American Vegan Society

The American Vegan Society (AVS) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that promotes veganism in the United States.

AVS was founded by 1960 by H. Jay Dinshah. The date of the earlier The Vegan Society (UK)'s founding, November 1, is now celebrated annually as World Vegan Day.


Prior to broad and widely-accessible search capabilities of the Internet, the American Vegan Society published networking and business resources which supported vegan lifestyle.


Jay Dinshah founded the American Vegan Society[1] early in 1960 and later that year (August) married the English-born Freya Smith. Freya, whose parents were active in The Vegan Society (of England), contributed to the early growth of the American Vegan Society and is president of the American Vegan Society today. The American Vegan Society is headquartered at Malaga, New Jersey, on a parcel of land which is called "SunCrest", or "the SunCrest Educreational Center." During Jay Dinshah's life, the American Vegan Society was characterized by vegan publishing and outreach, annual vegan conferences, vegan archiving, spiritual inspiration, providing people with an experience of vegan living, vegan food-preparation demonstrations, maintenance of a small veganic garden, and extensive networking. Jay Dinshah served the American Vegan Society as its president and as editor of its publication, Ahimsa magazine (1960–2000).

Ahimsa was a quarterly publication that explored compassionate living ("Ahimsa" meaning "dynamic harmlessness") as a philosophy, practical aspects of vegan living, and personal and cultural resources for vegans. Ahimsa included vegan menus and recipes, and news about food. The American Vegan Society continues to publish a quarterly periodical, now titled American Vegan, with the motto "Ahimsa lights the way." The American Vegan Society is now led and managed by its president, Freya Dinshah, Jay Dinshah's widow, and advised by the AVS Council of Trustees, all of whom are vegans, and operated by a team of staff and volunteers.

The American Vegan Society "promotes, supports, and explores a compassionate, healthful, and sustainable lifestyle. The diet is plant-sourced, varied, and abundant. For ethical, health, environmental, and other reasons, (vegans) reject all animal products in food, clothing, and commodities, and the exploitation of animals for sport or entertainment. AVS is guided by the doctrines of Ahimsa (non-slaughter, non-violence) and Reverence for Life, and provides community and friendship to those following and learning about this way of living."[2]

In both American and Europe, the term vegan has been used variably to refer to (a) a diet composed entirely of plants and (b) a lifestyle characterized by a completely plant-sourced diet and, as the American Vegan Society has consistently described it, making choices in every aspect of life that avoids harming others while doing the most good to help animals, people, and environment.

AVS founder H. Jay Dinshah decisively transformed the usage and meaning of the term vegan with the historic redefinition of veganism as a lifestyle of dynamic harmlessness.

Donald Watson in England[3] (and possibly others) coined the term 'vegan' in 1944; it referred to an entirely plant-based diet (with or without spiritual or philosophical or ethical underpinnings). American Vegan Society used the term vegan to mean dynamic harmlessness and successfully developed a broad social base of practicing vegans who committed themselves to that meaning and practice.

Even as a teenager, Jay Dinshah was a popular motivational speaker, following the example of his father Dinshah P. Ghadiali who promoted vegetarianism along with color therapy. Dr. Catherine Nimmo and Rubin Abramowitz formed a vegan society in California (1948 to 1960),[4] and they both joined the American Vegan Society when Jay Dinshah founded it in 1960. Throughout his life, Jay Dinshah continued to lecture extensively and to organize conferences advocating 'positive veganism' as "dynamic harmlessness" ("Ahimsa" is derived from a Sanskrit term "non-harming").

Through these efforts, Jay Dinshah managed to lecture to general audiences in 19 different nations, on 5 continents, and in a dozen languages about veganism and ahimsa. Although Dinshah would lecture in English, local multilingual vegetarians interpreted his talks for each audience.

Crediting the wisdom of Mahatma Gandhi and Albert Schweitzer Jay created and promoted the Pillars of Ahimsa, one for each letter of the word: A-H-I-M-S-A. Jay explained each in great detail in his book Out of the Jungle [6] A-Abstinence from Animal Products; H-Harmlessness with Reverence for Life (from Schweitzer); I-Integrity of Thought, Word, and Deed; M-Mastery over Oneself (against greed, envy, and materialism; instead focus on enlightenment); S-Service to Humanity, Nature, and Creation (3 main draws to veganism: health, environment, and animals; devotion to improving the world); A-Advancement of Understanding and Truth (applying Gandhian principles of Truth)

Today, countless vegan organizations (and animal rights organizations and organizations bearing the name 'vegetarian) promote this purer form of veganism, in the self-effacing and missionary spirit of AVS in which the message is far more important than any of the messengers. The word vegan did not appear in most English dictionaries published in the USA until the late 1970s or the mid-1980s. By the mid-1990s, a much clearer appreciation of the meaning and implications of the word 'vegan' (AS 'ahimsa' or dynamic harmlessness) had pervaded American consciousness. Even if they didn't practice veganism, most younger Americans - and older Americans, too - now know the basics of what veganism is. However, idiosyncratic practices continue to dim the clarity of 'ahimsa'.

American Vegan Society conventions

Annual Conferences were held since 1960, when Jay Dinshah began the AVS.

Alternate conferences and conventions were held, largely in the northeastern US (New Jersey and New York) but also earlier in California, then later in California (Arcata), Colorado (Denver), Oregon (Portland), and Washington (Olympia), often sharing logistical responsibilities with local and regional vegetarian societies. For a number of years, beginning in 1989, convention proceedings were videotaped.

The Dinshahs conducted weekend workshops, cooking classes, and other educational programs at SunCrest in Malaga, as early as 1969, when their first building (headquarters) was donated.

In 1995, the AVS cohosted the 8th International Vegan Festival in San Diego California, with VUNA (Vegetarian Union of North America) and Vegans International (VI).

Incomplete List of American Vegan Society conventions[7]

Some of these conferences were:

- Some annual conferences were in California during the 1960s

The American Vegan Society mentored and enabled the growth toward independence of VUNA, the Vegetarian Union of North America, the IVU's North American regional arm, by cosponsoring biennial conventions with VUNA. Alternate AVS conferences and conventions were held, largely in the northeastern US (New Jersey and New York) but also in California (Arcata CA - 1989), Colorado (Denver CO - 1991), Oregon (Portland OR - 1993), and Washington, often sharing logistical responsibilities with local and regional vegetarian societies. For a number of years, beginning in 1989, convention proceedings were videotaped.

Jay and Freya Dinshah conducted weekend workshops, cooking classes, and other educational programs at Suncrest in Malaga, as early as 1969.

Additional Workshops[8]


  1. American Vegan. 13 (3): 4. Fall 2013.
  2. American Vegan. 13 (3): 33. Fall 2013.
  3. Obituary of Donald Watson, who died at 95, by Karen Dawn, Thursday Dec 8th, 2005 6:50 PM
  4. History of American Vegan Society
  5. Dinshah, HJ (1973). Song of India.
  6. Dinshah, H J (1995) [1967]. Out of the Jungle.
  7. AVS Events
  8. AVS Events

See also

External links

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