|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
Sowing Seeds for a Vegetarian Future
by Tina Fox,
Chief Executive of The Vegetarian Society UK
In the 155 years since the founding of the Vegetarian Society in 1847 the vegetarian scene in the UK and beyond has changed a great deal, with a real acceleration to these changes in the last 5 to 10 years. This brief presentation aims to cover the changes in the perception of the diet, and in the Society's focus.
I am pleased to say however that one thing remains largely unchanged in the UK and that is motivation for accepting a vegetarian diet. Although health and, to a lesser degree, environmental factors, have influenced some people's decision to take the veggie challenge, the primary motivation for adopting the diet here is still the one that I am sure motivates most people attending this Congress: compassion. In the UK we have found in recent years that it is much more useful to awaken and reinforce such motivation using humour and empowerment rather than negative images that invoke guilt. This has led to Mintel ( Marketing intelligence) in 2001 coining a new term "vegetarian appreciators" apparently 49% of the UK's population falls into this category of enjoying vegetarian food occasionally or regularly but are not yet fully veggie. Obviously this is something we aim to change but it is a good starting point.
Over the years of its existence the Society has had to develop its techniques and methods to match the times whilst retaining its core mission - to convert all possible to the vegetarian diet and to support those who have already taken this compassionate step.
Initially much of our materials was rather hard hitting and, dare I say it, rather off putting to anyone not yet committed to the cause and even to some who were. Often those convinced of the vegetarian argument thought that we only had to show someone a picture of a suffering or dying animal and they would be similarly converted. Unfortunately it does not work that way as people often feel uncomfortable with the truth and will try to avoid such images and the reality of meat production.. By bringing humour into the equation and supporting would be vegetarians instead of alienating them we find we get a much better response and the press, for example, always turn to us for advice and stories. One of early campaigns for NVW 1996 used a series of vegetable pictures to get home a message - the tomato that didn't suffer in transit as animals do, the orgasmic courgette and the pumpkin which could only give you a heart attack as part of Halloween - my personal favourite. You will see some of these positive images in our display stand area. They are very simple images but with a strong message.
Early in 1998 we produced a rather risqué advert for youth magazines, after having it duly approved by the charity commission making the point that all vegetarians weren't wimpy and sentimental but full of energy and vitality, it depicted a young man with slashes in his shirt but looking rather pleased about it, with the strapline that veggie girls don't mind a little cruelty - again this is pictured in on our stand. The "steamy veg" cinema ad of June 98, sponsored by the Co-operative Bank, portraying the vegetarian diet as a healthy and sexy one and the humorous onions cinema ad shown with Babe 2 in December1999 are a far cry from the sort of campaigns put out even 5 years ago and I hope you may have an opportunity to view them during the congress.
In 1999 our NVW literature featured a 16ft fork sculpture with bent tines, inviting people to break out of their eating habits and this received excellent publicity. We also had a full scale model of this at our vegfest celebration in Manchester that year which provided some lovely images which the press found fascinating..
The steamy veg cinema ad, called "Hot Dinner" and dubbed " Rude Food" by others was initially developed for the society by OglivyOne advertising agency and funded by the Co-operative Bank. We were uncertain at first if the Co-op would go for such a lively image but they loved it and so did all the cinema goers and the media. In a leaflet distributed to their customers the Co-op described the positive flavour of the advertisement and the point that changing to a more sustainable diet can be fun. Although it is only 40 seconds long it makes quite an impact and achieved its aim of making the public think about food in a different way. In our press work we linked the ad to evidence from the USA that indicated that a diet with no meat but rich in fruit and vegetables could be a the key to a healthy sex life as high meat and high cholesterol can cause blockages in arteries not only to the heart but also to the genitals. Surprisingly despite its very suggestive content it was one of the few things we have done that we didn't get complaints to the advertising standards authority!
I showed the video in 2000 to a group of prison officers who I was talking
to about catering and it really broke the ice and shattered the image
of vegetarians as stuffy do gooders. The video has also had some limited
showings in the USA thanks to PETA and other groups.
The change in focus has also made us more able to work closer with our licence holders and the commercial sector in general so t Tesco sponsored NVW in 1997, in 1999 the McCartney brand sponsored NVW with the breakout theme, and in 2000 a number of companies, including our publisher, Harper Collins, and Dalepak, one of our major clients, sponsored our "veggie bus" which went out on the road giving examples of good veggie food , raising the press profile and giving information to an ever hungry public. In 2000 we also focussed on the healthy male so we produced some trendy cards to put in doctors surgeries etc.
