First Hand, First Rate – Kathleen Jannaway, 6th February 1915 – 27th January 2003

Today, the 6th February 2015, marks one hundred years since of the birth of Kathleen Jannaway, vegan pioneer and a huge influence on the movement for ecological veganism with her vision of a tree-based, compassionate future for peoplekind. To mark this important centenary I have decided to scan and upload her seminal pamphlet, ‘First Hand, First Rate – Five Dozen Hints, Ideas and Recipes for an Economical Diet Not Passed Through Animals!. Published by the Vegan Society in 1974, this has been out of print for many years, and has not, to the best of my knowledge, previously been available online.

Ever since I was a small child I seemed to make the connection between the meat served up on my plate every Sunday lunchtime and the cows, sheep and pigs I would see in fields we would pass on trips to the countryside in my grandad’s car. I always had trouble swallowing animal flesh even if I didn’t consciously know why at the time. I became vegetarian in 1977 at the age of 16, but by the early 1980s had begun to realise that the dairy industry had as much (if not more) involvement in animal cruelty as meat production. In December 1984  I finally joined the dots and made the step to becoming vegan. Around this time a small pamphlet called ‘First Hand First Rate’ was doing the rounds amongst the local Anarchist group that I was involved with. It was written some years earlier by Kathleen Jannaway, the secretary of the UK Vegan Society, and as well as arguing the case against animal exploitation in a way that was rational, unsensational and unassuming it also made clear the wider connections between animal farming and environmental damage. In addition this modest pamphlet helped me to recognise that it is as easy to lead an unsustainable, unaccountable vegan lifestyle based on imported, fossil fuel hungry convenience foods as it is to live as an unsustainable and unaccountable omnivore, and raised awareness of the importance of considering issues around self-reliance and food production;

Addiction to meat and dairy products and to factory processed food has got such a hold on the minds of people of the dominant Western culture that they find it difficult to question it in their own lives, but, often with the best intention, they are spreading it throughout the world. This wasteful trend must be arrested if the famines of today are not to be repeated on an even more horrifying scale as the population of the world increases. – Kathleen Jannaway, First Hand, First Rate, 1974

In 1984 Jannaway left the Vegan Society to found the Movement for Compassionate Living, promoting ‘ecological veganism’ through the magazine ‘New Leaves’. Like ‘First Hand First Rate’, every issue featured distinctive and beautiful hand-drawn black and white cover artwork produced by her husband Jack, and would always include recipes based on non-imported crops including quinoa, buckwheat, barley, acorns and other fruit and nut trees, as well as practical information on forest gardening, growing your own, self-sufficiency, vegan nutrition and health, plus thought provoking articles and debate around the wider philosophies and implications of veganism and sustainability. Other MCL publications included her pamphlets ‘Ecological Veganism’, ‘Beyond Aid’, ‘Why Veganism Is Not Enough’ and ‘Abundant Living in the Coming Age of the Tree’. The latter in particular laid out her truly radical vision of a future tree rather than oil based culture, and is virtually a manifesto for a vegan permaculture;

We are faced with the challenge of providing for the needs of a rapidly increasing world population from the diminishing resources of a finite and endangered planet. Fundamental changes in the values and practices of the dominant world system, which has created a situation in which millions of people and animals already suffer extreme deprivation and die prematurely, is essential. What is needed is a trend towards compassionate living the vegan way, with the emphasis on the use of trees and their products. As people face the challenge of environmental crises, as the supreme importance of using awesome intellectual powers with compassion for all sentient beings is realised, an evolutionary leap will be achieved. An era of truly abundant living will dawn in which humans, at peace with themselves, with each other and with all living creatures, will reach heights of creativity as yet unimagined. – Kathleen Jannaway, Abundant Living in the Coming Age of the Tree, 1991

For my own part I got to know Kathleen in the early 1990s, and our young family attended a number of the famous garden parties held at her home in Leatherhead, Surrey. I was always impressed by her razor sharp intelligence and deeply compassionate nature, as well as her commitment to non-violence and what she would describe as ‘truth force’, and feel privileged to have known her. To this day the MCL and Jannaway’s vision remain massive influences on my own interpretations of the philosophies of both veganism and permaculture, shared  through my own recently published Vegan Book of Permaculture. I hope it’s a book she would have been proud of.

The way of life generally accepted and followed in the industrially developed countries of the world, both East and West, and being encouraged in the developing world, is not sustainable. It is wasting resources, polluting the air, the water, the soil and the whole environment, and it is assaulting the life supporting systems of the planet. It cannot go on. Moreover, the present system does not meet the genuine needs of people: quite the opposite. It is damaging the health of the comparatively affluent, and increasing poverty, hunger and disease among the rapidly increasing millions of the poor in many areas of the world. ‘Aid’, however well motivated, does not get to the root of their problems. The present over-industrialised system degrades people to machine slaves and to programmed consumers of machine products, depriving them of their creativity and other essentials of spiritual growth. Ecological veganism requires living as far as possible in harmony with all one’s fellow creatures in a sustainable manner. It has an important part to play in speeding the birth of a new age of peace and creativity – Kathleen Jannaway, Recipes for a Sustainable Future, 1990 

Kathleen Jannaway appears in this BBC Open Door documentary about the Vegan Society from 1974, demonstrating her compost making techniques in her Leatherhead garden.

Update May 2018, thanks to Vegan London for uploading: Footage of Kathleen Jannaway explaining further details of the ecological arguments presented in the 1976 Vegan Society TV programme, as well as further developments that had come to light in the sixteen years since are  shown in this address to the 6th International Vegan Festival in 1992.


Download ‘First Hand First Rate’ here

Other articles about Kathleen Jannaway

Kathleen Jannaway’s obituary and life story from the Movement for Compassionate Living website

Kathleen Jannway – A Life Well Lived by Harry Mather and Malcolm Horne, from ‘Vegan Views’, 2003