In the third of this series, Dr. Roger Yates of the Vegan Information Project, turns his attention to Leslie Cross, who would have a profound effect on the vegan movement and, with Arthur Ling, the development of plant milks.
He was certainly one of the outstanding people who have served the movement and, in retirement, he went up and down the country, giving his lecture, “The Milk of Human Kindness” – all voluntarily of course, paying his own expenses.
Donald Watson, talking about Leslie Cross.
In 2017, author, blogger, and vegan for over 40 years, Butterflies Katz, described Leslie Cross as her “vegan hero.” This blog entry will probably provide the details as to why this should be the case.
Leslie Cross became a vegan in 1942 and was a pioneer of the vegan social movement and treasurer and secretary of the Plantmilk Society (later Plamil Foods – more of which we will learn about in the forthcoming blog entry about Arthur Ling).
Vegan historian, and Head of Communications at the Vegan Society, Dr. Samantha Calvert, points out that, “although the vegan diet was defined early on it was as late as 1949 before Leslie J. Cross pointed out that the society lacked a definition of veganism.” Donald Watson noted that Leslie Cross was a great friend of his and, as noted above, one of the outstanding contributors to the early years of the vegan movement. Significantly, they both saw veganism as something that would emancipate human and other animals. Watson, who witnessed the “shattering” effect of war, described the social movement that he was instrumental in starting as, “a great movement which could…not only change the course of things for Humanity and the rest of Creation, but alter Man’s expectation of surviving for much longer on this planet.” Such themes were central to how Leslie Cross saw veganism also.
For example, Cross declared in 1951:
Veganism is in truth an affirmation that where love is, exploitation vanishes. It possesses historical continuity with the movement that set free the human slaves. Were it put into effect, every basic wrong done to animals by man would automatically disappear. At its heart is the healing power of compassion, the highest expression of love of which man is capable. For it is a giving without hope of a getting. And yet, because he would free himself from many of the demands made by his own lower nature, the benefit to man himself would be incalculable.
Cross had a well-developed vision of a vegan future, one in which, “a great and historic wrong, whose effect upon the course of evolution must have been stupendous, would be righted.” Suggesting that veganism was a central part of the moral evolution of humanity, he believed that the members of a future world based on vegan values could not possibly be one in which humans used other animals for their self-interest. He said that the aim of human relations with other sentient beings was not to make a master/slave relationship “bearable” but to totally abolish that relationship of exploitation. Cross stated
In this light, veganism is not so much welfare as liberation, for the creatures and for the mind and heart of man.
In 1954, in a passionate essay entitled, “The Surge of Freedom,” described by its author Leslie Cross as, “an attempt to state in simple terms what veganism is and why and how it came into existence, and to suggest what it could mean for mankind,” the vegan movement’s vision of an emancipated humanity that comes about through the liberation of other animals is dramatically spelt out.
Cross argued that veganism should not be regarded as, “a mere side-shoot in human evolution, but a central extending growth of considerable significance.” Like Watson, Leslie Cross believed that the vegan social movement could do a lot of “work” for both human and nonhuman animals, stating that: “Veganism owes its birth to the fact that at the deepest point within us we believe impregnably in freedom.”
In the 21st century, we are used to memes suggesting, for example, that veganism is a joy rather than being a burden. In 1951, Cross developed his theme on freedom in the same terms
Freedom to live our own lives in our way, according to our own inward light, is fundamental to our view of life itself. It is in the light of this concept that we find the true significance of the vegan reform. Only when we see it as a doctrine not of restriction (as those who oppose it mistakenly believe), but of freedom, do we fully comprehend it.
