While many people think of vegetarianism and veganism as new trends, there is a surprisingly rich and lengthy history behind these movements.
Seeing the huge potential of bringing this history to life, BBC-trained broadcaster Ian McDonald decided to create a podcast sharing the full backstory – all the way from the wandering ascetics of the iron age to the vegan campaigns of the present.
You can enjoy the podcast – Vegetarianism: The Story So Far – for free, by downloading it. There are 15 episodes with a combined running time of nine hours 52 minutes.
It was an immense undertaking, requiring a four-year unpaid sabbatical from paid employment to record interviews with world-leading experts, pore over esoteric 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.
The positive response shows the immense mission was worth it, creating a series that has been described as ‘profoundly different to most other vegan podcasts’.
Longstanding animal activist Kim Stallwood wrote in The Vegan magazine: “I particularly like the production quality of each 30-minute episode, and the use of actors to bring the people and the story to life.”
Canadian vegan physician Tushar Mehta added that creator Ian McDonald ‘creates a brilliant synthesis; a flowing narrative that is a balanced and accurate representation of Eastern and Western philosophy and culture’.
The series covers not just the famous figures like Buddha, Pythagoras, and Shelley, but forgotten religions and fascinating byways.
Listeners can learn about the lost order of the Elect of the Manichaeans, who followed a vegan diet, lasted a thousand years and stretched from the Mediterranean to the East China Sea, and discover the radical vegetarians who sided with the French revolution.
They will also visit the relics of an orgiastic vegetarian cult in early America.
McDonald takes listeners to the home of Rousseau, the place where the Buddha is said to have achieved enlightenment, to the Fruitlands vegan settlement that inspired famous novel Little Women, and a Chinese temple where the community marked the full moon with a vegan meal.
He says: “Understanding how people have been making the case for animals for millennia 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.
“This is the biggest story I’ve ever done.