We are “vegans” today because of Donald Watson. He coined the term in 1944 because he felt that the word vegetarian was lacking. According to Watson, “The pronunciation is “VEEGAN” not “VAI-GAN,” “VEGGAN.” or “VEEJAN.” The stress is on the first syllable,” He primarily created the word in reference to dietary practices. It was later expanded to include the use of animals for other reasons. Here is an excerpt from an interview done the year before he died (at the age of 95).

Interviewer: We understand that you are responsible for creating the word “vegan.” How did that occur? Why did you feel the word was needed?

Donald Watson: I invited my early readers to suggest a more concise word to replace “non-dairy vegetarian.” Some bizarre suggestions were made like “dairyban, vitan, benevore, sanivore, beaumangeur”, et cetera. I settled for my own word, “vegan”, containing the first three and last two letters of “vegetarian” — “the beginning and end of vegetarian.” The word was accepted by the Oxford English Dictionary and no one has tried to improve it.

He goes on to say “Veganism gives us all the opportunity to say what we “stand for” in life. The ideal of healthy, humane living is now easy with modern transport bringing us vegan foods from all over the world. Join us and add decades of health to your life, with a clear conscience as a bonus.” You can find the complete interview here.

Watson was very clear throughout his life that health was an important component of his lifestyle. He wanted to outlive his critics, and he refused to put “poisons” into his body, including alcohol. So the genesis of the word vegan had both an ethical and a health component. Animal rights activists that live on processed foods and sodas are outside of Watson’s ideals, as are health food vegans that wear leather. Although, I suspect that this brilliant and compassionate man would have probably embraced both as seekers on the right path. Ideally we should all seek health and justice but the road is never straight. Regarding roads, even car tires aren’t vegan – so we can at most try our very best, but until the world changes, 100% vegan purity is a near impossibility. That’s why we should work towards that change together and avoid disparaging each other as not vegan enough.

The Vegan Voice is intended to promote vegan ideals but we acknowledge that the word means different things to different people. Whether someone is vegan for health, ethics, the environment, or religious reasons we believe that their choice is valid and they have the right to call themselves vegan. We personally try and follow a “nutritarian” style vegan diet. We consider ourselves “plant strong” vegans and eat a “WFPBD”. I find all the qualifiers unwieldy though, so usually we just call ourselves vegans. I don’t buy leather but my husband will, and since the term originally referred to dietary practices I consider him just as vegan as I am. Many people may disagree, but as I see it, the “more vegan than thou” attitude just creates divisiveness in the end. We are stronger if we stand together.

If you’d like to know more, here are some additional Resources:

Watson’s Obituary

Remembering Donald Watson from VegNews Magazine

The very first issue of The Vegan News from November 1944