The vegan author Jordi Casamitjana reviews a 1992 public speech of the ecological vegan Kathleen Jannaway, one of the pioneers of eco-veganism
The first draft was 113,064 words.
Far too many. In March 2020, September Publishing approached me after I won my legal case that secured ethical veganism as a protected philosophical belief in Great Britain. They commissioned me to write the book “Ethical Vegan” explaining how I did it, but they had specified in the contract that it had to be between 60,000 and 70,000 words long. Therefore, I had to cut it down to more than half of what I had written in my first draft.
In the end, the final version ended up being 89,743 words long, and many of the stuff that made the first draft had to be removed. Sadly, the chapter on the history of veganism lost a big chunk. So much had happened in that history in so many countries for so many years, that I could have written many books just about that. My inspiration for that chapter came from the work of my friend Ian McDonald who produced the excellent 15-episode-long series Vegetarianism, The Story So Far for his podcast The Vegan Option. That was over 11 hours of recorded information!
Now that I have become a writer creating articles and blogs like this one, I often write about the subjects that were in the first draft of my book but did not make it to the printed version. I wish I could say that one of such subjects was the work of Kathleen Jannaway, one of the 20thcentury’s pioneers of veganism and perhaps the first person we could officially give the title of eco-vegan. But, alas, she was not even in my first draft, which goes to show how much more about the history of veganism there is that I did not know — even after researching about it.
Not that long ago, I found on the internet a video of one of the many lectures that Kathleen Jannaway had given over the years, and then I realised her significance in the history of veganism. This one had been recorded thirty years ago at the Sixth International Vegan Festival in Biggleswade, Bedfordshire, UK. At this festival, lectures and workshops were given about campaigning for animals, the environment, agriculture and the developing world, health and nutrition, and veganism in an omnivorous world. Speakers included Mark Gold, Joyce D’Silva, Dr Alan Long, Dr David Ryde, Dr Gill Langley, and Kathleen Jannaway. Luckily, among the attendants, someone had a Video-8 camcorder and was able to tape her lecture.
I have now found out that Kathleen Jannaway probably did more to promote veganism in Europe than anyone else in the closing decades of the 20th century, despite not being one of the founders of the Vegan Society — as many people have assumed. Born in London in 1915, she was 29 when the society was formed, so she could have indeed been one of the founders. However, she become vegan in 1964, in her late forties (after a long period of vegetarianism). But by the time that lecture was recorded, she had been vegan for 28 years (longer than most vegans alive today, I would say), and died in 2003 at the age of 88 having been vegan for 39 years. She was also one of the vegans interviewed in the famous 1976 BBC community-based TV programme called ‘Open Door’, which presented the work of the Vegan Society to the masses.
In 1972, Jannaway became the General Secretary of the Vegan Society (and kept that position until 1983), and according to the vegan sociologist and animal rights activist Roger Yates, in the 1970s virtually all the materials and literature from the Vegan Society had been written by Kathleen and her husband Jack Jannaway. She was the author of many booklets, among them Abundant Living in the Coming Age of the Tree and Introduction to Practical Veganism.
But above all, she was one of the first openly environmentalist vegans, showing that the current trend of eco-veganism is by no means new. In 1984 she co-founded with her husband ‘The Movement For Compassionate Living (MCL)’, through which she developed her ideas of the vegan world, which are very similar to the vision of such a world that many vegans — including me — have today. The organisation produced a quarterly magazine called “New Leaves” talking about the Jannaways’ vision.
Also, Jannaway was one of the pioneers of veganic farming. She kept a big food veganic garden in her home in Leatherhead (from where the Vegan Society was run), mainly to prove that veganic farming was both practical and sustainable. Annual garden parties on her lawn became a welcome meeting ground for vegans before the current Vegan Camps were established. The following of her horticultural work is now been taken by the Vegan Organic Network (VON) which sets standards for vegan organic farming, and is still supported by MCL. The more I read about her, the more like-minded I feel toward her, so I decided to write a bit about her work and ideas. In this article, I would be reviewing her 1992 lecture at the Sixth International Vegan Festival (which you can also watch at the end), as this is the video that left a strong impression on me and made me feel I had met her face to face.
A Passionate Advocate of Veganism
When I first watched her talk, I was mesmerised. Speaking slowly in a lecturing style that has been lost to history, her eloquence and pathos are so full of gravitas that I felt how a physics student might have felt being lectured by Albert Einstein, or an acting student might have felt being taught by Laurence Olivier. I felt I had become a young pupil in a 1930s school being taught about the world by a wise teacher — she had been a teacher at that time, and you can tell. Mesmerising indeed.
