Donald Watson coined the term vegan in 1944 when he co-founded the Vegan Society in England. At first he used it to mean "non-dairy vegetarian", but from 1951 the society defined it as "the doctrine that man should live without exploiting animals". Interest in veganism increased in the 2010s. More vegan stores opened, and vegan options became increasingly available in supermarkets and restaurants in many countries.
Well-planned vegan diets can reduce the risk of some types of chronic disease, including heart disease. They are regarded as appropriate for all stages of the life by the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, while the German Society for Nutrition does not recommend vegan diets for children or during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Vegan diets tend to be higher in dietary fibre, magnesium, folic acid, vitamin C, vitamin E, iron and phytochemicals; and lower in dietary energy, saturated fat, cholesterol, long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, calcium, zinc and vitamin B12. Unbalanced vegan diets may lead to nutritional deficiencies that nullify any beneficial effects and may cause serious health issues. These deficiencies can only be prevented through the choice of fortified foods or the regular intake of dietary supplements. Vitamin B12 supplementation is especially important because its deficiency causes blood disorders and potentially irreversible neurological damage.
The origin of the English term vegetarian is unknown. The earliest known use is attributed to the actress Fanny Kemble, writing around 1839 in Georgia in the United States. The practice can be traced to Indus valley civilization in 33001300 BCE Ancient India. Early vegetarians included Indian philosophers such as Mahavira and Acharya Kundakunda, the Indian poet Thiruvalluvar, the Indian emperors Chandragupta Maurya and Ashoka; Greek philosophers such as Pythagoras, Empedocles, and Theophrastus; and the Roman poets Ovid, Seneca the Younger, Plutarch, Plotinus, and Porphyry. The earliest known vegan was the Arab poet Al-Maarri (c.973 c.1057). Their arguments were based on health, the transmigration of souls, animal welfare, and the viewespoused by Porphyry in De Abstinentia ab Esu Animalium ("On Abstinence from Animal Food", c.268 c.270)that if humans deserve justice, so do animals.
Vegetarianism established itself as a significant movement in 19th-century England and the United States. A minority of vegetarians avoided animal food entirely. In 1813 the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley published A Vindication of Natural Diet, advocating "abstinence from animal food and spirituous liquors", and in 1815 William Lambe, a London physician, claimed that his "water and vegetable diet" could cure anything from tuberculosis to acne. Lambe called animal food an "habitual irritation", and argued that "milk eating and flesh eating are but branches of a common system, and they must stand or fall together". Sylvester Graham's meatless Graham dietmostly fruit, vegetables, water, and bread made at home with stoneground flourbecame popular as a health remedy in the 1830s in the United States. Several vegan communities were established around this time. In Massachusetts Amos Bronson Alcott, father of the novelist Louisa May Alcott, opened the Temple School in 1834 and Fruitlands in 1844, and in England James Pierrepont Greaves founded the Concordium, a vegan community at Alcott House on Ham Common, in 1838.