World Vegan Day is 21 this year. As its creator, I feel like a proud parent.
Not only has it officially come of age, it has finally come into its own. In 2015, the Day is now a widely celebrated and internationally recognised event and fixture of the media calendar.
So where did I get the idea for World Vegan Day? The truth is I can’t say exactly – only that it came to me in a flash: in one of those classic “Aha!” moments.
I was President of the Vegan Society at the time, voted into this role in 1991 on the back of my undercover investigation into two animal labs. It was an exciting time. The Society was building up to its 50th birthday, and we were thinking of ways to mark this momentous occasion.
I’d already come up with one idea: a film. And in 1992, in quite possibly the earliest example of crowdfunding, I set up a Vegan Video Fund. Then enlisted my partner Frank, my friends Franny & Boo Armstrong as filmmakers, and Benjamin Zephaniah as Presenter. Over a year later we emerged, tired but triumphant with Truth or Dairy*, an upbeat, and humorous take on veganism.
My second idea was World Vegan Day. That was much easier: we simply had to announce it. But what date? We knew that the Society had been founded by Donald Watson and friends in November 1944, but not the exact date. The 1st November seemed a good choice – easy to remember – and as I explained in 2011: “I liked the idea of this date coinciding with Samhain / Halloween, and Day of the Dead – traditional times for feasting and celebration. Both apt and auspicious”.
Culturally, this is the time of year we remember ancestors and forbearers, and those early pioneers were never far from my mind. As I wrote, in an editorial for The Vegan in 1994 (next to the formal announcement of World Vegan Day):
“It is hard for us to imagine what it must have been like to literally ‘invent’ yourself as a vegan. In the forties, the idea of refusing to eat animal products was not only unheard of but considered stark raving madness! Everyone sincerely believed you would surely die. The story fascinates me. How was it possible that a few disparate individuals scattered across the country should simultaneously experience this new, revolutionary vision of a saner future? What on earth possessed them to severely restrict their food options at a time when rationing was at its most severe, and everyone else was worried about simply finding enough to eat? And how did they instinctively know what to do, when there had been no-one else before them?”
We owe everything to these daredevil dreamers, and on World Vegan Day we get to raise a toast in thanks.
It’s also a time for fun, feasting and awareness-raising. Whenever I google ‘World Vegan Day’ I’m blown away by the boundless creativity: from festivals, food tastings and film screenings, to professional football matches, naked flash mobs, and poignant protests.
I still struggle to get my head around the fact that there was even a World Vegan Day debate in the UK Parliament. Led by vegan MP Kerry McCarthy (now shadow Environment Minister).
Sometimes, people contact me to tell me what they do on World Vegan Day. My favourite anecdote is from Jordan Wyatt of the Invercargill Vegan Society in New Zealand, the “southernmost animal rights organisation in the world”. WVD has special significance for Jordan, as he explains:
“On 2011 World Vegan Day, we planted a memorial tree. In 2012, I went big for the first time, posters up, getting in the media etc. My now partner drove down 200km to join in, from her nearby city. By 2013 we had fallen in love, and she had moved down to be with me. On 2014 World Vegan Day, we installed public art, posters, media … AND got married, on the 70th anniversary of veganism”
Wow. A World Vegan Day wedding, for a couple who fell in love on World Vegan Day, in a ceremony next to a tree planted on World Vegan Day. It doesn’t get better than this.
In a way, Jordan and Jen’s story sums up what World Vegan Day is all about: bringing people together. It also demonstrates how powerful ideas can be.
A current hot topic in idea theory is ‘The Adjacent Possible’. In the simplest terms, this is the potential (and serendipity) created when you notice and connect the unlikely.
A leading exponent is Steve Johnson, bestselling author of Where Good Ideas Come From. He describes it thus:
“The Adjacent Possible is a kind of shadow future, hovering on the edges of the present state of things, a map of all the ways in which the present can reinvent itself”.
I love this: “a shadow future” is how I think of World Vegan Day. The one day a year when we can make our dreams feel real. When we get a glimpse of what a vegan world might look like. When we can connect with others, and influence the course of their lives.
“Chance favours the connected mind” says Johnson. Creativity, he suggests, comes not from introspection and solitary pondering, but from being proactive – from mingling, sharing and exchanging. Innovation is essentially social, he argues, thriving in chaotic spaces like the Coffee Houses which famously gave rise to the Age of Enlightenment.
As proprietor of Kabaret, a Cafe Bar serving excellent coffee in the heart of North London’s artistic community, this pleases me immensely.
Running a vegan venue wasn’t something I foresaw. It came by chance via a serendipitous facebook connection.
Our tagline is ‘Creating Vegan Culture’. So new is this concept, that even we don’t know what it is! But hey, we’re doing it anyway.
We host many vegan events including Vegan Comedy Nights, London Vegan Drinks and Queer Vegan Disco. For this year’s World Vegan Day I’ve pulled out all the stops and organised an ExtraVeganza.
We’ll be kicking back, scoffing Sunday Roast, sipping Prosecco, watching a movie, and listening to two of my favourite people speak: Jasmijn De Boo, Vegan Society CEO & Huffington Post columnist; and real life wonder woman Fiona Oakes, the world record-breaking marathon runner. We’ll also be raising funds for Fiona’s animal sanctuary Tower Hill Stables, currently home to 400 animals.
Tickets are still available for this event on Sunday 1st November, so if you want to come – book here
Happy World Vegan Day, whatever you are doing.
This one is dedicated to all you dreamers out there, and especially Mat Swinn.
Remember folks …
* Truth or Dairy our 20 min Vegan Society film has aged remarkably well. If you fancy watching click here