In the early days people used a fair bit of meat. Cavemen would sit around a fire after the sun had set, boasting about how many gazelles they’d brought home that night. Sometimes it would be one, sometimes it would be four or five - the latter eliciting grunts of approval from the more vocal members of the tribe. And then there was Grog, sitting at the back with a punnet of freshly picked berries. “This’ll catch on one day”, he’d say.
“Yeah right” the others would chuckle, before turning back to chow down on a monstrous leg.
Little did he know that they only dreamed of having skin as smooth as Grog.
Veganism is a fairly new idea
The term veganism isn't even a century old, in fact it was only coined back in 1944 by a fellow by the name of Donald Watson. In the midst of world war two he decided that the only fight worth having was between the Leicester branch of the vegetarian society newsletter and himself. Upset at the fact the editors refused to accommodate a section for ‘non-dairy vegetarians’, he took the drastic step of forming his own publication, ‘the Vegan news’ - beginning life as a quarterly with a whopping circulation of 25 subscribers.
Although the term is fairly new, it’s believed that the practice has been around a fair while longer, with the one and only Pythagoras (of triangle fame) having written strongly about his opinions on animal treatment. Indeed, vegetarians were known as ‘Pythagoreans’ until the phrase was invented in 1815. Likewise, various references have been made throughout ancient history to those that turned their backs to animal products, specifically in Indian and oriental texts.
The main issue veganism and vegetarianism had, at least in the west, was that the war had made people hungrier for meat than ever before. Having sat through years of rations and suffering, meat was suddenly back on the menu, and having it in the house was seen as a status symbol. A poll taken in 1940s America found that ham and eggs, prime ribs, chicken, lobster, and baked Virginia gammon took the top five spots of what people really craved to eat. That’s right, there wasn’t a vegetable in sight.
The amount of vegetarians had actually risen slightly during the war, mainly because declaring yourself as vegetarian granted you a slightly larger cheese ration than everyone else. Clearly this wasn’t a great win for veganism, nor was it a permanent state of affairs, with people eager to sharpen the steak knives as soon as rationing stopped. In this culture being vegan was difficult, but soon things would really take off…
The swinging sixties
As it turns out, the age of free-love, groovy times and counterculture was just what the doctor ordered when it came to the vegan movement. Before this point being vegan was seen as being an outsider, a bit of an eccentric - not normal. However, now being an outsider was seen as being cool. No-one wanted to be part of the system, man.
In this environment the movement really began to gain traction, with icons such as the Beatles introducing the idea of going animal-free to significant numbers of people. Of these a handful went a step further and became full vegans, a trend that continued as the decade faded into the 70s. It was during this period that people began to realise than vegan didn’t necessarily mean ‘boring’, with influences from the middle east and India introducing the joys of pita, falafel, dolmades, tahini, vegetable curries and taboul to the west. When added to Eastern staples of beansprouts and tofu, the animal-free menu suddenly looked a whole lot more exciting than the conservative cuisine their elders were eating.
Heading into the new millennium
Through the 80s and 90s the health benefits of a vegan diet became more apparent, broadening its appeal away from the hippies and punks who had so long dominated the scene. Its rise was also perpetuated by an increase in products made as alternatives to dairy. Okay, soy milk was still brown, vegan cheese wouldn’t melt and burgers tasted like pure mush, but at least companies were trying, and people were getting on board.
As time has gone on, the products have only got better and better, with many meat eaters now actually preferring the vegetarian alternatives (or at least not being able to tell the difference). From 2006-2016 the amount of vegans in the UK increased by 350%, demonstrating how it has now reached a point where veganism is not just accepted, but mainstream. It’s thought that part of this is due to rising environmental concerns, with millennials especially, keen to reduce the global impact that animal farming has on our planet.
Going a step further
It’s only recently that people have begun to look past the plate and into the rest of their lives. Alternatives to leather are now plentiful, wannabe Schwarzeneggers can use non-whey protein powder and if you don’t want a woolen carpet you can get hundreds of other kinds, all of which are equally as fluffy.
Many cosmetics brands are now also becoming more environmentally conscious, using only vegan ingredients and ditching the old methods of animal testing. Among these are Optiat, with all of our products 100% vegan, cruelty-free and sustainable. We don’t like to say we’re the future but, looking back we can say one thing for sure. Grog was onto something after all.