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Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Vegan in the 17th Century

Today is the 347th Anniversary of the first publication of The Oxford Gazette, which very quickly became the London Gazette.

It was a momentous occasion, the first "blog" available to all and, I am certain, more influential than any of us modern age bloggers could hope to be in our wildest dreams. Of course, the market was not quite so crowded then....

It is true that the concept of a "newspaper" had already been around for half a century or more by that time and other "gazettes" had been published.  This one caught on though and is now the longest running publication in the newspaper world. Thanks to the UK Govt requirement for statutory notices to be published in the London Gazette it also retains commercial advantage which is not available to other print media competing with online journals and so is much more likely to survive as a historic nod to our modern information platforms.

What makes a great journal - or blog - is a great story to tell and The London Gazette got its big break in less than a year with the Great Fire of London. No such thing as bad news? Not if you sell newspapers there isn't!

My blog readers will already know that I am most interested in social justice, ocean welfare and veganism.  I am sorry to say that there are no archived records of any of those issues (at least using those terms) in the searchable Gazette records. Having said that, it is almost inconceivable that such a journal would not have picked up on the writings of 17th Century agents for change such as Thomas Tryon and John Evelyn (see The Ethics of Diet - A Catena by Howard Williams. Links to pages for Tryon and for Evelyn).  Neither can its editors have failed to note those religious - especially Christian - sects which were already starting to abstain from meat although I suspect that was mostly an early version of left-wing "nailing one's colors to the mast" and abstaining from meat on social grounds. In the early 1600s, meat-eating was becoming a symbol of affluence and so I suspect the public abstention was more a reaction to that association and far less out of concern for the animals. Regardless, the animals had some protection either way.

It is fascinating also to note the growth of meat eating in the new emerging markets such as China as the "western diet" is perceived to be symbolic of success.  Who said we were a logical species?  That is definitely one for a future blog...

Of greatest interest to me, however, is the way in which the 17th century veg(etari)an "movement" seems to have grown not from those who were giving up meat but instead grew from those who chose not to start eating meat in the first place.

Knowing that even until the middle of the 1900s, the dairy industry had not yet subverted the entire consumables supply chain I do think it would have been a lot easier for a vegan to get a meal in London in 1665 at any eating house than it is in the year 2012 in anything other than a specialist vegan restaurant.

I do, of course, acknowledge big strides forward for our new millennium Vegan movement so perhaps I am being a bit harsh on 2012. Nevertheless, wind the clock back even 2 or 3 years and I hope that those long-term vegans reading this will agree with my observation.

The message for non-vegans has to be that this is not some kind of modern-day fad, it is the way our society should have been since the Middle Ages when, "as the threat from wild beasts receded, so man's right to eliminate wild creatures from whom he had nothing to fear was increasingly disputed" (Keith Thomas: Man and the Natural World).  There have been strong moral objections to the exploitation of animals for at least 400 years.  Thankfully we need no longer rely on a single printed journal to get that message out there.

Oceans in the 17th Century

So what of our poor friends, the whales and what of our other ocean animal friends?

Was 17th Century western man more disposed to their protection than his 21st century counterparts?

Sadly no. That is a new millennium movement that we must continue to grow and develop, not least because the plundering of the oceans which started in earnest way back then and has increased exponentially in the last few decades is now threatening our own survival as a species.  (See October blog, Sharks and the Gold Standard.)

The problem has always been that we cannot easily see what lies beneath the surface of the ocean. If we could, would we poison it?  If we could, would we allow it to be exploited so badly?

I shall return to that theme in a future blog but for now, thank you for reading today's journal.  I wonder if it will be quoted 347 years from now?