In the sixth of the blog series “And If You Know Your History…”, Dr. Roger Yates of the Vegan Information Project talks about Arthur Ling, one of the original vegan pioneers, most well-known for his work at Plamil Foods Ltd.
To Arthur Ling
“The Plamil King”
And vegan pioneer
We raise a glass
To toast your class
We’re lucky you stopped here
Please take a bow
From every cow
Whose life you helped to save
And one from
On the road you helped to pave
– Bernie Laprade
For someone to take his “first steps” towards a vegan lifestyle in 1926 is remarkable enough. Arthur Ling did this – refusing to consume flesh and eggs – but he was only seven years old. Of course, in 1926, no-one had an inkling as to what a “vegan” was because it would be almost 20 years before the now familiar term was coined.
Arthur Ling, despite being described as “not one for social norms,” and rather anti-establishment in outlook, was nevertheless a very practical man, and set out to research the nutritional aspects of a plant diet. He is most famous for his ground-breaking work on the production of non-dairy milks. Before that, however, and way ahead of his time in the immediate post war years, he formed Solflower, a limited company created to produce biodeisel called “Sunoil,” made from sunflowers.
Arthur’s son, Adrian, says of his father:
He is known by most for is work at PLAMIL and the Vegan Society. From his association with the Vegan Society in the 1950’s he joined a group interested in producing a non-dairy milk, which eventually became Plantmilk Ltd, later changing to Plamil Foods Ltd, to which he dedicated himself.
Adrian is now the managing director of Plamil Foods. In 1965, the company succeeded in producing the first widely distributed soya milk, which Adrian Ling says was, “a true achievement and again far ahead of its time.”
As Adrian Ling notes above, having joined the Vegan Society in the 1940s, Arthur began to attend meetings of a 1950s group concerned with the manufacture of non-dairy milks. Through the hard work of Arthur Ling, fellow vegan pioneer Leslie Cross, and others, what is now Plamil Foods Ltd emerged from, first, “the Plamilk Society,” and then “Plantmilk Ltd.”
The object of the Plantmilk Society was to
promote the manufacture and sale of a satisfactory alternative to dairy or other animal milk used for human consumption, the ingredients of such alternative to be of exclusive plant origin.
The Winter 1956 edition of the Vegan Society’s journal, The Vegan, included the full text of the Report of the first Annual General Meeting of the Plantmilk Society. Arthur Ling was the chairperson, and Leslie Cross the secretary. It was reported that the Society had achieved some important media coverage, including in the pages of the London Evening News, the headline being: “Now your milk may come from a plant.” After reports in the “foreign press,” inquiries from around the world were received. Cross notes that they had received two tins of non-dairy milk from a Califiornian company, which The Vegan wryly comments, “conforms to American standards of nutrition and hygiene.” It would be another nine years before Plamil was launched in Britain. Plamil now produce a whole range of plant milks, chocolate spreads, a host of vegan chocolate bars, and egg-free mayo. At one point, the company ever developing novel ideas supplied Plamil mini-pots to airlines to cater for their passengers.
Arthur Ling was well versed in company law and used his expertise in aid of both Plamil and the Vegan Society. Plamil began production in a rented factory in Iver in Buckinghamshire. He says that they knew a move would be necessary at some point as they were aware that a property developer would buy out the whole site sooner or later. Luckily this forced change did not occur until 1972 and by this time a group of sixteen vegans were set up to financially support a move to a new factory in Folkestone. Leslie Cross, who had been the only employee of the business retired, and Arthur replaced him. It was at this point that the name Plamil was formally adopted. As the story goes, the term “vegan” came from taking the first three letters and the last two from “vegetarian.” Similarly, Plamil was derived from the first three letters of the words “plant” and “milk.” Already, there were rumours then that an unhappy dairy industry was to sue to prevent Plamil referring to “milk,” something that still animates cow and calf exploiters to the present day.
In 1986, Arthur declared that
Truly the Law is an ass! But it all demonstrates the power of the dairy industry to influence the Labelling Acts, so much so that the current Act says: The word “milk” or any other word or description which implies that the food being described contains milk shall not be used as part of the name of a food unless, a) the food has as an ingredient cow’s milk with all its normal constituents in their natural proportions or, b) the food has an ingredient of cow’s milk …
In terms of what Arthur Ling’s expertise provided for the Vegan Society in his long association with them, including being their honorary patron and President, his concern was to put the organisation on a stable footing, for example, by purchasing its own premises. Recall from the Kathleen Jannaway blog entry in this series that the Vegan Society was often housed in the property owned by its officers and officials for many years, which is not an ideal situation for a national social movement organisation. This move, and the development of the Society’s trademark, is believed to have placed the organisation on a secure footing into the future. 21st century vegans have pioneers like Arthur Ling to thank for their foresight in such matters.
