Five quit Vegan Society over claim veganism is cultural appropriation

Racism row at the Vegan Society: Five trustees quit over claim veganism is ‘cultural appropriation’ because it uses foods and traditions from Africa and Asia

  • Five trustees quit the Vegan Society amid allegations of institutional racism 
  • Bitter row sparked by whether the word ‘veganism’ is ‘cultural appropriation’
  • Society commissioned Ijeoma Omambala QC to investigate claims that then vice chair Eshe Kiama Zuri had made racist comments 
  • Her report found Zuri had written two ‘unprofessional and inappropriate’ comments, but that neither was racist

Five trustees quit the Vegan Society last month amid allegations of institutional racism and transphobia sparked by a bitter row over whether the word ‘veganism’ was ‘cultural appropriation’.

Last summer the society, which was established nearly eight decades ago, commissioned Ijeoma Omambala QC to investigate claims that the then vice chair, Eshe Kiama Zuri, had posted racist comments online.

Her report, which was published in June, found that Zuri had written two ‘unprofessional and inappropriate’ comments about the society, but that neither was racist.


Last summer the society, which was established nearly eight decades ago, commissioned Ijeoma Omambala QC to investigate claims that the then vice chair, Eshe Kiama Zuri, had posted racist comments online

Vegan Society co-founder Donald Watson coined the word ‘vegan’ as a way of describing non-dairy vegetarians and produced the first copy of the Vegan News in 1944

Vegan Society co-founder Donald Watson coined the word ‘vegan’ as a way of describing non-dairy vegetarians and produced the first copy of the Vegan News in 1944.   

Born in 1910, Watson – who died in 2005 – became vegetarian aged 14 after a pig being slaughtered on his uncle’s farm horrified him.

He became vegan in the 1940s, having come to feel the production of milk-related products was unethical.

The Mexborough and District Heritage Society, which has organised the plaque, said he ‘played a significant role in founding the modern vegan movement that is now this amazing worldwide movement’.

‘Veganism has never been more popular than it is today and all vegans owe a huge debt of gratitude to Donald Watson and the pioneering early members,’ it added.

The barrister also noted how the ‘vast majority’ of complaints against 25-year-old Zuri were unfounded but appeared motivated by an anonymous person’s ‘profound personal animosity’ towards Zuri due to their ‘identity and protected characteristics’.

Zuri describes themself on their personal website as ‘disabled and non-gendered’, meaning they do not identify as either male or female. 

They have written how veganism was coined by a ‘white man’ but ‘hippy vegan food’ is based upon culinary traditions including dal from Pakistan, tofu and wheat from China and hummus from the Middle East.

Vegan Society co-founder Donald Watson coined the word ‘vegan’ as a way of describing non-dairy vegetarians and produced the first copy of the Vegan News in 1944. 

The barrister’s report to the society added how during its meetings, Zuri had been ‘misgendered’ – referred to by a sex they do not identify as – and the council ‘is not equipped to have mature and constructive conversations on diversity and inclusion matters; nor is it able to deal effectively with challenges to prevailing orthodoxies’, the Sunday Telegraph reports.

The publication of Ms Omambala’s report saw Zuri, Robb Masters, Joel Bravette, Michele Fox and Sally Anderson quit as trustees last month. Zuri’s resignation letter states they had been ‘naive’ joining the council in 2019 as a ‘multiply marginalised trustee, being black, queer, disabled and working class’ accusing the charity of being ‘institutionally racist’.

Zuri alleged they had been ‘forced out’ due to a ‘smear campaign’, adding: ‘I can confidently say that the Vegan Society is not a safe place for young people, for black people, for queer people or for any other marginalised people.’

They claim to have ‘brought a perspective to council that challenged not just trustees as individuals, but also the systemic racism and oppression that exists in any organisation set up without any time taken to look at diversity or inclusivity … and with a white supremacist structure…’ 

In his resignation letter, ex-chairman Robb Masters complained of a ‘toxic environment’ which saw Zuri face ‘hostility’, with other ‘oppressions’ being commonplace, including transphobia and ableism – discrimination in favour of able-bodied people.

He said hopes that ‘while we continue to focus on challenging the exploitation of other animals, we strive not to uphold the oppression of marginalised humans as we do so’ were short-lived.

Five trustees quit the Vegan Society last month amid allegations of institutional racism and transphobia sparked by a bitter row over whether the word ‘veganism’ was ‘cultural appropriation’ 

Instead, he claimed be became the victim of a ‘public smear campaign … instigated by certain trustees’ who prioritise ‘income over ethics while preserving a predominately white, predominately male, predominately cisgender, heterosexual, able-bodied and neurotypical stranglehold over the Vegan movement’, the newspaper added.

Ms Omambala found complaints Mr Masters supported alleged racism by Zuri were also unfounded.

A spokesman for the Vegan Society told the Sunday Telegraph there had been ‘conflict’ within the charity’s board of trustees which it had been ‘working hard to address’, and called the resignations ‘regrettable’. He added how the charity was seeking to implement ‘as quickly as possible’ the recommendations listed in the barrister’s report.

The spokesman said: ‘As with many charities, the Vegan Society has a number of challenges that we must address as we evolve into an even more diverse and inclusive organisation.’    

MailOnline has contacted the Vegan Society for comment. 

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