Through the lecture, one could not help to feel how important was veganism in the overall scheme of things. Such was her skill in advocating for it. Read this from the beginning of her speech and you will see what I mean:
“I say without hesitation that I think accelerating a trend of veganism is the most important thing we can do today to save all highly-developed forms of life on this planet. We live at momentous times, at what could be a turning point in evolution. Nothing, to my mind, can exaggerate the importance of veganism.”
But her enthusiasm for veganism is invigorating because she was also an optimist:
“It seems clear to me that the age of predatory men — and women — is coming to an end. It’s destroying not only the animals but the whole planet. And himself too. It cannot go on. And the alternative is the vegan way. Compassion to all life, all the animals, and also to the planet, the plants, and the humans. That’s the only alternative. And it is our wholesome responsibility to bear the task of introducing that alternative to the whole world.”
“If we can solve this problem of animal exploitation, and spread veganism, we should also solve the problems of war, of poverty, and all the other things that had caused immense suffering to people and animals through the ages. Veganism is as important as that. It’s a terrible responsibility.”
She also showed great respect for the founders of the Vegan Society — who she would have met — and understood how brave they had been in a very uncertain and hostile world — something we give for granted today:
“Those early vegans were motivated only by disinterested compassion. Some might have been aware of the health advantages of cutting animals from their diets but, generally speaking, it was pity for the animals that were so poorly exploited that made the first vegans give up all animal products. They didn’t know what they were doing, they didn’t know how far their experiment was going to reach, how far its results were going to be, how important it was going to be 45 years later, when the world is in the state it is today. But because they tried it, because they started to bring up their children vegan, now, 45 years later, we’ve got vegans of advanced age who can still stand on a public platform — and generally speaking, are proud of their health. We’ve got people that are life vegans producing children of their own, who are growing to teenage and beyond. We’ve proven it. We’ve proved that in any generation animal products are not necessary for human health.”
Veganism is About the Environment Too
In the lecture, Jannaway explains the importance of the environment for the vegan movement, but especially for her. She is essentially self-defining as what today we may call an eco-vegan (or a vegan for the environment). As part of being an ethical vegan, I am an eco-vegan too, which does not make me less of a “vegan for the animals” (as she explains). She felt that her role was to promote the environmental dimension of veganism as it was less common then than it is today.
“I tend to give most emphasis on my work on environmental matters. Not because I think any less than I ever did, way back in 64 when I turned vegan — when I heard about battery hens and veal calves — but a lot of people are doing that sort of work. So, I turned my attention largely to the environment. And is that when I feel we have a special function in.”
“ I feel that the change will only come when we get the masses of the people changing. It’s not good, just alone, attacking the government, attacking the industrialists. The politicians will go on until they are frightened to lose the votes. The industrialists will go on until they don’t sell their goods. It’s the masses of people that we’ve got to get to. And we’ve got to raise their awareness. And the message we’ve to give them is the message that has been preached for thousands of years. All the great teachers have said the same thing: compassion and love.”
You can tell that 30 years ago the debate about whether environmentalism should be an integral part of veganism was as heated as it is today. Her voice became more emotional when she said this:
“I heard some people say to me, ‘you are all about the environment, all you care about is the humans.’ It’s not a bit true! It’s the animals that suffered the most. It’s the animals that suffer first, it’s the animals that suffer most, and it’s the animals we need to stand for. So, never make that excuse of not being environmentally aware.”
Jannaway already knew about greenwashing and did not let it fool her. She knew how to stay true to vegan ideas. At the time, “organic farming” was sold to the public as today animal farmers sell “Regenerative Grazing”, but she could see through it:
“I am particularly worried about a trend that is going ahead a lot in this country — and I believe in Europe too. The trend to ‘organic farming.’ Right, get the animals out on the fields, get them decently treated, as most organic farmers may do… Organic farming has got a lot to commend it. It’s certainly much better for the soil. It’s much better for the wildlife…but it depends on the continuous exploitation of highly sentient creatures. No matter how nicely you treat them, what are you going to do with the male animals? And what are you going to do with the animals when they stop being producers of the things you want to sell? When they get to a certain age, they all are going to end up in the slaughterhouse at an early age.”
Jannaway developed her views on ecological veganism much further when she left the Vegan Society to co-create with her husband The Movement For Compassionate Living (MCL). In its website, it explains what it is: “The MCL philosophy has several strands which weave together to form an approach that our founder, Kathleen Jannaway, called ‘Ecological Veganism’: a healthy diet for everyone, feeding the world, protecting the planet, animal liberation, a new agricultural revolution, and the role of trees.” She envisaged a worldwide network of self-reliant, tree-based, autonomous vegan village communities (STAVVs), based loosely on the ideas of Mahatma Gandhi.
