How much progress have we really made in 75 years?

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» How much progress have we really made in 75 years?

In honour of The Vegan Society’s 75th anniversary, it seems apt to take stock of the progress the vegan movement has made since the founding of the organisation back in 1944.

Undoubtedly, we’ve come leaps and bounds in raising awareness within public consciousness of veganism, with there being a current estimate of 600,000 vegans in Britiain and rising. And yet, progress is yet to be made in ensuring that these people are catered for equally in all sectors – particularly the public sector.

Wooden sign in rural area pointing to VEGANISM

Looking back at history, it’s interesting to note that we continue to campaign for the very issue that Donald Watson himself advocated for back in 1945 – for better access to vegan food through public provisions. Archival materials highlight that Watson had requested a suitable ration for vegans, as an alternative to the butter and lard rations that formed part of the standard ration pack at the time. He requested additional points to enable vegans to buy alternative food items that were in limited supply, such as lentils and dried fruits. These could have been used to replace the meat, dairy and egg coupons that they could not use. 

Vegans were told that they could register as vegetarians, but the vegetarian rations were of little use, as they consisted entirely of animal products, such as eggs and cheese. A request for a vegan ration was denied on the assumption that vegan foods were not a nutritional match for animal products – an argument we continue to face in our policy work today. And yet, Watson persevered to defend the rights of vegans, despite the stronger resistance that he faced at the time.

Fast forward to present times, and we still often hear from vegans in schools, hospitals and prisons, who are told they cannot be catered for or are given extremely limited food options. The Vegan Society continue to campaign against the continuing indirect discrimination that vegans experience, due to the limited offerings that are currently being provided, to the now 600,000 vegans in Britain. Our Catering for Everyone campaign aims to do this by calling for a change in the law to guarantee at least one plant-based option as standard on every public sector menu.

With that said, it’s a great time to take a moment to appreciate the strides we have made in recent years, regarding vegan provision overall. What now feels commonplace, to walk into a café and have soy milk readily available, would have been a wondrous thing to those early vegans. Undoubtedly, vegan provision is enormously better now than at any other point in history – all due to the voices of vegans around the world, coming together to demand better. It shows the power of advocacy – had Donald Watson not continued with promoting the vegan message, the movement would not be where it is today. But there is still work to be done, to familiarise everyone with the benefits of plant-based foods for public health and the environment.

So why not get involved and support the movement too? Write to your local MP or councillor, using our template letters here, and help contribute to the cause by helping us get vegan food on every public sector menu.

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