For Cross, true freedom means seeing the “law of freedom” as “the law of love,” and seeing the notion in a broad context as part of a historical struggle for freedom down the generations. And, just as Watson described veganism as the “greatest cause on Earth,” Cross stated that veganism is distinguished among movements for extending its concerns beyond the species barrier, whereas other movements stop there. By liberating others, we liberate ourselves. Demonstrating an instinctive knowledge of what sociologist David Nibert calls the “entanglements of oppression and liberation,” Cross states that, “until the advent of veganism, comparatively few men regarded the animals as being either worthy of or entitled to the right to be free, and probably fewer still realised the impressive effect which the granting of such a right would have upon the freedom of man himself.” Adding
The real, the indelible significance of veganism is its devastatingly logical demonstration that by denying to the animals the right to be free, man keeps locked against himself the gateway to his own further pursuit of happiness.
For the vegan pioneers, the vegan social movement was seen as an important vehicle to propel humanity out of a dark passage in its history, and to represent what Cross would call, “the upward growth of man.”
I have long argued that the best way to understand the “fullness” of veganism as an idea and as a social movement is to think of it in terms of its focus and scope. Leslie Cross talks about veganism in these terms in the Spring 1951 edition of The Vegan magazine in an article entitled “The New Constitution.” This document is the first that fully explores the scope of veganism, although in 1945, Donald Watson had summarised vegan priorities when he said that, “the object of the Vegan Society is to oppose the exploitation of sentient life, whether it is profitable to do so or not.” Cross splits things into two sections, which he calls the “broad aims of veganism,” and starts with clarifying the shorthand definition then used: “The object of the Vegan Movement [is to] end the exploitation of animals by man.” Rule 4a sets out the meaning of “exploitation,” pledging the Society, “to seek the end of the use of animals by man for food, commodities, work, hunting, vivisection, and all other uses involving exploitation of animal life by man.” Once again, this powerful clarifying statement is employed:
By the adoption of this rule, the Society has clearly come out on the side of the liberators; it is not so much welfare that we seek, as freedom.
Cross said that the vegan movement was dedicated to end the “historic wrong” of the decision by humans to begin exploiting other animals. Note that, thus far, modern-day animal advocates who argue that veganism is only about other animals and nothing else will have little to quibble about. However, then Cross moves on to the, “second broad aspect of the vegan aim” which he says is, “the effect on human evolution.” We have seen that the vegan movement pioneers were struggling to understand the violence in humans that they had witnessed. They believed that violence begets violence, including violence against other animals. Cross suggests that the enormous burden of cruelty to other animals constantly returns “like a boomerang upon humanity’s own head.” *
Cross concludes by saying
Until the present relationship between man and his fellow creatures is replaced by one of companionship on a relatively equal footing, the pursuit of happiness by man is foredoomed to a painful and tragic frustration (emphasis in original).
Stating that, “the great thing is to be a vegan in spirit, and then do one’s best,” Cross lays out the difference between full and associate membership of a fully unified vegan movement made up of the Vegan Society and the London Vegan Group. The new rules, “define a member as one who undertakes to live out vegan principles as far as he or she is able according to circumstances.” Members are asked to do their best and honestly so. An associate member would be, “one who is with us in principle, but who wishes to give no kind of undertaking as to practice.”
Leslie Cross ends with
It is perhaps not too much to claim for the new constitution that it marks the true birth of The Vegan Society. It should be read and understood by all who contemplate joining us, for there, enshrined and embedded in words which are necessarily formal, lies all that we stand for and hope, one glorious day, to achieve.
Towards the end of “The Surge of Freedom,” Cross introduces some personal observations. He addresses some of the questions all vegans encounter – what of the other animals?; what of the land?; what will become of those currently employed in animal use?, and what will the future be like. He states
How glorious, for example, to take part in a discussion to decide whether, for the purposes of the change-over, a nature park or an animal sanctuary should be set up in this or that part of the country and exactly how it should be planned!
He further says that a vegan world will be world of different humans. No longer war mongering, “there will have been an immense change of heart and mind in the majority of men and women.” The idea of exploiting other animals will have ended and, so, “some of the changes in daily living are obvious.”
