Kathleen Jannaway: Planting Seeds and Trees the Vegan Way

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In the fifth of this series, Dr. Roger Yates of the Vegan Information Project, continues with his account of some of the vegan social movement pioneers. Here is an account of the contribution of Kathleen Jannaway towards the vegan cause.

The present over-industrialised system degrades people to machine slaves and to programmed consumers of machine products, depriving them of their creativity and other essentials of spiritual growth.

Kathleen Jannaway, 1990.

The change will only come when we get the masses of the people changing…the politicians will go on until they are frightened of losing the votes; the industrialists will go on until they won’t sell their goods. It’s the masses of people that we’ve got to get to.

Kathleen Jannaway, Lecture at the 6th International Vegan Festival, 1992.

Born in 1915, Kathleen Jannaway’s working class origins and the values of her parents and grandparents were to shape her radical vision of a just vegan future, which she campaigned for first for the Vegan Society as its General Secretary from the early 1970s, and then as a co-founder of the Movement for Compassionate Living (MCL) from 1984 onwards. She was born into a very poor family and she remembered as a child having to go to bed early on the days when the gas would run out. Her father was a speaker for the Socialist Party of Britain (which became the British Labour Party) and he gave talks on peace and the dignity of the working class. Her grandfather held unorthodox views and was said to be opposed to Kathleen joining the Girl Guides which he thought negatively was a “representative of the status quo.” 

A bright child, Kathleen Jannaway won an educational scholarship to grammar school where she learnt the value of critical thinking and to question everything. She gave up the opportunity to go to university to take a job as a teacher in order to financially help her family. She married her lifelong partner, Jack Jannaway, before the “Second World War” and, like Donald Watson, they both registered as conscientious objectors. During the war years, they both turned vegetarian when Kathleen saw the slaughterhouse truck arrive to take lambs away. Not yet vegan, she helped to organise a protest meeting for the organisation that was to become Oxfam demanding that dried cow’s milk be sent to the children of allies in mainland Europe. 

It was the Jannaway’s keen ability to see connections between justice issue that led them to veganism. Kathleen taught children with learning difficulties; she was peace and “freedom from hunger” campaigner, and served for many years on the executive committee of the Gandhi Foundation. Then, in 1964, the Observer newspaper in London published a two-page review (which is remarkable in itself) about Ruth Harrison’s then new publication, Animal Machines: The New Factory Farming Industry. Harrison deeply shocked an entire nation, the Jannaways included, when she revealed that calves are separated from their mothers to be sent to veal units in which they were tethered and not allowed solid food. There have been some modifications to this form of animal use since the 1960s but such rights violations, including the separation of mother cows from their babies, continues to this day.

Kathleen says

It was at this point that I realised that these calves were the surplus of the dairy industry and that the milk which nature intended for them was being fed to us.

It is a sobering thought that this revelation is still as striking in the 21st century as it was in 1964, so carefully have the animal user industries hidden their dirty secrets. Although humans are mammals, we tend not to identify as such – and we certainly do not see ourselves as apes, even though that it precisely what we are. Therefore, to this day, human mammals, even those who generally understand human lactation, are still surprised when they learn mother cows must be pregnant to “give milk,” certainly in the volume needed for commercial exploitation. 

Jannaway decided that she would attempt to live without consuming calf food. Another connection about justice was made and, as mentioned above, she says that she came to the “animal issue” via her concerns for peace and world hunger: “My involvement in the animal movement developed out of these, particularly when I began to make connections between the different issues.” Later in life, she would also become involved in the Plant a Tree for Peace movement, which was started by vegans associated with the Movement for Compassionate Living. Back in 1964, Kathleen Jannaway, like most people, had not heard of the philosophy of veganism, and knew nothing of the existence of the vegan social movement, which was only 20 years old at the time. As an early vegan movement pioneer, she had the same fears that people like Donald Watson, Eva Batt, and Leslie Cross had held when they first went vegan: whether or not it is possible to survive without animal products.

Although her account is a little disjointed, Victoria Moran, author of Compassion the Ultimate Ethic, reports on a research trip she took in 1981 to study vegans in Britain and Ireland. Among other vegan movement pioneers, Moran met Kathleen Jannaway who said that the earliest vegans, “didn’t know if our bones would disintegrate or if we’d perish in a fortnight.” Eva Batt, who went vegan overnight in the 1950s, says that she didn’t know how she’d manage: “I knew people could live without meat, but without milk! I really thought I was going to die.”

