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Five trustees quit Vegan Society in row over claim veganism is ‘cultural appropriation’

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.

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.

Ijeoma Omambala QC

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

Donald Watson: Vegan Society co-founder who coined the term ‘veganism’

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

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

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.

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.

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 spokesperson for The Vegan Society told MailOnline: ‘Four trustees, including the Chair and Vice Chair, have decided to resign with immediate effect. One other trustee resigned on 6 July.

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'

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’ 

‘There has been conflict amongst the Board that we have been working hard to address and it is regrettable that the most recent resignations were received the day before a planned mediation session. We thank them for their work for the society and wish them well for their future endeavours.

‘The society recently commissioned an independent report by Ijeoma Omambala QC in relation to complaints by members against two of the former trustees. We are seeking to implement the general recommendations to the board in the report as quickly as possible.

‘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. 

‘This is something we are actively working on, supported by respected external ED&I consultants, and our commitment is to foster an inclusive environment for all of our staff, trustees, members and supporters.’  

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk