Remembering Donald Watson, the Father of Veganism

VN commemorates the 100th birthday of the “father of veganism.”


September 2 would have marked the 100th birthday of the “father of veganism,” Donald Watson, who passed away at the age of 95. While Watson wasn’t the first to prescribe a wholly plant-based diet, it was he, along with his wife Dorothy, who coined the word “vegan” in 1944. He founded the Vegan Society, the world’s first organization of its kind, signaling the start of a movement for compassionate, cruelty-free living. In honor of Watson’s birthday, VN presents a portion of Publisher Joseph Connelly’s 2005 interview with the man who gave the vegan movement its moniker.

VegNews: You were vegetarian for almost 20 years before going vegan. What made you go vegan?
Donald Watson: All our theories told us [that animal products] were obviously produced by cruelty. I knew how milk arrived at the doorstep. And where eggs came from. The argument of vegetarians, of course, was that in order to get steak you had to kill an animal. In order to get an egg or a glass of milk you hadn’t to kill an animal. But if you produce those dairy products on a massive scale, then the theory isn’t true that you don’t have to kill an animal.

VN: What does veganism mean, from the person who defined it?
DW: Well it certainly started as a milk issue. That was a great issue, even more than eggs. We had to solve the milk problem. And then it soon took over to include the whole diet—then, of course later, all the animal products that people use. The biggest industry in the world is animal exploitation, which is the one thing that veganism is opposing. Not just farming, but everything else—medicines, vivisection, everything that comes from animals. I think man is biologically not a carnivore or a parasite. I’m thinking particularly of milk drinking. We’ve got more than 500 different mammals throughout the world and man is the only one who takes milk throughout life. It’s only man who is capable of [this kind of exploitation].

VN: Taking veganism beyond diet, tell me your thoughts about wearing fur or hunting and fishing.
DW: Well veganism covers, it leads, the whole of the animal-welfare movement. There is a difference, obviously, between a laboratory animal that’s just being torn to pieces and someone giving little children a donkey ride. They’re so different and yet they’re both animal exploitation in a way, aren’t they? But I, as a propagandist, wouldn’t [protest] the donkey giving the little child a ride because the opponent would think you were just around the bend, so I just keep off that and go for the strong points.

VN: How would you like to be remembered?
DW: I thought, “When Joseph comes into the room this morning, I’ll say to him, ‘Look, I’m not obese. I don’t have bags under my eyes. I still got hair.’” And I thought, “No, that’s boasting, isn’t it?” Fate has a cruel way of dealing with boasters. You know, when the Vegan Society started, the population of the world was around two billion. It now exceeds [in 2005] six billion. Alongside this explosion is the second man-made explosion of purposely-bred animals to feed him. Some people throughout the ages have grasped these messages haven’t they? And it’s one of the mysteries of genetics how [a] few of us in the 20th century, born in orthodox settings with no one to influence us, managed to arrive at the same conclusion, or to see the same messages, that some of the ancient Greeks did. The theory is if we live on pure foods and pure thoughts and all the right ideas we become more receptive. And [most] people, the great mass of people, they’re just living. Now they’re not going to be spoken of in 2,000 years like the old Greeks. They’re just going to live and die.

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