Animal advocate and author Mark Gold suggests that some of the initial health fears about veganism had been dispelled by the time Jannaway became the Vegan Society’s General Secretary in the 1970s. However, Ronnie Lee, a co-founder of the Animal Liberation Front and now a vegan educator, reports that when he went vegan in 1972 his mother genuinely feared that he would be dead within a year, and even went to the lengths of secretly putting hens’ eggs into Ronnie’s “vegan” food that he was preparing. 

At least those beginning to live vegan now will have comparatively little to fear in terms of risking losing their lives through the adoption of a 100% plant diet and, apart from a few strange people in the toxic place of YouTube, new vegans are now unlikely to have people seriously warn them that they will surely die by “going vegan.” The vegan social movement pioneers not only had a revolutionary vision of the future but they were very brave trailblazers. We owe them a great debt.

In the early 1970s, virtually all the Vegan Society literature was written, typed, and produced by Kathleen and Jack Jannaway. In a leaflet from 1972, it is clear that Kathleen understood the power of culture and advertising 

The chief obstacles to man’s survival on this overburdened planet lie in the minds of men. Most people find difficulty in adjusting to ideas that do not fit in with the habits and thought patterns of generations – especially when, as with feeding habits in the West, both producers and consumers are subject to the high pressure salesmanship of the meat, dairy and chemical industries.

Jannaway was issuing warning about “the environment crisis” from at least the early 1970s. She pointed out that humanity was engaged in an all-out assault on the living systems of the planet, and claimed that it must become more and more clear that “the Age of Man the Exploiter is over,” not least because, “he is wasting his resources and fouling his nest.” Showing that she shared a similar radical vision of the vegan movement pioneers of the 40s and 50s, she declared that, “the Age of the New Man is dawning” with the vegan being, “the prototype of the New Man of the New Age.”

The Jannaways house also became “vegan headquarters” in the 1970s, ironically situated in an English town called Leatherhead. MCL report that:

Their…house and garden became a venue, attended by many over the years, for meetings and garden parties to raise funds for the many concerns they were involved in. Many will remember Kathleen and Jack’s garden as the place where they came together each year with vegans from up and down the country. These meetings provided a wonderful opportunity for fellowship with kindred spirits – especially important for people who were isolated and knew no other vegans living near to them – and for vegan children to be together. 

Mark Gold says that the Jannaways importance to the development and evolution of the vegan movement was huge. He says that Kathleen was all about, “linking the compassionate desire to avoid animal products with rational use of world food resources.” Gold states that

Her own half-acre of garden in the heart of suburban Leatherhead was soon turned over to a horticultural experiment where she and Jack successfully developed green manure techniques (i.e., manure from plant sources only), food-bearing trees, vegetables, and fruit beds.

The Vegan Society was featured in a BBC community-based TV programme called Open Door in 1976. Reviewing the programme, Kim Stallwood says: “To watch the show today is to be reminded how, nearly forty years on, many of the arguments made for veganism then remain the same today: that more people could be fed directly through plants than through animal protein, thus alleviating world hunger; that consuming dairy products involves more cruelty to animals than eating meat; that vegans lower their risk of contracting heart disease and cancers of the colon; that the vegan diet requires vitamin B12 supplementation (although this deficiency also occurs among many non-vegans); and that vegans are, according to one of the doctors interviewed, ‘normal, healthy, happy people whom you couldn’t distinguish from omnivores except that they are slimmer and perhaps smile more’ [sic].” 

Kathleen Jannaway is featured at some length in the programme, proudly showing off her green manure techniques. The show admittedly looks very dated nowadays: indeed, vegan comedian Simon Amstell used sections of the film to comic effect in his 2017 “mockumentary” entitled Carnage. The production values of the 1976 programme are pretty low but it should be remembered that the BBC were trying to offer facilities for NGOs and social movement organisations to showcase their work as they wanted it showcased. There are few if any sound bites, which is exactly the same with respect to the writing of the vegan movement pioneers as a general matter. Due to this rather stiff formal style, in writing or on film, some of the radicalism of what the pioneers stood for seems to have become lost on more recent generations of vegans used to sound and visual effects, rapid-fire delivery, and instant global communications via the internet.

Gold claims that some dismissed Kathleen Jannaway as a “crank” due to her utopian vision for the future. She looked forward with optimism towards a “tree-based culture” in which animal agriculture would be replaced by forests providing food, a mitigating factor against climate change, and preventing soil erosion. She wanted to see a global network of tree-based autonomous vegan villages replacing industrialised cities. Jannaway’s tree-based vision of the future is truly revolutionary. It would prevent monocropping, end unemployment, and re-fertilise areas of desert. There was even talk about whether money would be abolished as part of the MCL’s vision of the future.

