Veganism as a term was coined in 1944 by the Vegan Society to refer to “non-dairy vegetarians.” In 1977, the Society updated the term to encompass a lifestyle that involves as little exploitation of animals as possible. Despite the notion of veganism as a modern movement, its principles have been discussed for hundreds of years and been in practice sporadically since at least the 19th century.
1. Dr. William Lambe
In 1806, a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians began recording his change in diet to exclusively plant matter. Dr. William Lambe wrote about his particular variety of the “vegetable diet” and its effects on health. He kept to his diet until his death in 1848 at the age of 82.
2. Percy Bysshe Shelley
One of Lambe’s associates was Percy Bysshe Shelley, the poet. Perhaps equal to a modern-day rock star in terms of both fame and notoriety, Shelley has been called the first celebrity vegan. When Dr. Lambe told Shelley of the vegetable diet, Shelley and his first wife became dedicated followers. Shelley wrote several poems on the theme, most notably A Vindication of the Natural Diet.
3. Louisa May Alcott
For a time, the author of the novel Little Women lived at a vegan commune founded by her father. Fruitlands was meant to be a Transcendentalist establishment where no animal products or labor would be used. Unfortunately Fruitlands fell victim to poor planning and in-fighting, and closed seven months after the project began. The popularity of veganism, however, has been steadily growing ever since.
4. Donald Watson
Donald Watson coined the word “vegan.” He, his wife, and four friends formed the Vegan Society, so named because vegan is “the beginning and end of ‘vegetarian’.” According to a historian who earned their Master's in History online, Watson was inspired to become a vegetarian after growing up on a farm and seeing food production from beginning to end. He gave up all animal products shortly before the Society was formed.
5. Coretta Scott King
Known best as Martin Luther King Jr.’s widow, Coretta Scott King was an author and activist in her own right. Her son Dexter inspired her to spend the last decade of her life as a vegan. She is quoted as having a preference for raw foods, saying that she felt more energetic and healthier for having eaten them.
Modern times have made it easier than ever to live a vegan lifestyle, as can be seen with the increasing number of vegans, famous and not. Whether for health reasons, ethical concerns, or a mix of the two, joining the ranks of these historical figures is just a decision away.
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