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Donald Watson – The Vegan Legend You’ve Likely Never Heard Of.

by | January 3, 2019

Think famous vegans and you’ll no doubt conjure up the likes of Miley Cyrus, Natalie Portman, Leona Lewis or Woody Harrelson.  All committed superstars and all vegan, which is of course great.  But what about the “godfather” of veganism – Donald Watson?  No shame if you haven’t as Donald was a very quiet, modest gentleman and largely avoided the limelight.  However, with 2019 looming large, and set to be an even bigger year for veganism, a nod in the direction of Mr. Watson surely won’t go amiss.

“Godfather” of Veganism – Donald Watson
Credits: Joss Chan/ Shutterstock

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“Godfather” of Veganism – Donald Watson

In the northern English county of South Yorkshire, you can find the unassuming town of Mexborough, an industrial town nestling in the rural beauty of an area that is known as the West Riding.  In 1910, Donald Watson was born there and grew up spending some of his time on his uncle’s farm.  Privy one day to the screams of a pig being slaughtered, his preconception of farming life being idyllic and picture post-card were immediately shattered.

The young Watson became vegetarian as a result of that trauma and also began to  investigate and research how human exploitation of animals went beyond just meat consumption.  He abhorred the exploitation of dairy farming for example, recognizing the trauma it inflicted on both mother and calf. 

Watson subsequently rejected all forms of animal exploitation, whether meat, or animal by-product, and coined the word “vegan” as a description of the lifestyle stemming from the start and end of “vegetarian” – “veg” and “an.”

In 1944, Donald Watson founded the Vegan Society and wrote and published its newsletter “Vegan News.”  In the immediate post-War years, the number of people in both the UK and beyond who identified as vegan were a very small percentage of the population.  Crucially though, year on year, those numbers never diminished, growing little by little as the twentieth century came to an end and ultimately set the stage for the upsurge in veganism in the early twenty-first century that we now so clearly see.

Watson was a committed vegan and animal rights advocate up until his death in 2005, at the age of 95.  Toward the end of his life, he offered this take on what he had achieved:

Achieving what I set out to do: to feel that I was instrumental in starting a great new movement which could not only change the course of things for Humanity and the rest of Creation, but alter Man’s expectation of surviving for much longer on this planet.”


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Dave Hewitt

An Ohio-based British Masters post-graduate, and ever since I was a little kid growing up in 70s England, I’ve always hated animal cruelty and injustice, and vegan for six years. The sense of sticking up for the voiceless, the persecuted and the powerless remains as strong as ever. Married to Monica, my vegan life partner who works for NASA, we’ve been in Ohio since 2015, and have managed to drive on the other side of the road without incident thus far.


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