History of the Vegetarian Society in the twentieth century
In 1908, as a consequence of the growth in vegetarian movements world-wide, the International Vegetarian Union (IVU) was founded, succeeding the Vegetarian Federal Union which had been established in 1889. To this day, the IVU continues to encourage vegetarian societies around the world to work together to promote vegetarianism on a global stage.
Throughout the IVU’s history, members, board members and staff from the Vegetarian Society have figured significantly. (see: www.ivu.org)
High days and holidays
In 1920 The Vegetarian Society held a summer school at Arnold House, Llanddulas, with amazing attendance figures of approximately 70 people each week. Both societies organised holidays and outings for vegetarians, with the May Meetings of The Vegetarian Society remaining hugely popular annual events until well after World War Two.
Wartime proved difficult for the nation’s vegetarians as rations did not make provision for vegetarians in the armed forces. The situation during the Second World War improved somewhat with the formation of the Committee of Vegetarian Interests, which included members of the nation’s two vegetarian societies, as well as health food retailers and manufacturers. Despite the bloodshed of the battle field, vegetarians continued to show their firm commitment to the cause. Concessions were won from the authorities and vegetarians were allowed extra rations of nuts and cheese, with special ration books also available on the ‘Home Front’, along with the encouragement for people to ‘Dig for Victory’, by growing their own fruits and vegetables.
With the end of rationing, the Committee turned its attention to the production of cheese with non-animal rennet, to examining general standards in vegetarian catering and also to the manufacturing and greater availability of soya milk.
The Vegan movement
There were always some members of the Vegetarian Society who ate no animal-derived foods at all, including eggs and dairy products, usually known as ‘non-dairy vegetarians’. In 1944 they decided to formally organise themselves by launching a new society, whilst retaining their memberships of the Vegetarian Society. The result was the Vegan Society, which continues in very good health to the present day, and still has many shared members.
Vegetarian cuisine really began to flourish in the 1950s. Walter Fleiss, owner of the popular ‘Vega’ restaurant off London’s Leicester Square, convinced the Salon Culinaire Food Competition organisers to incorporate a vegetarian food category. The Vegetarian Society sponsored the event; vegetarianism was now well and truly in the public realm.
During the 1950s and ’60s, old rivalries were forgotten and the two vegetarian societies began to work together, with calls by many for unification. In 1958 the two magazines merged into ‘The British Vegetarian’. On 1st October 1969, the two societies and others groups such as the Vegetarian Catering Association, amalgamated to form The Vegetarian Society of the United Kingdom, finding a home at Parkdale. The magazine had undergone several name changes but decided to revert back to ‘The Vegetarian’ which in its many guises has enjoyed continuous publication since 1847.
During the 1950s, Dr Frank Wokes developed the Vegetarian Nutritional Research Centre, based in Watford, with the Society working in close partnership to promote research into vegetarian food and health. Eventually it was incorporated into the Society and much valuable research has been carried out with results published in leading journals, magazines and newspapers.
In 1982 the Vegetarian Society established The Cordon Vert Cookery School, an unrivalled vegetarian academy of culinary excellence. In 1986, a scheme was developed to grant manufacturers the right to use the Society’s logo on foods which satisfied the Society’s strict guidelines on vegetarian suitability. This development was not only to make shopping more convenient it also pioneered the appearance of other vegetarian symbols on food packaging, as manufacturers and supermarkets followed suit.
In 1992 the Society first staged National Vegetarian Day, which soon became National Vegetarian Week, and has been held almost every year since. The event has proved to be hugely popular and has also ensured that vegetarianism has hit the headlines of the national and local media. This has had a knock-on effect of attracting hundreds of thousands of people to vegetarianism and joining the organisation which so vigorously promotes it.
A number of other organisations dealing with specific aspects of the vegetarian lifestyle have also been founded and developed alongside the Vegetarian Society. The Vegetarian Housing Association (formerly Homes for Elderly Vegetarians) provided sheltered accommodation in various locations nationwide and recently became ‘Vegetarian for Life’ based in Scotland, supporting elderly vegetarians in their own homes. The British Vegetarian Youth Movement was responsible for co-ordinating social events and outdoor activities for many years. In 1986 the assets of The Vegetarian Children’s Charity were combined with the Jersey Vegetarian Home for Children, to form The Vegetarian Charity, which still exists to support young vegetarians.
In more recent years, there has been major redevelopment of the Parkdale site, predominantly focused around the Cordon Vert Cookery School (now rebranded as the Vegetarian Society Cookery School). Such significant development work has occurred without compromise to the undeniable original character and charm of Parkdale. The preservation of Parkdale was central to the expansion project which was completed in 1999, as an alternative to a wholesale move to central Manchester.
The Vegetarian Society is just as relevant as it ever was. It can take a lot of the credit for bringing vegetarian food to the nation’s dinner plates and menus and it remains a powerful and pioneering force, helping to shape the future of food in the UK.