Your average dinner conversation in a vegan household contains exactly what you might think: veganism. And tonight around our house was no different. We were finishing up our burritos when our discussion turned to the origins of veganism. As we sat there, talking, my mind began to wonder, “where did this word, vegan come from?” It is a word I use everyday, a word myself and many others like me use to label ourselves, however I had no idea where and when it entered the English language.

After the dishes had been done, I still couldn’t kill the curiosity in my head. So I headed to the trusty interwebs to see what I could find. A simple Google entry of “vegan” brought me to a definition and explanation of the lifestyle in Wikipedia. The article stated the typical stuff,  “veganism is a diet and lifestyle that seeks to exclude the use of animals for food, clothing, or any other purpose.” But as I read on I discovered the exact origins of the word vegan.

It turns out that a man named Donald Watson, coined the term “vegan” in 1944. The word vegan is a combination of the first three letters and the last two letters of the word “vegetarian.” Watson has been quoted as saying the word was created as “the beginning and end of vegetarian.” So now I know the word was introduced in 1944, although not the first emergence of the lifestyle, as it has been in Eastern philosophy for thousands of years, it is the first time the word vegan appeared in English.

The Vegan Society Logo via

Ok got it. Created in 1944 by Donald Watson. But who is this Donald Watson? Who is this man who created a word that now defines an entire movement? To my surprise, he wasn’t some great philosopher or political activist, he was just a normal guy , a woodcrafter in fact, who cared about the welfare of animals and created an organization. According to Wikipedia, Watson grew up on a family farm in England, where he grew a love for animals. Once realizing, that some animals were slaughtered for food, he made a stand to become a vegetarian at 14. Upon further research into the industry, he decided to cut out eggs and dairy due to the abuses the animals endured. And in 1944, himself and several friends joined together to create a society for their new lifestyle. Thus the still active Vegan Society was created! Watson remained very active in veganism until 2005, when he died peacefully at the age of 95.

There you have it! My curiosity, and I hope yours was satisfied by this internet search. Watson lived a very interesting, average life, however, he should be seen as an inspiration. And an inspiration not only for us vegans, but for everyone. His life is an example that anyone can bring change and organize around something they truly believe in. So if you vegans out there are looking for a hero, start with Donald Watson.

-Gina Williams