||This article is written like a personal reflection or opinion essay rather than an encyclopedic description of the subject. (July 2010)|
Donald Watson reading the first issue of The Vegan
2 September 1910|
Mexborough, Yorkshire, UK
|Died||16 November 2005
Keswick, Cumbria, UK
|Known for||Founder of the Vegan Society and coining the word vegan.|
Watson was born in Mexborough, Yorkshire, the son of a headmaster in a mining community, an environment in which vegetarianism, let alone veganism, was unknown. His parents, however, encouraged and supported their three children in determining their own paths in life, a liberal approach which enabled him to formulate ideas both challenging and controversial. Watson held his parents in great esteem, and often expressed his gratitude for their wisdom in accepting, if not understanding, his philosophy.
His journey to veganism began when he was very young, at the farm of his Uncle George. There, he said:
|“||I was surrounded by interesting animals. They all "gave" something: the farm horse pulled the plough, the lighter horse pulled the trap, the cows "gave" milk, the hens "gave" eggs and the cockerel was a useful "alarm clock" - I didn't realise at that time that he had another function, too. The sheep "gave" wool. I could never understand what the pigs "gave", but they seemed such friendly creatures - always glad to see me.||”|
He realised what purpose the pigs served when he saw one slaughtered, and his life was changed. He became a vegetarian at the age of fourteen, as a New Year resolution, although he did not know any others.
On leaving school at fifteen, Watson was apprenticed to a family joinery firm, and from the age of twenty became a joinery teacher. He taught in Leicester, where he also played a large part in the Leicester Vegetarian Society. He moved on to Keswick, where he taught for twenty-three years. He continued to live there after retirement, working with the Cumbrian Vegetarian Society, and campaigning through the local press on matters important in his home community. For several years he devoted much time to working as a guided fell-walking leader, as well as to organic vegetable gardening, until very shortly before his death, aged 95.
Veganism and The Vegan Society
As Watson grew up, he did not smoke, consume alcohol, or make contact with foods or substances which he regarded as 'toxins'. In the 1940s, after learning about milk production, he became a vegan. He explained his motivation as ethical concern for sentient animals:
|“||We can see quite plainly that our present civilisation is built on the exploitation of animals, just as past civilisations were built on the exploitation of slaves, and we believe the spiritual destiny of man is such that in time he will view with abhorrence the idea that men once fed on the products of animals' bodies"||”|
In November 1944 in Leicester, he and his wife, Dorothy, and four friends founded the Vegan Society. Someone in the group would have come up with a word to describe their way of life, he believed, but he suggested 'vegan' - "the beginning and end of 'vegetarian'" - "because veganism starts with vegetarianism and carries it through to its logical conclusion." Watson and the group launched the first edition of the Society's quarterly newsletter, The Vegan News, in the same year. He ran the publication single-handed for two years, writing and duplicating the newsletter, and responding to the increasing volume of correspondence.
Watson enjoyed cycling, photography and playing the violin, and while not a party political supporter, he took a keen interest in political issues throughout his life. Watson was an agnostic.
Watson never sought any recognition for his early work in founding the Vegan Society. He was able to surprise his many critics who claimed that he could not survive on his proposed diet by proving that he would not only survive but survive well and free from the need for doctors’ interventions in his final days.
- "Obituary: Donald Watson". BBC. November 18, 2005. Retrieved 2008-09-08.
- The Vegan Summer, 2003 Edition.. Retrieved 1 November 2009.
- "Interview with Donald Watson - Vegan Founder". Foods for Life. December 15, 2002. Retrieved 2008-09-08.
- Davison, Phil (24 November 2005). "Donald Watson - Founder of veganism and the Vegan Society". Obituary (London: The Independent). Retrieved 2009-11-02.
- Interview with Donald Watson at Vegparadise.com Accessed 2 Nov 2009
- Donald Watson in Vegan News nº1, November 1944.
- "Obituary: Donald Watson". BBC News. 18 November 2005.
- Booth, Jenny (December 8, 2005). "Donald Watson". Obituary (London: TheTimes). Retrieved 2009-11-02.
- George D Rodger’s Unabridged Interview With Donald Watson on Sunday 15 December 2002
- Elliott, Rose (14 January 2006). "Donald Watson - The first vegan, who invented the word - and outlived his many critics". Obituary (London: The Guardian). Retrieved 2009-11-02.
- First issue of the Vegan Society newsletter November 1944, Published and written by Donald Watson. Accessed November 2009
- Vegan Society main website (contains various, changing information pages and leaflets about Donald Watson)