She was a great supporter of science – but argued that it has to be guided by compassion. The enormous power that humans have needs “compassionate direction,” she argued. She believed that humanity’s moral development has fallen behind and food is part of the reason. She argues that when parents tell their children that they must eat animal products, and are punished if they didn’t, the child must in turn suppress their compassionate side. On the other hand, veganism manifests a “properly balanced human being,” she believed. In 1986, Jannaway wrote

Freedom from dependence on the slaughterhouse nurtures faith in the possibility of creating a compassionate age.

In terms of active campaigning and advocacy, she said that anger has its place but it should be anger directed against the act rather than the actor. After all, she argues, “you don’t know what turned him that way,” adding that, “you don’t change cruel people with more hostility.” She says that education is the key to spreading veganism and this entails us taking the time to educate ourselves. She said that we must be aware that

the present materialist, competitive, violent civilisation which has spread rapidly throughout the world is not sustainable. We need above all the vision and hope of a practically-based alternative.

Time, however, is not on our side, and certainly the daily slaughter of other animals demands urgency

War and the slaughter of animals for food, have much in common. Now as the mass slaughter and violence escalates in both areas, it is becoming obvious that humanity is set on a suicidal course. Most of our intellectual power is used to speed the road to oblivion.

Jannaway states that, “Fundamental changes in the values and practices of the dominant world system, which has created a situation in which millions of people and animals already suffer extreme deprivation and die prematurely, is essential.” Once she had moved to the MCL, she developed her ideas of a tree-based culture fully. Through growing enough trees, she argued, “we can satisfy nearly every human need, including that for food, and at the same time do much to restore and maintain planetary health.” Adding 

What is needed is a trend towards compassionate living the vegan way, with the emphasis on the use of trees and their products. 

Stating that, “animal farming imposes suffering on highly sentient creatures,” Jannaway warned that humans have created a “second population explosion of deliberately bred animals competes with humans for diminishing resources and adds to desertification, erosion, pollution, global warming and ozone layer depletion.” 

In terms of her position on interconnections, on what David Nibert has called the “entanglements of oppression and liberation,” she recognised that veganism must be central to our thinking. She said: “Veganism which brings freedom from dependence on the cruel exploitation and slaughter of highly sentient creatures is the essential foundation of compassionate living.” And, again echoing the views of the pioneers of the 40s and 50s, she underscores their point that veganism represents the liberation of humans and other animals. Jannaway would not have a moment’s hesitation in endorsing Kath Clements assertion that, “veganism is about having a consistent approach to human rights and animal rights, ecology and world food problems.” Jannaway states with great hopes that

An era of truly abundant living will dawn in which humans, at peace with themselves, with each other and with all living creatures, will reach heights of creativity as yet unimagined. 

Sources

The Vegan. (Summer 1972).

The Peaceful Planet – http://www.thepeacefulplanet.net/the-many-benefits-of-trees/ 

Movement for Compassionate Living – http://www.mclveganway.org.uk/index.html 

Why Vegan: The Ethics of Eating and the Need for Change by Kath Clements. 1995. Heretic Books.

“Kathleen Jannaway: Visionary or Crank?” Mark Gold. Animal Century: A Celebration of Changing Attitudes to Animals. 1998.

Animal Rights/Human Rights: Entanglements of Oppression and Liberation by David Nibert. 2002. Rowman and Littlefield.

Growl: Life Lessons, Hard Truths, amd Bold Strategies from an Animal Advocate by Kim Stallwood. 2014. Lantern.

“Compassion – Still the Ultimate Ethic.” Victoria Moran – https://sarx.org.uk/articles/animal-issues/compassion-still-the-ultimate-ethic/

“Ronnie Lee Talks About His Biography,” On Human-Nonhuman Relations Podcasts. 39. Roger Yates – https://ohnhrpodcasts.blogspot.com/2017/10/ohnhr-podcast-39-ronnie-lee-talks-about.html 

Other parts of the “And if you know your history…” series

Introduction – “And If You Know Your History…” a new series looking at the History of the Vegan Movement

Part 1 – The Difficult and Argumentative Birth of the Vegan Social Movement

Part 2 – The Best Known of the Co-Founders of the Greatest Cause on Earth, Donald Watson

Part 3 – The Focus, the Scope, and the Dream of a Vegan Future. The Vision of Leslie Cross

Part 4 – The Women Pioneers of the Movement: Rarely Out of the Shadows