By Malcolm Horne

One hundred years ago, on 6th February 1915, Kathleen Jannaway was born in Tooting in London. She died in 2003 at the age of 87, leaving behind a legacy of inspirational work and writing – in and beyond the vegan movement.

When I became vegan, back in 1972, Kathleen was the secretary of the UK Vegan Society and she was a guiding light to many of us young people at that time. I remember many visits to her Leatherhead home, sometimes for garden parties, sometimes for weekend events, and sometimes to help. It was a time when veganism was still very low profile and Kathleen’s home was something of an oasis. Busy though she was, she always found time to chat or write a helpful letter.

She remained secretary of the Vegan Society until 1983, and then in 1985 founded MCL (Movement for Compassionate Living) with her husband Jack. This gave her the opportunity to concentrate on some of the themes that were particularly dear to her – the threat of global warming, the planting of trees, and vegan organic agriculture. MCL promoted (and still does) “a way of life that is free of the exploitation and slaughter of sentient beings, that is possible for all the world’s people and that is sustainable within the resources of the planet”.

Extending compassion

Barbara Marshall wrote to VON recently: “Kathleen Jannaway gave so much inspiration to VON as well as the legacy. I should think new VON members aren’t really aware of her influence so could we have a short article and some of her very good, very simple recipes? I feel privileged to have met Kathleen and continue to be inspired by her words. I well remember at MCL committee meetings her compassion extending to mainstream older farmers – she said they were caught in a trap just like the animals they tend. I never tire of using her recipe books: the last thing I want to do having just picked my own vegetables and fruit is to come in and follow one of the complicated recipes that are in so many vegan magazines and recipe books. I hope her words and recipes will be published often in 2015 for a new generation of readers.”

The specific legacy Barbara referred to is the £70,000 donated to VON by MCL in 2002 that has been such a big help in setting up and supporting VON’s Network of Stockfree Farmers and Growers. (This was the bulk of the Alec Spring legacy that had earlier been left to MCL.)

Friendly and warm … fire and challenge

Kathleen died in 2003, David Graham wrote a warm appreciation in Growing Green International which began: “About 20 years ago Jane and I went to a meeting in an obscure hall in a back street in Glossop, Derbyshire. I always felt that the grey stone buildings were more than compensated for in the northwest by the warm people and their friendly accent. I can’t remember the title of the talk, but I remember the speaker, Kathleen Jannaway. There was nothing grey about her! Although she was friendly and warm there was fire and challenge in her manner and in her delivery. Kathleen drew together all the threads that informed her veganism – war and peace, injustice and social exclusion, cruelty, animal rights, hunger and consumerism. Her talk was not clichéd or political rhetoric. It was informed, objective, but at the same time passionate and moving. The cornerstone on which her beliefs rested was veganism. She talked about how food is grown; how the slaughterhouse is a symbol of repression and that cruelty to animals means the loss of humanity in humankind. Her thesis was that if our very sustenance is obtained by violence and death it is not surprising that this permeates our relationships with each other, with the animal kingdom and ecology.” (GGI 11, Summer 2003, page 1)

Plant and tree based focus

Many others have commented on her influence. Richard Morris of Plants for a Future wrote: “We can certainly say that she and MCL have been a big influence on the ethics behind PFAF. The plant and tree based focus behind MCL is something we believe to be very valuable. I personally never met Kathleen but others in the project have, and talk about her with high regard. A long time ago, before I had ever heard about Plants For A Future, and just after I became a vegan I found MCL’s booklets and they were a great influence on me. I particularly remember the poster of the tree and all its uses. I’d like to think that PFAF will help keep the spirit of Kathleen’s work alive.” (From PFAF’s Yahoo group, 2003)

Strong moral outlook

This is from Harry Mather’s obituary of Kathleen in Vegan Views:

“She was tireless in speaking to groups, holding stalls, and was always available to individuals, encouraging and supporting them. Her talks and articles in The Vegan magazine were an inspiration, based on facts as well as sentiment, covering scientific and ecological aspects but still with a strong moral outlook. She loved to quote a scientist who said, after listening to her talk, ‘Of course, you’re right, Kathleen. But you’re a little extreme!’. … Her routine was to deal with the day’s mail and then spend some hours with Jack in their large garden, where they grew fruit and vegetables on vegan organic principles. Over more than 15 years they proved that soil fertility could be maintained without using animal products, pesticides or outside fertilisers, but using techniques of composting, green manuring and crop rotation. She claimed that without too many hours working, a middle aged couple could be largely self sufficient on less than half an acre.” (Vegan Views 96, Spring 2003, page 11).

Elaine & Alan Garrett’s mini biography about Kathleen’s life and work (which includes a few more photos) is on the MCL website at

This article appeared in Growing Green International magazine Num 34 (Winter 2014/15), p34.