There will, for example, be no butchers’ shops and the milkman (if he still goes his rounds) will be delivering vegan milk. The countryside will not be heavy with the anguish of cows crying for their calves. There will be no slaughterhouses, no vivisection laboratories, no-one will hunt animals for fun…
Some of the changes are not so obvious, Cross states, and here he once more moves to the human benefits of a vegan world. Cross believed that human health, both physical and mental, will “be vastly improved” when society was run in accordance with vegan values. “Man” would have to radically change – but that change would be “glorious”
Because he will have shed a great deal of the coarser part of his nature, benefits of the spirit will shower upon him — benefits which to-day by his own short-sighted volition he denies himself.
Cross admitted that these ideals are, “the stuff of dreams,” but if we know anything of dreamers, we know that they are not the only ones. He hints at vegan activism in a variety of forms, saying that to make vegan dreams of an evolved future true, “requires that we play our part as it comes to us.” Staying on the evolutionary theme, he believed that, through veganism, “we are in the very elementary states of the new mutation.”
And, in 1954, he said this, which to some extent we can say for ourselves even now: “We are the pioneers.”
Leslie Cross’ vision of a peaceful vegan future is very inspiring. As a pioneering member of the birth of the vegan social movement, he warns that the future of humanity is extremely bleak if we do not change our violent instrumental view of the world. What Cross would make of today’s situation in which the planet’s existence is imminently threatened can only be guessed at. I believe that he would hope that we continue to recognise that vegan values – those that will, “effect the swing-over from exploitation and perversion to freedom and naturalness” – those that embrace the scope of veganism, are essential if we are to save our planet and save ourselves.
* Leslie Cross stated in the Spring 1951 edition of the Vegetarian World Forum that veganism is not so much about welfare as it is about animal liberation. However, he does use anti-cruelty language here. It has to be remembered that the Constitution of the Vegan Society that Cross is detailing dates from 1951, 14 years before Brigid Brophy wrote her famous letter to the Sunday Times in London in October 1965 entitled, “The Rights of Animals,” and 32 years before Tom Regan’s groundbreaking rights-based book, The Case for Animal Rights, published in 1983. This also explains why Cross would use the language of “granting rights” to other animals, rather than seeing them as already holders of (basic) moral rights.
The Vegan News (August 1945).
The Vegan. (Spring 1951).
The Vegan. (Winter 1954).
The Vegan. (Autumn 1967).
The Vegetarian World Forum Vol.5(1). (Spring 1951).
Animal Rights/Human Rights: Entanglements of Oppression and Liberation by David Nibert. 2002. Rowman and Littlefield.
“In Search of Sally – The Lesser-Known Founder of The Vegan Society with Donald Watson.” VeggieVision TV, April 2016.
“My Vegan Hero,” by Butterflies Katz. Veganism: A Truth Whose Time Has Come. 2017.
Returning to Olympia London for the 7th year running on the weekend October 26-27, this eagerly anticipated event includes 320 stalls packed with the latest vegan products, a Vegan Food Village with 25 caterers, a New Vegan Support area for beginners to veganism, a Foodies Stage with live music, the Art of Compassion Exhibition, two Fitness areas, a Holistic Health Hub, Cookery Demos, talks on Plant Based Health, a Natural Therapy Zone, Lifestyle presentations, a Yoga Zone, a Kids Yoga area, talks on Veganic Growing, a Mature Zone, a Kids Area, plus talks on Animal Rights and Activism, Vegan Activists Support, VGN, VGN Climate Change Summit and Movement Building.
Advance tickets for this event are now available at www.london.vegfest.co.uk/tickets
Each entry ticket includes further access to all talks, cookery demos, panels and live music sessions at the show.
The organisers of VegfestUK are running a new show Plant Powered Expo next February in the National Hall of Olympia London. This new event celebrates the best of a plant-based way of life with 235 stalls, 12 features and 100 speakers. For more information, visit www.plantpoweredexpo.co.uk