Just a "Trend?" Veganism on BBC 40+ Years Ago

A 1976 episode of the BBC series "Open Door" featured vegans discussing the staggering inefficiencies, destruction, and cruelty of animal agriculture. These questions and conversations aren't much different to the ones still had today.

This video helps dismiss the common dismissive assertion that veganism is just a "trend." It's simply been downplayed by the mainstream for many years and is finally gaining more attention and acceptance today, more than 40 years later.

Intro

The video begins with an intro by Erika Cook surrounded by a group of Vegan Society members. She explains, "The Vegan Society was formed in 1944 by a group of vegetarians who realized that there was more cruelty involved in milk production than meat production. This realization shocked them into pioneering* a way of life that is of the utmost of importance in feeding the hungry millions today and our children tomorrow." She then explains the inherent cruelty of dairy.

So many more could be fed if we ate plant foods directly instead of feeding them to animals first.
— The Vegan Society's Erika Cooke in 1976

She goes on, "Many people are turning to veganism today because so many more could be fed if we ate plant foods directly instead of feeding them to animals first, thus increasing the chance of world famine and needless scenes like these. The number of animals deliberately bred by man now outnumbers him. This adds up to a second population explosion which we must stop if we are going to feed people."

She continues, "But can we keep healthy without eating animal products? Can we bear and bring up our children healthily and happily? Can we grow crops properly? Can we eat well?" The segment goes on to answer these questions.

Health Topics

Jack Sanderson, a vegan for over 40 years at the time with positions in various veg*an groups, then interviews several vegans in separate segments. 

First Dr. Frey Ellis, who was a practicing hematologist, is questioned about the number of health investigations into the health of vegans. He replies he has investigated hundreds of vegans over the past 15 years and has found positive results of vegan diets as opposed to omnivorous diets.

We’ve found that vegans are probably less prone to get heart disease and cancer of the colon than meat eaters.
— Nutritionist on BBC in 1976

"The vegan diet is quite adequate," explains Dr. Ellis, "providing that it is fortified with vitamin B12, and many foods appearing on the market now are fortified with vitamin B12, so this is no longer a problem. They are normal happy healthy people who you couldn't distinguish from omnivores."

Then a nutritionist agrees with Dr. Ellis and says that most other nutritionists agree with him as well. "Vegans are a very interesting group of people to study because their diet is very similar to most people in the world, people living in the third world countries of Asia and Africa who eat very little animal products... we've found that vegans are probably less prone to get heart disease and cancer of the colon than meat eaters."

He then debunks the theory that animal fats are needed for proper human brain development, explaining the theory was put forth based on experiments with carnivorous cats, but vegans can synthesize these fats from plant fats. 

World Hunger

He is then asked about world hunger:

Q: "What would you say is the relevance of veganism to the world food problem?"

It takes 10 pounds of grain to make one pound of meat.
— Nutritionist on BBC in 1976

A: "I think it's very important when you consider developing countries are suffering from overpopulation and food shortage In these countries, foreign agencies... are encouraging these countries to increase livestock production. Now in countries where the grain situation is critical, feeding grain to animals, which are very inefficient converters of food - it takes 10 pounds of grain to make one pound of meat - is the same as snatching grain from people's mouth."

Vegan Families

A woman then explains that she raised her son as a vegan since he was born (in 1945!)

Then several vegan families are interviewed, including the Bray family with young vegan children. The father declares, "Becoming a vegan is like shedding a very heavy unwanted overcoat. It's a great relief when you go into a supermarket and you're able to bypass so many food counters. And that relief is extended mentally when you realize that you're no longer involved in factory food production."

Becoming a vegan is like shedding a very heavy unwanted overcoat.
— Vegan on BBC in 1976

The mother explains there's nothing puritanical or restrictive about it, and they feel fit and have a clear conscience. They recognize that social pressure will be put on their children later, but they'll be able to choose from themselves. Unlike most kids, their children accept healthy plant foods gladly because they have been brought up that way. 

Another family (with a rather unfortunate last name considering the undue reputation of vegan food), Harold and Jenny Bland with their baby Rosemary, then explain that vegan diets keep them all healthy and able to carry on their personal and working lives as normal – except they enjoy their lives more than before because they have a clear conscience. At first they worried vegan food would be boring but soon realized it was more interesting and also cheaper and not time-intensive. All their friends love the vegan cheese they make. 

Land Use & Veganic Agriculture

Jack questions Harold about land use:

Q: "Do you really think you can grow enough plant food to feed a vegan population?" 

A: "The vegan diet is extremely economical in terms of land usage... nearly 50 percent of the world's grain harvest is fed to animals, which return only about one tenth to the planet. This means that over 40 percent of the world's grain is being wasted. This is in a world where malnutrition is rife."

