VEGA News Item

A Clash of Symbols: The Veggie Seedling has been trampled to death - 08/04/2004
Controversy over the symbol for vegetarianism

The original symbol intended by campaigners of the London Vegetarian Society for unconstrained flag-waving by veggies everywhere


  The 1960’s were a decade of awakening as the Churchillian V-symbol for peace developed into the CND ban-the-bomb peace-and-love emblem and asserted enduring aspirations in a period of souring trends under the nuclear cloud of international politics. Wartime rationing had ended, austerity in the "developed" world was receding, and the plight of the hungry in famine-ridden areas and the significance of diet, nutrition, distribution, and economics had engaged serious international thought. Britain’s vegetarian and ascetic Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir Stafford Cripps, had failed to prevail against Ernest Bevin in retention of the wartime national brown loaf, so the nation rejoiced with the return of the white subsidised loaf, while the "health fanatics" had to suffer for a while the exemption of wholemeal bread from the subsidies. Ernest Bevin suffered retention of another kind, the agonies of which must have influenced costive policies arrived at after many sedentary hours round the conference table.

  The Agriculture Act of the mid-1940s had set British farmers on course for peace time production supported (feather-bedded in critics’ eyes) for self-sufficiency with the exigencies of two world wars and blockades still in mind.

  Campaigns running during these times attracted veggies among the many do-gooders coming out and strutting their stuff in matters of farming, food, health and the land. For a while groups in the vegetarian societies were associated individually and collectively with Oxfam and other famine-relief organizations, as well as a half-time civil servant in a World Food Day campaign, whose pleas for a set of national postage stamps to commemorate the initiatives were rebuffed while the rest of the world satisfied at least the collectors’ interests. Another group of do-gooders jibbed at strident and bellicose celebrations of May Day with rallies, parades, and military displays out of tune with attempts at harmonizing political endeavor with a frugal meal eaten on the Day and donation of the saving to a famine-relief organization. This campaign gained a good press (e.g. from the New Statesman, Guardian, Observer, and Tribune), thanks largely to famous sponsors, such as Brigid Brophy, the novelist, Ruth Harrison, who wrote Animal Machines, and Roy Brookes, a socialist estate agent whose advertisements for Chelsea properties were masterpieces of cheeky satire.


  The London Vegetarian Society began to be imbued with the fomenting issues in national and international affairs. Publicity and research sub-committees plotted in the long hours and on small budgets (but abounding in voluntary effort) in their underground cell in an office in Kensington to do good for the commonweal while conspiring mischief for the live/deadstock industry, which annually taunted the veggie populace with grotesque demonstrations at nearby Earl’s Court of the workings of industries of reds and whites - meat and dairy - pitched against the veggie greens. The marches just before Christmas from Marble Arch (Tyburn, notorious once for human hangings) to the Royal Smithfield Shows attracted veggies from miles around; a procession rounding on the event with the band playing the Saints loud enough for the animals inside in their live/dead predicament to hear, and the ceremony at the presentation of the wreaths made the veggie cause with an effect that even GBS would have been pushed to equal. Show animals destined for slaughter during the week arrived to the reverent publicity of a candlelit silent vigil at their place of execution.

  Conferences at the Commonwealth centre in London became sell-outs with eminent speakers and campaigners, participating on Saturdays without fees, working over the full purview of the veggie cause. Speakers at a Nutrition Society meeting, rueing their poor turnouts, lamented their inability to attract weekend audiences to match the Vegetarian Society’s. The establishment started to note efficiency in a cause it had been accustomed to dismiss as deficiency.

  The plotters in their London cell sought a symbol to go with the mottos they were cultivating - Let Live and Live, Grow Food, not Feed etc. The LVs and the veggie cause needed a "peace-and-love" symbol like the CND’s, which had been designed in 1958 with a mixture of allusions to nuclear disarmament and was unveiled a few weeks before the first Aldermaston March. The promise in the seedling plant seemed to represent the veggie theme; and it fitted the Live and Let Live (or Let Live and Live) purposes the veggies were aiming to fulfil.

