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Before veganism became more mainstream, these incredible and inspirational older vegetarians and vegans were flying the flag for a more compassionate way of living.
With 1 October being National Older Veg*ns Day, it is important that their voices are heard. Because although many older vegetarians and vegans (veg*ns) are thriving, too many others are struggling.
Campaigning for animal rights and better provisions for vegetarians and vegans has been taking place for many years – and the crusade is still ongoing.
There are currently 300,000 older vegetarians and vegans in the UK. Charity V for Life is campaigning to ensure that the needs of older people in our community are met, including better meat-free meal choices in care homes, hospitals and the wider community.
But it’s the people who fought 30, 40 and 50 years ago – and in some cases longer – that were pioneers for the movement. Here they have their say about the future of the movement and what needs to be done.
John (Maz) Marriott, 55, has been vegan for 30 years. He has dedicated a lot of his life to campaigning and said “we need to keep on fighting”.
John, known to friends as Maz, lives in Brighton, and said: “I went vegan 30 years ago and it was very different back then and was difficult. But we just got on with it because we knew we had to for the animals. We got by – but the main thing was the reason for being vegan. I campaigned for many years in many different ways.”
Maz took part in many marches and was also part of the Hunt Saboteurs Association.
He added: “The campaigning was and still is such an important part of my life. We need to keep on campaigning to make it better for us all. This was one of the ways we were able to give prisoners vegan meals – through campaigning.
“It’s so important we keep doing that. I’m only 55 but the thought of going into a care home does worry me because I want to be vegan until I am no longer here. Being vegan and plant-based are two very different things. Vegan is like a religion and should be treated as that. It’s a way of life and that should be respected while in care. It’s so important we keep on fighting to be ensure that we are given vegan food while in care. I personally think it should be made law, so that someone who is vegan is served vegan food. And if this isn’t done, then people should be prosecuted.”
Roy Burdin, 98, has been a lifelong vegetarian and went vegan more than 20 years ago. He has also dedicated a lot of his time to campaigning. Although he still lives independently, he is aiming to encourage local care homes to offer vegan and vegetarian alternatives for those who don’t have the luxury of living at home.
The great-grandfather said: “The vegan lifestyle is an excellent way of living healthily while ensuring the welfare of animals and protecting the planet from the excesses of factory farming.
“I’ve seen many changes in my 98 years and I am convinced that the benefits of a vegan diet will help many elderly people to stay healthy, live active lives and help them also to reach a ripe old age.
“I put my longevity down to veganism. And at the same time I am happy that by following a vegan diet I’m also doing my bit to help prevent the exploitation and killing of animals. We need to keep campaigning to ensure that those who are in care are looked after properly and given sufficient vegan food.
Amanda Woodvine, Chief Executive of V for Life, said: "Today is about raising awareness of the incredible campaigning that many of the older veg*ns in our community have done.
"They have paved the way for us, so it is vital that they have support with the challenges that ageing can bring.
"Many older veg*ns are thriving, which is fantastic. But others, whether living independently or in care, can struggle to maintain the diet that is at the core of their identity. Out-of-town supermarkets with wider veg*n ranges are often not easily accessible without the use of cars. Although frailer veg*ns may have access to local shops, these tend to be more expensive and typically offer a limited choice of veg*n alternatives. And in care settings, veg*n options may be scarce, and knowledge about veg*n diets very limited.
“We are standing up today to say that we will carry on campaigning to ensure that older veg*ns' needs are met. It's incredible to have so many inspirational people on board with us. We know that with their help, we can work together to make vegan and vegetarian food choices more widely available."