|International Vegetarian Union (IVU)|
35th World Vegetarian Congress
'Food for all our futures'
Heriot Watt University, Edinburgh, Scotland
July 8-14, 2002
The Vegetarian Society
of the United Kingdom
Tuesday, July 09, 2002
Day the Second
Well, as was expected, the second day of the Congress is proving to be even more crackers than the first! More of the delegates have been filtering into Heriot-Watt today and the energy has been building by the minute. As I mentioned yesterday, the bucolic setting of the university campus is proving to be most conducive to discussions about a vegetarian diet and lifestyle. Everywhere, between seminars and lectures and meals, delegates are gathered in informal groups of two, three, four or more, absorbed in vigorous discussions and debates.
Most of the attendees I have interviewed have had very favorable things to say about the Congress. They love the venue, the lectures, seminars, the international flavor of the event and so much else.
Of course, there are certain imperfections but that was to be expected. For instance, whilst I was moving through the vegan breakfast buffet line this morning, a sudden commotion developed about the condiments tray. It turned out one of the attendees had requested honey with his or her toast. Obligingly, a kitchen staff person fetched some of those little honey-in-a-container things and put them out.
Someone else noticed this and the way she ripped into this poor, well-meaning kitchen staff person, you would have thought someone had slipped some ground beef into one of the bell peppers. The manner of accusation was totally uncalled for and reminded me why I am at this Congress and why I decided to become a vegetarian 16 years ago, vegan 7 seven years ago.
Non-violence as it is defined by the term ahimsa: to do harm to no living creature. This, to me, means not confining or harming defenseless animals, not causing injury to any of my fellows nor damage to anything or anyone they hold dear.
Jumping all over this well-meaning kitchen staff person was not, to me, an example of ahimsa. However, let no one judge lest he or she be judged. I'm sure the nerves of many of the organizers are stretched to the limit and for the most part, their performance and attention to delegates' needs has been spot on. It is my fervent hope, however, that our time and presence here leave all, vegetarian and non-vegetarian alike, with the impression that we are indeed people who make every effort to restrain ourselves in thought, action and deed if the outcome could result in injury to another.
For the most part, the delegates and staff have been most considerate and attentive. Most of the logistical details of organizing a conference like this-a logistics nightmare to be sure-have been handled with utmost precision. Despite this, you can't expect all to run smoothly nor to have all the comforts and conveniences of home provided. Caryn Hartglass, Executive Director of EarthSave International, told me she was chagrined to learn she would have to purchase separate card to enable her to connect her laptop computer to a phone line in her room. She also said she was disappointed little details like this were not more fully explained by the Heriot-Watt Conference Center in the orientation package we all received when we arrived.
The content of the material presented is, as far as I can tell from attendees' comments, has been deemed relevant and engaging.
Scheduling lectures and talks to fit every vegetarian pallet is impossible, of course. People came here with different levels of knowledge and awareness. I have heard a handful of delegate express a desire for more advanced sessions that would have appealed to people who have been around the movement for some time.
Tobias Leenaert, President of Ethisch Vegetarisch Alternatief, Belgium, told the Journal " Some sessions seem as if they are directed for very new people, almost as if they are for meat eaters they are trying to convert. More in depth sessions beyond the obvious would have been appreciated."
Leenaert, who met his Brazilian wife on the ICQ (as in 'I seek you') Health and Medicine, Diets, Vegans chat board on the Internet three years ago, added that he had a similar experience at the animal rights conference in Washington, D.C. in 2000. Leenaert said that, overall, he is finding the conference to be a very good venue for networking with fellow vegetarians."
Despite this, most of those canvassed are very pleased with the quantity and quality of information and networking opportunities available.
My primary objective was to get a good deal of information from many different sources about vegetarian issues and concerns. In this, I have not been disappointed. Indeed, some of the presenters are engaging and knowledgeable beyond my expectations. Claude Pasquini's seminar, Animal Emotions and intelligence: towards the abolition of specieism was a veritable tour de force which clearly demonstrated that when it comes to the difference between the animals and us there isn't any. I always suspected some of my best friends are slugs and Claude's presentation confirmed this.
I got with Pasquini shortly after his seminar and asked him what the he thought about the Congress and the vegetarian movement in general.
"We are deluding ourselves when we think the vegetarian movement is picking up at a very high speed," Claude told the Congress Journal. He added there is not as much resistance to the idea or concept of vegetarianism as there used to be, but putting it into practice is still not as common as we would like it to be.
"By no means is the number of vegetarians just going to go up," he said. "On the contrary, in some countries, particularly in the east they did not have any meat around for economic reasons and they were just natural vegetarians, they now go to meat because they also want to have western standards and being able to eat meat as a status symbol. Having traveled and given talks in former communist countries, I know this is the trend there now."
On the brighter side, Pasquini noted the Russians who are at the Congress are very conscious of vegetarianism and are actively espousing vegetarianism for health and related reasons.
I asked Pasquini what we can do at the Congress to spread the word of vegetarianism beyond this week and this place. As he is aware, we here are all very dedicated to and passionate about ending animal suffering and contributing to the welfare of our species and our planet by advocating vegetarianism. He agreed with me that we are, for the most part, a privileged, mostly middle-class representation of individuals who can afford the luxury of coming to this Congress whereas many of our fellow vegetarians, and those we would like to see become vegetarian, could not. What can we do, I asked Pasquini, to spread the word to those who would benefit from what we are discussing here; why there is so much resistance to a dietary lifestyle that obviously makes more sense than its alternative.
" They know (eating meat) is wrong on a purely intellectual level," Pasquini said. "It doesn't go down to the very core of their being. Just as I know there is so much poverty, but I am not going to sell my house to give the money to the poor people. Being aware of something does not necessarily mean we act accordingly." A large part of the reason for this, he explained, is that our decisions are influenced by many levels of consciousness and other influences we are not even aware of.
"We know the world is in a bad state and we should be doing this for ecological and health reasons and so on, but so what? It is an illusion to think we are rational beings. We are not rational we are totally an emotional animal and sensing animals who make decisions on a level that is not rational which justifies its reasoning after the fact."
This being said, I suggested to Pasquini, some of us will be able to come away from this Congress with even more conviction that vegetarianism is the only moral and rational way of life for our species and our planet. Also that we, hopefully, will be able to influence others to believe this as well.
"This (the Congress)
is an artificial environment we create for ourselves and it is good that
we do it, to network, to make new friends all over the world, to strengthen
ourselves," Pasquini said. He agreed with me that the Congress is
the inspiration or seed that can affect real change; that real and permanent
change has to happen on an individual level, where all great and benevolent
change occurs. The irony of this and the real utility of this Congress,
is that the social, personal and spiritual community we are part of here
is what provides the energy and hope and inspiration that is needed to
continue to evolve individually so we can do whatever it is we can do
to end the suffering and add to the well-being of all living beings on