The Flag Leaf

  One of the veggie campaigners was Mike Storm, who had TV experience and artistic talents. He went into creative mode. A couple of weekends spent designing V-type symbols produced after many a cup of coffee and a sip or two of red wine an offspring that drew unanimous admiration from those attending the birth. The balance, dimensions, and angles emerged from many drafts and redesigns. The colour had to feature green; the symbol could be filled in or in an economical (in ink) Art Deco line style. It was intended, like the CND symbol, as a universal freedom signature, without commercial restrictions. The arms of the V were designed to avoid confusion with a specific tick of approval, the symbol had to assert itself unframed, unencircled, and unconfined and give an illusion to the free flight of a bird.

Mike Storm answered requests from the Research Section for its own headings in anticipation of amalgamation of national Vegetarian Societies in 1968. Mike's adoption of the lean economy style made for economies in printing. He gave all his services free, like the other campaigners

  It was instantly popular. The LVs prepared blocks for printers of various types for easy reproduction. It was adopted far and wide and copied by other veggie organizations. Mike’s voluntary effort was copied by other draughtspersons too, adding twiddly bits, but the alterations spoilt the simplicity, subtlety, and sincerity of its message. It survived all the politics of the merger of the two veggie societies, both acting nationally, in the late 1960s and fitted nicely into the revised stationery. Campaigners could embellish their mail with marks giving free advertising without recourse to the expense of Post Office franking.

Another original used for banners and broadsheets for demonstrations at Royal Smithfield Shows held in London, in which many animal welfare organisations joined forces (The Green Plan was launched in 1976 and endorsed as official Vegetarian Society policy)

The Herbicide

  Selling the symbol and leasing the logo has been the undoing of several NGOs and charities, especially as the rigor needed for monitoring and policing usage to standards of authentication acceptable to, say, the Food Commission and now to the Food Standards Agency - let alone to careful customers - could not be assured. The revered symbol appeared on packets of "vegetarian" cheese, no matter out of which bulk tank the milk was drawn, nor how lame or mastitic the cows were, nor whether they had been fed on rations disastrously enhanced with meat and bone meal and with concentrates containing GM soya and GM maize. The Vegetarian Society’s profits from sales of its approvals and applications of its symbol on dairy-products made by resort to GM ferments was a smack in the eye for the anti-GM lobby. BSE originated in the dairy/beef/veal industry; two-thirds of British beef was derived from it. Testimony by the defendants in the McLibel trial was blunted because organizations such as the Vegetarian Society had connived at or had been accomplices in the odious exploitation, with desecration of the welfare and environmental issues the symbol was purporting- until then with growing respect for objectivity- to manifest.

  A commentator in Private Eye has remarked on the abuse of the principles represented by the symbol: "the Society bestows its favours with all the discretion of an incontinent dog let loose in a forest". Well said, but tragic; a jewel defiled. The Society has latterly essayed adjustments: the symbol is encaged in a two-colour "eggs Florentine" design. Too bad if it is copied into black and white, when one leaf withers and almost vanishes. VEGA has for some time been trying to restore the symbol’s pristine glory and reputation, but Mike Storm’s artistic gift has not visited again (he died in 1988), although we are proud to represent the original ideals and enthusiasm. Our principles have not been violated, but our artistic inspirations just lack his skill.

  VEGA is a guiding light in the Summer Triangle that will soon dominate heavens unaffected by light pollution. It is the brightest star in the constellation of Lyra; however, designs with astronomical connotations or with the outline of a harp instead of a seedling became ever-dimmer illuminations of the vegetarian passion. One effort, hastily abandoned, turned the seedling in what looked too much like a poultry wishbone.

  So we are stuck. The seedling has been irreparably damaged and has become a flawed symbol of campaigning vegetarianism. The Vegetarian Society and its affiliates have received several warnings and suggestions for extricating themselves from the mess they have made in their cause and the disrepute they have attracted. They attack us for our efforts at restoring honour to a symbol they claim as theirs.

  The seedling that has sprouted so hopefully has been trampled on and afflicted by unworthy commercial contamination. The seminal vegetarian principles must grow and flourish without it.

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