grubs and beetles! The elimination of milk undoundtedly presents the greatest difficulty. Nut milk is a good substitute, but it does not go well in tea (therefore cut out the tea and add yet another ten years to your life!)
Those of us who have lived for long periods without dairy produce are able to give the assurance that we remain well and strong; that we enjoy our food as much as ever, and that once the new diet has been arranged the sight and smell of dairy produce is soon forgotten.
Special Thanks to www.ukveggie.com for reproducing this letter in its entirety.
“Image courtesy of Gualberto107 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net”