When a person makes the decision to be vegan, that person is making a moral commitment to live a life based on non-violence, ecological responsibility, and social justice.
The word vegan was created in 1944 when Donald Watson along with several other members of the Vegetarian Society in Leicester, England decided to form a sub-group within the Vegetarian Society which sought to end all use of animals by man for food and other forms of exploitation. When the society refused to give them space within its journal, the group then formed its own organization. They created the word vegan from the first and last letters of ‘vegetarian’ because, according to Watson, veganism started with vegetarianism and carried it through to its logical conclusion. The Vegan society was then formed and later, when the society became a registered charity, in the Memorandum and Articles of Association it was defined that veganism was:
“[…] a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.”
Since the formation of the Vegan Society many other vegan organizations have been formed around the globe which has led to some confusion among persons new to the term vegan. Most of this confusion has come from differences among the various organizations in their approach toward animal advocacy. Further confusion has been caused by appropriation of the word vegan from within the diet community and this confusion has been picked up by popular culture.
It really shouldn’t be that confusing. The non-violent principles on which veganism is based have been around for centuries and are really quite simple.
Ahimsa…Reverence for Life…The Golden Rule…
Ahimsa is a Sanskrit word meaning not to cause harm or injury to any other living being in one’s thoughts, speech, or actions. The word is non-passive in that it encourages more than awareness, but also the use of positive action to create change. Just as with the concept of the Golden Rule, it calls for one to act benevolently by treating others as one would like to be treated. These acts are not carried out for selfish means, but out of a “reverence for life,” a phrase that Dr. Albert Schweitzer used to refer to the philosophy that all life has value and that there is no such thing as a worthless life. Distinctions are only made as matter of necessity. It has been proven that humans do not need to eat other sentient beings or their secretions in order live healthy lives. As vegans we look at how our choices impact, not only other animals, but the natural environment and all of its inhabitants. We then try to choose that which will cause the least amount of harm by bringing about the most good.