International Vegetarian Union (IVU)
IVU logo 35th World Vegetarian Congress
'Food for all our futures'

Heriot Watt University, Edinburgh, Scotland
July 8-14, 2002
Hosted by

The Vegetarian Society
of the United Kingdom

The International Vegetarian Congress:
The highlight of National Vegetarian Week 2002

By Jane Bowler (editor of The Vegetarian - VSUK magazine)

Thursday: environmental issues
Cookery demonstrations had been in full swing all week, with Cordon Vert and guest chefs attracting big audiences. I chose to sit in on a marathon two-hour session based on the Cordon Vert Cookery School's popular day course, Around the World in Eight Dishes. Chef Linda Ward admitted to some qualms about getting through the contents of a day course in just two hours, but came up trumps on the stroke on 12 noon with all eight dishes:

ITALY: Courgette croquettes
FRANCE: Provençale potato, artichoke and olive ragout
JAPAN: Arame, beansprout and cucumber salad
INDIA: Aloo kofta in a spicy tomato sauce MEXICO: Toasted garlic and corn soup with tortillas
SCOTLAND: Atholl brose
MALAYA: Curry mee with tofu and coconut milk
LEBANON: Fava beans with bulghur wheat

Linda's vegan version of the traditional Scottish pudding, atholl brose, contained more than a splash of scotch whisky, and was particularly enjoyed by her hungry audience at the close of the session.

The key theme for the day was 'environmental issues', so after lunch I headed for a talk by Dr Hans Diehl called 'Ecology the vegetarian advantage'. Dr Diehl proved to be a very engaging speaker who explained that whilst many people all over the globe aspire to an American-style diet, this is unsustainable. His presentation was a real goldmine of facts to support a vegetarian choice. According to Dr Diehl, 56% of US agricultural land is used to produce beef. This is even more shocking when you look at the statistics relating to possible yields of food per acre of farmland:

On one good acre of farmland you can grow:
20,160 pounds of potatoes
4,565 pounds of rice
3, 120 pounds of corn
1,800 pounds of beans
1,680 pounds of wheat
228 pounds of mutton
183 pounds of beef.

Facts like these make it quite clear that the world's population can never be fed on hamburgers. Incredibly, Dr Diehl also told us that 70% of US grain is fed to livestock!

The day's closing session featured three speakers on environmental issues. Dawn Carr, a campaigner on fishing for PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) gave an impassioned talk on the damage that fishing, and fish farming, does to our world. She told us about the damage to the delicate ecosystem on the sea bed that is done by huge weighted fishing nets. Dawn said that 25% of all the sea animals that are caught by fishing trawlers are thrown back - because they are too small, or not a marketable type of fish. Most are dead or dying, as a result of being caught and sorted. Fish farming is the fastest-growing sector of food production. Dawn explained that intensive farming of fish in sea 'pens' leads to an unnatural concentration of waste products, and disease which can spread to the rest of the fish population, and which in turn is controlled by chemicals.

IVU council member David Pye asked the question - why are some dedicated environmentalists not vegetarians? He suggested that answers to this question might include:

'I haven't got time to be a vegetarian, I'm too busy saving the planet'
'I'm not really interested in food / only eat because I have to'
'I only eat organically-produced meat'

David went on to provide an arsenal of weapons for vegetarians to use to cut through these arguments. Vegetarianism helps protect the natural environment, reducing environmental pollution. It can help prevent world food shortages, and in turn protect fragile third world economies. Farming of animals has a major impact on the level of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere, and also produces many other serious pollutants. Vegetarianism can also prevent a world water shortage David had some statistics on how much water it takes to produce a variety of foods:

To produce a kilogramme of potatoes requires 500 litres of water
To produce a kilogramme of soya beans requires 2,000 litres atwater
To produce a kilogramme of beet requires 100,000 litres of water.

On Thursday evening I met Christopher Silva, a Brazilian whose slightly delayed arrival caused quite a stir turn to our back page for my interview with him - quite a character!