‘The greatest cause on earth’: the historical formation of veganism as an ethical practice MATThEW CoLE
Introduction From 1948-1951, The Vegan, the quarterly journal of The Vegan Society (the world’s first, founded in the UK in November 1944), bore the strapline, ‘Advocating living without exploitation’ on its front cover. That ambition to live without exploitation is arguably fundamental to contemporary Critical Animal Studies (CAS), especially when we consider that to live without exploitation entails active engagement with what were in 1944, and remain today, brutally exploitative social systems, for many humans as well as for other animals. In this chapter, I draw on a Foucauldian reading of early Vegan Society publications to argue that modern veganism (that is, veganism since the formation of The Vegan Society) was a critical enterprise at birth, in a way that anticipated CAS in some respects: from its inception, veganism was engaged in a revolutionary transformation of human relationships with other animals, with other humans, and with vegans themselves. This is evident in An Address on Veganism, delivered to the eleventh Congress of the International Vegetarian Union (IVU) by Donald Watson, co-founder of the Vegan Society, and coiner of the word ‘vegan’, in 1947:
The vegan renounces it as superstitious that human life depends upon the exploitation of these creatures whose feelings are much the same as our own, and by comparison [. . .] wishes to see a world in which animals will live healthily, free from exploitation, mutilation, and slaughter.