The roots and evolution of veganism: unveiling its rich history

Veganism, as a lifestyle choice and social movement, has gained tremendous momentum in recent years. With more people embracing the idea of abstaining from animal products, it is essential to delve into the origins and evolution of veganism. By understanding its historical context, we can appreciate its growth, challenges, and achievements over time.

While veganism, as we know it today, is a modern phenomenon, its roots can be traced back to ancient civilizations. The philosophy of Ahimsa or non-violence towards all living beings was practiced in various forms across ancient cultures like Buddhism, Jainism, and Hinduism. These beliefs underpinned the vegetarianism observed by many individuals in these societies, providing the foundation for compassionate dietary choices.

The term "vegan" first emerged in 1944 when Donald Watson, along with a group of British vegetarians, established the Vegan Society. Inspired by the principles of vegetarianism, Watson sought to extend the movement by advocating the exclusion of all animal-derived products from daily life. The society's inaugural magazine, Vegan News, provided a platform for spreading vegan ideals and established veganism as a distinct and inclusive lifestyle choice.


In its early stages, veganism primarily focused on ethical considerations, centered around animal welfare and rights. The movement highlighted the inherent cruelty inflicted upon animals in factory farming, advocating for alternatives that allowed animals to live free from exploitation. Additionally, as the detrimental environmental impact of animal agriculture became increasingly evident, environmental concerns also played a prominent role in veganism's evolution.

In the following decades, veganism steadily expanded as new organizations, such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), emerged to champion animal rights and veganism’s messages. Through effective advocacy campaigns, grassroots efforts, and the power of social media, veganism attracted widespread attention, breaking the stereotype of being a fringe dietary choice. Influential figures, prominent athletes, and celebrities also embraced veganism, further promoting its growth and accessibility.

Veganism has transcended geographical boundaries, finding its place in numerous cultural contexts. For example, in India, veganism's historical vegetarian roots align with Jain principles of non-violence and spiritual purity. In Western societies, veganism has been strengthened by animal rights activism, environmental concerns, and health-related motivations. These diverse cultural connections showcase the versatility and universal appeal of veganism as a lifestyle choice.

Despite its remarkable progress, veganism continues to face challenges. Critics argue that veganism may not be viable for all individuals or regions due to varying nutritional needs and lack of accessibility to plant-based alternatives. Additionally, the commercialization of veganism has led to the emergence of highly processed, less sustainable vegan products. However, the movement's trajectory appears promising, with increasing public awareness regarding animal rights, climate change, and health concerns.

The history and evolution of veganism trace a path from its ancient roots to the present-day movement, firmly grounded in ethical and environmental considerations. As veganism continues to gain momentum worldwide, it is crucial to recognise the diverse cultural influences, advocacy efforts, and evolving motivations behind this lifestyle choice. By understanding its history, we can enjoy a deeper appreciation for veganism's growth and its potential to promote compassion, sustainability, and overall well-being.

Michaela Pontiki