|International Vegetarian Union (IVU)|
6th European Vegetarian Congress
Bussolengo, Italy, September 21 - 26, 1997
| A Non Violent Choice for the
Rights of all Living Beings
L.A.V. (Anti-Vivisection Society) General Director, and member of Vatican Radio
From my many years' experience as a vegetarian working for animal rights, I think it has now been established that the vegetarian choice is a vote for sensitivity, respect and non-violence towards our fellow humans and towards animals. The problem though is getting others to see that this decision is necessary - all too often they do not respect other human beings, let alone animals. Many committed people who dedicate their lives to children, the elderly, the homeless and so on, do not consider whether meateating is compatible with the work they do. A famous American singer known for her antimilitarist campaigning astonished me when I interviewed her, as she answered my question whether she was a vegetarian by saying she was "too busy with human beings".
It is unfortunately true that even the most sensitive do not find it easy to grasp that non-violent struggle begins with the dinner plate. Showing people this is the first step towards a victory of conscience. Vegetarianism must be a choice and not an imposition, because the path to freedom can only be freely chosen, and along the way barriers and superstitions are removed, things that yesterday seemed unassailable. And we cannot at the same time justify remaining pockets of oppression, slavery, and exploitation of anyone at all. The problem is how to get people to see - and they should be seen not as enemies but as people who have walked a very different road from our own and who have not managed to acquire certain ideas, often through a lack of information - how to get people to understand that a slice of meat is not a healthy food, a source of employment or something that helps our children grow better, but a product of exploitation that we pay for in ill health and famine, and in the exploitation of both human and non-human animals. We should therefore aim to inform and train other people, and talk in a way that may strike them as revolutionary. Vegetarianism is actually revolutionary compared to old traditions and beliefs. We must demonstrate that our lives, and our societies, can change, and that this brings benefits for all. This Congress itself shows that something is moving: we must live out our testimony on a daily basis in such a way that our lives affect the outside world, a political choice calling for change. There has been talk here of the boycott against Nestlé, but there are other boycotts at the moment against companies selling toys or other items for children in violation of Third World working conditions, companies who exploit child labour. Every edition of our association's magazine provides readers with information about companies offering fur coats or holidays involving bull-fights or shooting parties. There are also campaigns for example against the exploitation of circus animals, in which we ask children to draw the environment the animals would be truly happy in. These are all seeds born of our commitment, which can germinate only if we plant them in the soil of others' minds, if we bring them to others' attention. We must approach others in a spirit of freedom, guaranteeing them the freedom of choice which is the best testimony for the reasons why we go vegetarian.
Some go vegetarian for health reasons, some out of concern for Third World exploitation, and others, like myself, to avoid killing animals. It is a simple but revolutionary proposition. I believe all these seeds are growing, even though the battle is not yet won and we have not yet beaten the logic of exploitation, and our work day after day has a significant impact, advocating as it does a revolutionary choice in the way we live our lives, a choice which is not so much about giving up as gaining greater peace of mind, improved health, and a more loving and respectful attitude towards animals. Our states and our political representatives must take charge. We must encourage a sense of respect and sensitivity for animal rights. The demonstration coming up on 4 October in Rome will ask for the Italian Constitution to be amended to include animal rights. This is a revolutionary proposal to reverse the tendency to see animals as mere things, a way to remove the blood from our diets and replace it with tomato sauce, so helping to build a non-violent society.
Q: What is the relationship between LAV and AVI and vegetarianism in general?
A: The fight for animals is the fight for respect for life. All LAV directors are vegetarian, although this is not necessary to become a member. Animals rights necessarily include the right to life. We seek the abolition of intensive animal farming, and an end to transport for slaughter. We say that we do not want freerange meat - in fact we believe there is no such thing - and maintain not that there are now good reasons for being vegetarian, but rather that there always have been.
Q: How can LAV broadcast a programme via the facilities of Vatican Radio, in view of the Pope's pro-vivisection stance?
A: The broadcast you are referring to is my personal responsibility and deals with green issues, animal rights and civil rights. The Pope is not in favour of vivisection. Church teaching is seen through the Catechism, and this is continually changing thanks to internal disagreements with the Church itself. The Catechism carries a heavy responsibility when it makes use of debatable scientific studies to support the extermination of thousands of animals. The Church wants to evolve towards new light, but continues to discriminate against animals, homosexuals, and those whose marriages have failed; and the Church has not yet spoken out against the death penalty as it should, despite the fact that Jesus Christ was crucified.
- translations by Hugh Rees, Milan - commissioned by Associazione Vegetariana Italiana (AVI)