In 2001 Tesco again sponsored National Vegetarian Week and for the very first time we had an Awards ceremony in London and rewarded the best guesthouse, restaurant, new product etc with exclusive accolades and logos from the Society. This was a very popular and successful event leading to a great deal of positive publicity for the movement and we have decided to make it annual, this year it will be in November for those of you near enough to attend.. The theme for the week was "Refresh the Menu" and in addition we produced a series of posters teasing the general public about unfamiliar foods for example " Halloumi - that's in Greece isn't it?", "Tamari - what team does he play for?" " how do I peel a tofu?" " Cannelloni - never really been into art myself".
Obviously this years theme for NVW , to coincide with the Congress was easy to arrange - we focussed on the excitement and ease of global vegetarian cuisine and it must have been appealing as Sainsbury agreed to sponsor us and they launched today in St Albans with celebrity chef Richard Cawley. We also worked with a number of clients and vegetarian producers to develop a series of competitions on our website giving away veggie products and goodies. This is another new develop and one which seems to work well as the companies, the public and ourselves all gain by the exposure.
We don't restrict this working only to NVW. For example we produced an interesting "sandwich shaped" leaflet with Marmite with recipes from our cookery school and Happidog, producers of vegetarian dog food , sponsored a member of staff's dog, Gertie, on a fundraising ascent up Ben Nevis in October 1999. Members and the public alike love items for free so we often produce goody bags, product offers and competitions in our magazine, at events or on our website, often the public are suspicious of something new and we aim to break down that initial resistance . In 2000 we also had a lot of positive publicity as a long running soap, "Coronation St" introduced a vegetarian story line with the wife of the butcher feeding him veggie sausage casserole ( to a recipe supplied by us) which he considered the best he had eaten!
We also obtain sponsorship for schools material but we are very careful with this as it is important that children don't get the wrong idea, for example Provamel have sponsored some catering packs and this is okay as it is an ingredient not a finished product.
This provides a win / win situation, they benefit from our name and credibility (and the feel good factor) and we benefit in terms of income and increasing our profile. In addition the more companies we work with, the more companies potentially want to work with us. In the past the Society has produced a joint leaflet on nutrition with Sainsbury which widened the availability of our name to every one of their supermarkets in the country and which has led to links on their web site and we have advised Burger King on their leaflet for vegetarians. Tesco also did a mailing for us in 2001 to over 200,000 vegetarian customers and featured the Society in their in house vegetarian recipe magazine to which we are now regular contributors.
The Vegetarian Charity supported us with two new youth packs, a new youth nutrition video featuring a soundtrack from Moby and a nursery pack which is much needed as younger children often live on pizza in nurseries as I am sure you are all aware.
One of our most successful posters was one that wasn't even seen as the Red Hot Chilli Pepper poster Ad was banned by British Rail as being too suggestive and got us lots of free publicity in the process.
Last year we had a Xmas campaign, in conjunction the UK's Vegan Society ,which told people that they can "Have a taste of Turkey" at Xmas and still be compassionate, by using Turkish recipes developed by the Cordon Vert School to spice up their celebrations. It is a great advantage having our own cookery school to undertake such work and you can be sure the staff don't mind being used as guinea pigs in these experiments.
Even ten years ago anyone admitting to be vegetarian could be considered weird or cranky and was expected to wear sandals, beads and a beard. However this view can hardly be maintained when Burger King used Frank Bruno the boxer to launch the veggie whopper and Granada services in 2000 used cricketer, Ian Botham to launch their McCartney range. We had widespread celebrity support for our Awards in London both in terms of attendance and donations to our auction and the more celebrities declare themselves to be vegetarian the more it becomes the norm.
Surveys show that vegetarians are now less likely to be seen these days are self denying and holier than thou, a view which has no doubt lost us many converts in the past, but are viewed as aspirational and enlightened, as people to be emulated.. In the west films such as Babe and Babe 2, Pig in the City, and "Chicken Run" are helping people to make the link between a living animal and the meat on their plate to the detriment of the slaughter industry
People are starting to wake up to the meat industry's problems and production methods and to choose the obvious alternative. The Society continues to put every effort into reaching this receptive audience, working with high profile celebrities and our patrons Jerome Flynn , Paul and Stella McCartney and Rose Elliot and with the commercial sector at any reasonable opportunity to spread the message in a palatable way. Flexibility is the key, it is important to be able to grasp opportunities when they present, definitely a case of they who hesitate are lost, as the media is a very fickle friend. Some organisations continue to put out the negative meat is murder image - this is counter productive as guilt is never a good enough motivation and self righteous indignation is not the appropriate tool for the 21st century. We owe it to the animals to be imaginative and positive in our outreach work and , most important, to be results orientated. This does not mean we have to compromise our principles or sell out, but we should use the modern tools at our disposal to sell an age old product - compassion. We plant our seeds in dark but fertile soil and we give them sunshine and nourishment to grow.
Solutions not problems are the seeds of success and we must just keep on growing this important message. Happy Gardening!
For more on The Vegetarian Society UK see www.vegsoc.org