In my chapter, “Society Writings” in The Edinburgh Companion to Vegan Literary Studies (Wright and Quinn 2022) published with the University of Edinburgh Press, I examine early vegan and vegetarian organizational literature, arguing its importance for creating, legitimizing, and sustaining the fledgling vegan movement.
Newsletters, magazines, and cookbooks were spaces in which what it meant to be vegan could be explored and defined. Sometimes this was a rather democratic process, as was the case with The Vegan Society which enlisted the feedback of members and other readers. Although they were relatively collaborative endeavors, these publications were often operated by a very small team or even just one individual. Donald Watson single-handedly wrote, produced, and distributed many of the first issues of The Vegan.
These publications were important for bringing new organizations and ideas into the material realm. The Vegan Society, for instance, having split from the British Vegetarian Society in the early 20th century, became “real” so to speak with the launching of its journal. Veganism was alive in print, and veganism as a movement became alive in its representation of a collective and its distribution across membership. Indeed, these early publications were pivotal for creating a “we” in addition to establishing movement goals, values, and tactics. Editorial boards also viewed them as tactical in and of themselves. Members were encouraged to become subscribers to help the organizations stay afloat financially and continue to produce future publications. They were also encouraged to distribute them to the wider public as a form of advocacy.
With the rise of professionalization which had dramatically reduced the radical movement building and theoretical development that once transpired in these publications, many activists would take advantage of new social media technology to bring these processes to a new, more accessible platform. Publications such as The Vegan diminished in size, reach, and depth in the wake of blogs, Facebook groups, and Instagram influencers.
Largely toothless today, publications of The Vegan Society, the Vegetarian Society, and other Nonhuman Animal rights organizations function primarily to promote green commerce, encourage paid membership, and spotlight activities as might be of interest to grant applications. Although literary productions in vegetarian and vegan societies today primarily serve capitalist interests, the legacy of print activism should be celebrated. The prior impact of magazines, journals, and newsletters demonstrates the power that can be welded by just a few committed activists. By pen or typewriter, early vegans created, shaped, and nourished a movement. Professionalization may have undermined that power in official channels, but grassroots activists carry on the tradition in an ever-expanding repertoire of digital media.
Readers can learn more about the social movement politics of Nonhuman Animal rights and veganism in my 2019 publication, Piecemeal Protest: Animal Rights in the Age of Nonprofits. The beautiful cover art for this text was created by vegan artist Lynda Bell and prints are available on her website, artbylyndabell.com.
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