At the age of twelve, when cycling to school, I saw a truck with screaming pigs on their way to the slaughterhouse. While I had been to a farm before and had seen the animals in the field and barn, their final destination had not occurred to me. My anger was directed at the truck driver, but I realised that I was part of the problem if I continued to eat meat, so I decided to break that cycle of abuse and I became vegetarian. A year later, I decided to no longer eat fish, as they were animals too.
I made animal advocacy my vocation, and my degrees and several positions within the animal protection movement took me around the world. I lived in Thailand for nine months in 1995-1996, and in Scotland in 1998-1999. I immigrated into England in 2004, nearly two years after I became vegan, and I travelled to many countries between 2005 and 2009 for work. When not working I enjoy travelling, hiking, running, and, occasionally, synchronised swimming!
In September 2011 I took up my position as CEO of The Vegan Society. I felt privileged to lead an organisation that inspired the modern vegan movement, and started all those years ago in 1944. To carry on the legacy of Donald Watson and other like-minded visionaries who were well ahead of their time, was a great honour. Mr Watson was inspired by a new book title ‘Allvegan’, coined by Mr Henderson, and then decided the word ‘vegan’ (from the beginnings and end of ‘vegetarian’) would best describe their new movement. The Vegan magazines from the 1940s and 1950s show that many ideas about food security, the rights of animals, and human health benefits following a vegan diet already circulated before these themes became ‘fashionable’ many decades later.
Unlike most charitable causes, where loyal supporters usually give money and sometimes their time as a volunteer, many people who decide to go vegan are likely to become advocates themselves. Social media have rapidly led to people sharing their vegan beliefs and recipes globally. Capitalising on this trend, I believed that while the society should still support individuals to go vegan and sustain a vegan lifestyle, the society should work in partnership with like-minded, but not necessarily vegan, organisations in order to influence and lobby for change at a practical and policy level.
We know that information alone is not sufficient to make people change their mind and behaviour. Sometimes opinions and views follow particular behaviours, rather than inform them. People enjoying eating new dishes that are well prepared and nutritious and happen to be vegan, may sometimes be more effective than explaining to someone what is wrong with the animal farming industry. Society has found many cultural and social mechanisms to block out certain information and to find arguments that support existing beliefs. Critically examining certain facts and their moral implications can be very challenging and deeply personal. Many people are not ready to face up to some inconvenient truths. However, positive experiences with veganism are more likely to result in people becoming more open-minded, and willing to learn about the issues.
I believe demand for non-animal products and vegan living is shifting the public perception. We are starting to see more and more vegan options and initiatives around the world.
It is a pleasure to work with dedicated volunteers, staff and trustees, and it is a rare opportunity to be able to make one’s life passion into one’s career. Leading an organisation through change is not easy, but perseverance, belief in doing the right thing, and then seeing results is incredibly rewarding. Without enthusiastic people with the same motivation to want to make a difference, an organisation may struggle to thrive. However, with over 60 billion animals still killed annually for food and other purposes, I am well aware that our work is far from finished. Together, rallying behind a united vision of reducing and eliminating suffering and death, and protecting the most vulnerable in society, it is our moral imperative to do whatever we can to help other animals.