Veganism is an ethical practice of abstaining from the use of animal products, particularly in diet, and an associated philosophy that rejects the commodity status of animals. An individual who follows the diet or philosophy is known as a vegan.
Vegetarianism can be traced to Indus Valley Civilization in 3300–1300 BCE in the Indian subcontinent, particularly in northern and western ancient India. Early vegetarians included Indian philosophers such as Mahavira and Acharya Kundakunda, the Tamil poet Valluvar, the Indian emperors Chandragupta Maurya and Ashoka; Greek philosophers such as Empedocles, Theophrastus, Plutarch, Plotinus, and Porphyry; and the Roman poet Ovid and the playwright Seneca the Younger.
In November 1944, a British woodworker named Donald Watson announced that because vegetarians ate dairy and eggs, he was going to create a new term called “vegan,” to describe people who did not. Tuberculosis had been found in 40% of Britain’s dairy cows the year before, and Watson used this to his advantage, claiming that it proved the vegan lifestyle protected people from tainted food. Three months after coining the term, he issued a formal explanation of the way the word should be pronounced: “Veegan, not Veejan,” he wrote in his new Vegan Society newsletter, which had 25 subscribers. By the time Watson died at age 95 in 2005, there were 250,000 self-identifying vegans in Britain and 2 million in the U.S.
Veganism became increasingly mainstream in the 2010s, especially in the latter half. The Economist declared 2019 “the year of the vegan”. The European Parliament defined the meaning of vegan for food labels in 2010, in force as of 2015. Chain restaurants began marking vegan items on their menus and supermarkets improved their selection of vegan-processed food.
Human Rights to Animals?
There is a common misconception that vegan activists want nonhuman animals to have the same rights as people. No one wants cats to have the right to vote, or for dogs to have the right to bear arms. The issue is not whether animals should have the same rights as people, but whether we have a right to use and exploit them for our purposes, however, frivolous they might be.