Did you know the backstory to today’s vegan movement goes back at least two dozen centuries? That there was a vegan hermit in 17th century east London, a vegan poet in medieval Syria, and a religious order that followed a vegan diet from Rome to southern China for a thousand years?
I make “The Vegan Option” radio show, broadcast on the UK’s leading radio art station, Resonance FM. The current series is “Vegetarianism: The Story So Far – A Radio History”, telling our full story. It began broadcasting on 2 February 2016, on the first Tuesday of every month, and is fast catching up with the present on 4 June 2017.
It’s an amazing story, full of fascinating characters and astounding twists and turns. The Greek Buddhist kingdoms of central Asia. India’s lost Buddhist emperor who proclaimed his abstention from flesh in stone. The Brit who enlisted in the US army and went into battles in the American Civil War without a gun.
I’m fortunate that it’s been very well received. Canadian vegan physician Tushar Mehta calls it:
a brilliant synthesis; a flowing narrative that is a balanced and accurate representation of Eastern and Western philosophy and culture
Another Canadian reviewer calls it:
on par with BBC documentaries
And G Cassells in the UK says:
I love the narrative, listening to how the spread of ideas emerged across the world.
I’ve taken a sabbatical from paid employment to record interviews with world-leading experts, pore over research in the British Library, and travel to the places where the story unfolded – including the length and breadth of India – to bring the story to listeners.
As a long-time vegan, understanding the people who have been making the case for animals for centuries makes me realise I’m part of a movement that’s not just global, but has been handing on the baton since the iron age.
The episodes have gone from the non violence preached in iron age India by vagabond philosophers like the Buddha to the vegetarians in the secretive fringes of the Greek world – and followed the trail through the ascetic monastic movements in the Roman empire, the emergence of widespread Buddhism, Jainism and other Indian religions that support vegetarianism. I’ve been privileged to visit the home of Rousseau, the Fruitlands vegan settlement that inspired “Little Women”, and a Chinese temple where the community marked the full moon with a vegan meal.
This is the biggest story I’ve ever done as a radio producer. Ours.
Episodes of The Vegan Option, including Vegetarianism: The Story So Far, are available to download via iTunes, Stitcher, PocketCasts, and other podcast providers, amongst others – see theVeganOption.org. Or you can play episodes here:
Dr Ian McDonald is a BBC-trained media freelancer, and lives in London.