Jack then questions Kathleen Jannaway, then secretary of the Vegan Society, about the need for manure:

Q: "Some say that animal manures are necessary for the health of the soil."

If England turns vegan, we would need so much less land to produce food.
— Then-secretary of the Vegan Society in 1976

A: "I know people say so, but there's no real reason to back their statement, no research. Hundreds of gardeners like my own grow excellent crops with no artificials, no animal manure, nothing except vegetable compost made from vegetable wastes. After all, animal manure is only plants passed through animals. I pass plants through my compost bins instead. All the inedible bits of fruits and vegetables go in layers in these bins.

She adds, "Why use animal manure when animals need so much land and work to support them?... And as for doing it on a wider scale on a farm, why should it be more difficult than cutting grass and hay for silage?"

Rewilding

Kathleen continues, "Anyway, if England turns vegan, we would need so much less land to produce food. we'd have wide acres of forest and wildlife and recreation. At the moment 90% of the agriculture land of England goes to support animals. If we are going to feed people we have just got to stop breeding these pathetic creatures."

A vegan culture is a tree culture.
— The Vegan Society's Erika Cook in 1976

Jack Sanderson then says to the camera, "The Sahara desert and many other deserts have been produced by bad farming methods. In the time of Christ, the Sahara was mostly covered with flourishing forests Bad farming, that is chopping the trees down, overgrazing with herds of cattle, exhausting the soil and then moving on has produced this dessert condition. By reversing this process in our time by using trees properly, almost any kind of soil can be made to grow good food." He then shares the importance of trees and elaborates on that for a while.

This segues to Erika Cook, who then declares, "A vegan culture is a tree culture." She explains that trees oxygenate the air and "ease use of non-renewable fossil fuels and fertilizer."

Personal Accounts

A naturopath then shares his experiences improving his own health and that of others with a plant-based diet, of which he feels "there is no better way of lasting good health."

Then a very young-looking 50-something "ex-boxer, parachute jumper, blood donor, entertainer, and supporter of various causes" named Harrie Bonnie shares, "I've been a vegan for more than 14 years and I can honestly say I've never felt fitter or more relaxed. I stopped drinking milk when I learned of the cruelty inflicted on cows and their calfs. Let's face it Erica, cows' milk is for calves, not for humans."

Not only is vegan food adequate for health, but it can be truly delicious and much cheaper.
— The Vegan Society's Erika Cook in 1976

Erika agrees, "Yes, and we have other athletes in our society too... and they all agree that milk is a baby food, not fit for strong men." 

Eva Batt, then 68 years old and chairman of their Vegan Council, shares that she went vegan after seeing firsthand how dairy cows and their calves are subject to maternal deprivation and slaughter. "This shook me. I hadn't realized that milk production was responsible for all the suffering and slaughter. I had pictured gentle cows happily grazing in green pastures and I thought how kind the farmers were to 'relieve them' of their milk."

At first she wondered how she was going to manage without dairy milk and believed she could even die without it, "so you can imagine how delighted I was when I discovered that there were other people living happy healthy lives as vegans, thinking the way I did. And today for my 68th birthday I too am feeling happier, healthier and altogether better than ever before."

A teen then states frankly, "I like eating the food of the vegans and I find it's much nicer than eating the dead bodies of animals."

The first of two young children then explains, "I like it because we don't have to kill the animals and eat them." The second adds, "I like it because we like the animals but we don't like to kill them so we don't take the meat."

Erika elaborates: "And the suffering is so unnecessary, because not only is vegan food adequate for health but it can be truly delicious and much cheaper."

Let's Eat!

Then they take a look at what vegans eat, as exemplified by a spread they have on the table described as being vegetables and fruits, "nutritious 'savories' instead of meat and fish," dessert and cakes of all kinds made without eggs and milk, bread, vegan cheese, plant-milks and milk shakes, and packaged "vegan convenient protein foods." (Although some of it admittedly looks a bit off-putting, today's versions have been dramatically improved!)

Let us stop killing. Let us grow more trees instead.
— The Vegan Society's Jack Sanderson in 1976

Erika explains, "Once we have gotten used to the change, we really do not miss animal products."

They then share their cookbook "What's Cooking" along with their headquarters and contact info (then located in the also unfortunately-named town Leatherhead).

Jack Sanderson concludes: "Let us stop killing. Let us grow more trees instead. Why not join us in the green revolution; the bloodless revolution?"

Good question, Jack.

As the closing credits roll they begin enthusiastically feasting on the spread.

This video, although unfortunately lacking in diversity, is quite a gem. It's a snapshot in time showing that veganism is a long-building justice movement whose time has come.

*The Vegan Society was actually building on ideas that originated from Eastern religions like Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism and then Jamaican Rastafarians. See our timeline for more.

By Lorelei Plotczyk