There is a little-known provision in the Vegan Society’s Articles of Association that Arthur Ling was very supportive of – in “Objects,” at section 4b in the document to be precise: “To relieve elderly vegans who are in need.” As a vegan of 41 years and in my 60s, I’ll be knocking on their doors sometime soon! Thanks Arthur!
As the poem at the beginning of this blog entry suggests, Arthur helped a great many vegans over the years, not only through his long years with the Vegan Society and Plamil but on a personal level too, and he was especially helpful to new vegans taking their first steps along the way.
For example, Arthur Ling was the inspiration behind the first ever “Vegan Buddies”* initiative, an important landmark in vegan history, which was launched by the late Neil Lea, then editor of the activist magazine ARCNews in the 1990s, and Mary Brady.
When Mary Brady was four or five months pregnant, she became a vegan. Feeling a little nervous about the pregnancy, and wanting dietary advice, she phoned the number on the back of a Plamil carton, and was put through to Arthur Ling. She recalls
He talked to me for ages on the phone, answering my questions, reassuring me, and being a “vegan buddy.” Two days later there arrived in the post his booklet on raising vegan kids, and pages of handwritten notes and recipes. So, I continued vegan, and a healthy vegan, and my son was born 8 pound 12 ounces, and is now a lifelong vegan, nine years old, 29kg and four foot five. Perfectly healthy.
Mary would eventually meet Arthur face-to-face at a vegan festival. Arthur recognised Mary’s voice from the phone call they had years before. Soon, Mary’s son Séamus “bombed past them” with another child. Arthur smiled, and said, “He never did get rickets, did he?”
Mary adds in a tribute after Arthur’s death
This is why Neil and I set up the Vegan Buddies scheme. I would not be who I am today, or doing what I do today, if it hadn’t been for Arthur’s friendship and patience with a nervous new vegan. Séamus wrote to him a couple of days before he died, and I got to know Arthur a bit more after I started campaigning properly – he was a wonderful man, and the world is better for his having been in it, and poorer for his passing.
Arthur Ling was very much an enabler in his life. And not only in vegan-related issues. For example, he started and ran for years a boy’s football (soccer) club which gave kids in the locality the chance to be involved in a football league.
In the year of Arthur Ling’s death, the London Vegan Festival of 2005 was dedicated to his memory and work, as was the Spring 2005 edition of The Vegan magazine.
The Arthur Ling Memorial Award, set up and run by Plamil Foods, is granted each year to an individual or group for their outstanding contribution to the cause of veganism. The award has been given to registered vegan dietitian Sandra Hood, who has spoken at VegfestUK events, Dr. Dan Lyons of the Sheffield-based anti-vivisection organisation Uncaged, Patrick Smith of the Veggies Catering Campaign in Nottingham, England, Tim Barford, the manager of Yaoh hemp-based company and VegfestUK, and award winning vegan chef and food writer, Tony Bishop-Weston.
The final word on vegan pioneer Arthur Ling goes to his son Adrian, who writes
At retirement age in the 1980’s, he continued to work actively for many years, being honoured with a number of ‘lifetime’ achievement awards. Whilst still participating in running the company he latterly and gradually dedicated himself more and more to research…the nutritional aspects of the vegan diet, his true love and passion.
* “Vegan Buddies” was a vegan mentoring scheme and was the forerunner of current initiatives such as Challenge 22. However, the initial scheme was before the internet existed and involved placing novice vegans with experienced ones. In the early days of the internet, the ARZone platform experimented with a global Vegan Buddies scheme.
The Vegan. (Winter 1956).
The Vegan. (Spring 2005).
“Why Plamil?” Leslie Cross, in Eva Batt’s What’s Cooking: A Guide to Good Eating. The Vegan Society, 1973.
“The Milk of Human Kindness.” Arthur Ling Interview. Vegan Views, No.37. https://www.veganviews.org.uk/vv37/vv37arthurling.html
“Arthur Ling 1919 – 2005 – RIP.” Veganforum.com. Jan 2005. http://www.veganforum.com/forums/showthread.php?2616-Arthur-Ling-1919-2005-R-I-P
“C Arthur Ling, 1919-2005. Founding Director of Plamil Foods Ltd, Hon Patron and former President of The Vegan Society.” https://www.plamilfoods.co.uk/news/arthurling
The Arthur Ling Memorial Awards – https://www.plamilfoods.co.uk/news/award08
The Vegan Society’s Articles of Association (2019). https://www.vegansociety.com/sites/default/files/uploads/downloads/VeganSocietyArticles_2019.pdf
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 Vegans Support area for beginners to veganism, a Foodies Stage with live music, the Art of Compassion Project Exhibition, the Vivo Life Fitness area, the Strength & Endurance area, 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, the Vegan Activists Support, the VGN News Room, the VGN Climate Summit and the Animal Rebellion summit.
Advance tickets for this event are now available at www.london.vegfest.co.uk/tickets, with BUY ONE GET ONE HALF PRICE offers running until the end of September.
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