All You Need is Trees
Compared with the eco-vegans of today, Jannaway’s ecological veganism is unique because it promulgates that trees are the key to the solution to all global problems. We already know the importance of trees for the world’s ecology, and also in human evolution (the human lineage comes primarily from frugivorous species that lived and eat on trees), but she gave them a much more prominent stage. She often said that all that we need is trees, as they can provide many things (food, clothes, fuel, shelter, etc.) and can regenerate the planet’s climate. A great part of her lecture was about the importance of trees. Here are a few of her quotes:
“Trees can give us all the things we need. Trees for food… What would we use for clothes? …Well, I say wood. One of the first synthetic materials I remember coming was Rayon made from wood. And there are all sorts of synthetic materials now made from wood.”
“If we reforested all the land fell for the grazing animal, we could double the world’s forests.”
“We’ve got to plant trees.”
She already knew, 30 years ago, how crucial trees are to combat global heating (that in those days was still called global warming, as its effects had not been felt yet as we can feel them today):
“Trees don’t just do the one thing. The trees that keep the water cycle going also help with global warming. And they also help against erosion.”
“There is growing concern in many parts of the world about fresh water, especially in England, in the Southeast, recently. That is a worldwide fear. It could be, of course, made much worse with global warming.”
These last words were quite prophetic because, as I am writing this, there is a drought in the Southeast of England (where I live) which everyone agrees is just a manifestation of the current global climate crisis (a few weeks ago, we had the hottest temperature on record).
I think Jannaway was also what we would call today an Intersectional Vegan. Despite her refined accent, she came from a working-class environment and described her childhood as impoverished. During her entire life, she fought for several causes at the same time. She was a pacifist, and like Donald Watson, one of the founders of the Vegan Society, she and her husband Jack Jannaway were conscientious objectors during the war. She taught children with learning difficulties, was a ‘Freedom from Hunger’ campaigner, and she also worked for the Gandhi Foundation. She not only cared for the animals and the environment but marginalised people too. You can detect her intersectional flare in this part of her talk:
“Clothing can be a real problem for vegans. Of course, you won’t have wool, silk, or leather, but cotton. Cotton is the fashion for everybody. And yet, I saw a man on television some time ago now. He was from one of the African countries, and he said — I could hear his words so plainly — ‘cotton is the mother of famine!’ So much land in the third world that should grow food for local people grows cotton. But not only does do that, but the methods used destroy the soil…the amount of chemicals and the amount of pesticides, and what pesticides do to the wildlife, and what they do to the workers.”
I am amazed how, 30 years ago, she was already lecturing about the geographical arguments vegans of today are using (thinking they just discovered them):
“The world’s land is 130 Million square Km, 41 million are still forests, but 31 million are permanent pastures for animals. 15 million square km grow food, grow crops, but a lot of that is feed for animals, not for direct human consumption.”
Jannaway’s Vegan World
When growing up, Jannaway was an intelligent child and won a scholarship to the County Secondary School, Streatham, a radical grammar school. Her parents and grandparents were also quite left-wing radicals. Her father was a member of the Socialist Party of Great Britain (before it became the Labour Party) and regularly preached a message of peace and the dignity of working people. Therefore, from an early age, Jannaway become an idealist trying to improve the world, and like most idealists, she had a vision. Veganism was not only protesting the current world but about trying to build a better one. She knew what the problem was and how to change it:
“It’s largely an imbalance of the evolution of the human animal. Our intellect has grown terrifically and given us this great power over our environment, but the other side of our nature, the emotional and loving side, has not kept up. I am not anti-science, as some vegans are. Science properly used, with compassion for life, can help to solve so many of our problems. At the moment, is the cause of most of them, because it’s not directed by compassion, is directed by greed, and fear, and other negative emotions.”
She had a very precise idea about what the vegan world would look like in the end:
“What we need — and I think perhaps you will agree — almost more than anything today, is a vision of a new world very different from this world. You start, perhaps, many of us, by seeing these dreadful pictures of what they do to animals, and you start to reform your diet. ‘I can’t have anything to do with it!’ It’s when I saw a two-page spread in the Sunday Observer in 64 of Ruth Harrison’s book Animal Machines, with pictures of the veal calves and the battery hens… that I turned vegan. But then you start examining the whole way you have been brought up, the whole way you have been brainwashed by the society you have been brought up. You start to criticise everything. And you realise is really all connected. It’s the lack of compassion, the lack of love of the human animal, that is the cause of all our troubles, at every level. And don’t ever forget that in any situation, whether is war or famine, or the destruction of the environment, the animals and the children suffer most.”
