While still a niche part of the UK population, the vegan movement is growing amongst the ethical-minded, health-conscious and even among competitive athletes.
The term "veganism" was coined in England in 1944 by Donald Watson, co-founder of the British Vegan Society, to mean "non-dairy vegetarian". It was a bold position to take, certainly as Britain still rationed food supplies as it sought to end the Second World War. In 1951, the definition was extended to include the idea that man should live without exploiting animals.
In the wake of end of the Second World War, Britain introduced the National Health Service as part of major social reform. Given the social and economic liberalisation of the following decades, Watson may have been surprised to learn that, two years after his death in 2005, only 2 percent of Briton's considered themselves vegans. In 1960, H. Jay Dinshah started the American Vegan Society, linking veganism to the Jainist concept ahimsa, the avoidance of violence against living things.
But despite its small affiliation, veganism is becoming increasingly influential. Brighton, a hotbed for alternative lifestyles on England's south coast, boasts 13 vegan restaurants, supporting a population of 156,000. Robin Gibb of the Bee Gees, Morrissey and his former Smiths colleague Johnny Marr, Thom Yorke of Radiohead and the poet Benjamin Zephaniah all consider themselves vegan, as does former President of the United States, Bill Clinton. And it's not just artists. Athletes such as former Olympic champion sprinter Carl Lewis, boxer Mike Tyson and NBA stars Salim Stoudamire and John Salley prove that the diet does not negate physical prowess.
The Vegan Society has thrived beyond Watson's lifetime and offers advice and support to aid the transition to a vegan diet. Their hope is that, «ultimately, the use of animal products (such as meat, dairy, eggs, leather and wool) will be viewed as an inhumane and unsustainable practice from a much less enlightened age.»
In the picture (courtesy Moshi Moshi restaurant) Heather Mills at the Vegan Sushi Challenge at Moshi Moshi restaurant