“It’s not the reform of animal farming we want. It’s the end of it. And in a vegan world, as I think you know, there would be so much less land required to feed people. There could be wild areas for wildlife where animals could live their own natural lives in their own natural ways, free of our interference. Perhaps they will realise they no longer need to fear us, and we can have the privilege to have proper relations with them.”
The sociologist Roger Yates explains how Jannaway envisioned the future vegan world:
“Jannaway evolved into a really radical culture which was based on trees. A kind of tree-based culture, if you like. And she said that animal agriculture would be phased out and be replaced by forests, which would provide everything that humans needed. So, essentially, the vision was another global set of tree-based autonomous villages that would replace industrialised cities.
It sounds as though we’re talking about primitivism but it’s not that. It’s not kind of giving up anything. It’s more to do with working out what would be sustainable. The generalised vision of a tree-based future was truly radical. She said it would prevent monocropping, it would prevent unemployment, and it would also stop the formation of deserts.”
In a way I very much relate to, Jannaway believed in natural foods grown locally where possible and supported the wholegrain food movement against junk food. It seems that it was this issue that made her leave the Vegan Society and create MCL (which could be seen as a splinter group of the society). In 1984, a section of The Vegan Society felt that her stance against vegan junk food and supermarket food was preventing veganism to become mainstream, so she eventually left. There were no hard feelings, as in 2002, the year before she died, she was pleased to have been elected as a patron of The Vegan Society.
What Should We Do?
As the wise woman that she was, at the end of her lecture Jannaway gave great advice that was as pertinent to the young vegan activist in her audience in Biggleswade in 1992, as it is to the vegan activists today all over the world (some of whom may be the children and grandchildren of those):
“So, what do we do about it then? Spread the message. But please, do it non-violently. It’s right to be angry at cruel exploitation. It’s right to be angry about the act. But not against the human being. You don’t know what turn him that way. I have been a large part of my career dealing with emotionally maladjusted children. And there is always something back in that bringing up that caused them to go hard and cruel. You don’t know what made them. How many huntsmen were brought up from childhood by the aristocrats to rabble in hunting? That’s one direct way — rather too direct. But nearly always, when people grow up cruel, there is something in that background that made them hard and cruel. And you are not going to change them by more hostility. You need to make it clear how wrong what they’re doing is, but they need psychiatry, not hostility — they probably would not thank you for saying that.”
“I am not dogmatic about anything. I try not to be. I think every individual person is an individual in an individual situation, and you can only show them possibilities… You can only show, you can only talk, and you can only live, give demonstrations. That is the only thing you can do.”
“And finally, when you have done what you should… don’t let it overcome you too much. Do what you can, then put it aside, and look for hope. Hope is one of the most important ingredients for success. We’ve got to have hope… and I think there is hope, even in the desperation of our days. Just because things are getting so bad that they are going to wake the people up. And when they wake up, they’re going to look for an alternative. Have we got the alternative properly ready? Have we? This is our responsibility. To have the alternative ready.”
This is good advice. We, vegans, often focus too much on exposing the reality of animal exploitation to carnist, in the hope that they will wake up as we did some time ago. But we forget how lucky we were in being able to transition to veganism smoothly and successfully, which may not be the case for everyone. The circumstances of each pre-vegan may be very different, and part of our job as vegans is to change people’s circumstances so it becomes easier for everyone to become vegan everywhere in the world. It is our responsibility to get the alternatives to animal exploitation ready, available, and affordable to everyone.
I often forget that. I often forget that those who create vegan-friendly alternatives of products and services, either by researching for them, inventing them, producing them, or making them mainstream, are as responsible for the vegan world we are building that any vegan activist spreading awareness about animal exploitation. They are as responsible and as crucial. They are as needed and as instrumental.
Kathleen Jannaway talk in Biggleswade 30 years ago made me humble. It reminded me about how many important vegan pioneers we have forgotten, how much work to build the vegan world has been already done by people most vegans would never have heard of, and despite I have been vegan for over 20 years and I have written lots about the subject, how much more I need to learn about this philosophy, and about the achievements of all those following it through the ages.
We are all standing on the shoulders of giants, and it seems to me that Kathleen Jannaway was one of such giants. Whether they know it or not, most eco-vegans of today are standing on her shoulders, using the arguments she disseminated, and the vision she cultivated.
The first blueprint of the vegan world was written many decades ago.