International Vegetarian Union (IVU)
IVU logo

6th European Vegetarian Congress
Bussolengo, Italy, September 21 - 26, 1997

Towards a Vegetarian Future
Riccardo Trespidi

Medical doctor specializing in homeopathy, member of AVI Scientific Committee. In 1994 member of IVU board and IVU representative at FAO at the first international conference on nutrition

First of all, I'd like to thank all the organizers of this Congress, all participants, and especially all blood donors who have assisted me here - your help will enable me to do some very interesting research, because I don't think there has ever before been such a heterogeneous selection of participants, of all ages and from all over the world.

Let me explain the work I'm doing at the Faculty of Medicine towards a better diet for everyone. My belief is that the vegetarian choice is a moral decision. Those who are making a dietary choice on environmental, ecological, biological or nutritional grounds sometimes eat a bit of meat. At our Medical Nutritionists' Conference we happened to compare vegetarians with those who have a "mediterranean" diet, which makes occasional use of animal products. It turned out that those on a lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet had more nutritional deficiencies than those on the mediterranean one. The vegan diet is actually the closest to the ideal. Some of you at Congress today have a raw food diet or are fruitarians; according to my colleagues, you should have died years ago, but obviously they are wrong. In the course of our studies we compared two groups of children: one group was omnivorous; the other, vegetarian. There were no differences in body development, but the percentage of fat mass was clearly lower among the vegetarians. There were no differences in the assimilation of iron. As a conclusion at the Medical Nutritionists' Conference, we drew a pyramid representing the essential foods. At the base we put cereals; on the second level, fruit and vegetables; on the third level, seeds and nuts. Then we drew a line and added a list of optional foods. This is very important, because these were the views not of vegetarians but medical nutritionists, which gives this pyramid a special value.

Now I'd like to tell you the Red Ronnie story. Red Ronnie is a presenter on national TV in Italy, who is in some ways one of the most up-to-date people on Italian TV. For years now he has been presenting a weekly TV programme called "Roxy Bar", which not only features important figures from the music world, but also deals with very serious subjects. One of the guests on the programme, for example, was a representative of the Dalai Lama. Red Ronnie covers a wide variety of topical issues, including vegetarianism. Dr Giorgio Cerquetti had the opportunity to meet him 8 years ago, when he was not yet a vegetarian, and was following a group of non-vegetarian doctors in Emilia Romagna. After his first meeting with Cerquetti, Red became more and more interested in vegetarianism, until he is now regarded as one of the most important personalities in vegetarianism in Italy. He agreed to broadcast in its entirety an 18-minute video about vegetarianism, "Devour The Earth", produced by the Vegetarian Society of the United Kingdom with Paul McCartney as narrator. In fact the video has been broadcast four times on a national network. And now I myself have been invited by the RAI (Italian State TV) to interview Paul McCartney in London about vegetarianism as part of a programme which will be dedicated entirely to the vegetarian diet. We know of many famous personalities throughout history who were vegetarians but became famous for other things, whose choice was perhaps a part of their eccentricity as VIPs. These days though, many well known personalities from the worlds of culture and showbusiness are giving some prominence to their vegetarian choice. For example, when interviewed by Fabio Fazio, Paul McCartney tried a number of times to get onto the subject of vegetarianism.

When I think of the problem of animal rights, I feel like an anti-slavery campaigner in South America would have done 200 years ago, when very few people had realized how absurd such exploitation of other human beings was. Such campaigners lived in a world completely hostile to their ideas, were marginalised by family and society, and had great difficulty expressing their views.

Many protectionists (and I don't like to describe animal rights people or liberators in this way) are following a "little by little" policy. Such an approach is harming the fight for animal liberation. For instance, IFAW (the International Fund for Animal Welfare, the biggest and most powerful protectionist association in the world) goes touring around showing pictures of intensive farming as part of a campaign against transporting animals, telling us the animals should not be kept in cramped conditions, but not querying whether animals should be eaten at all. And so, just as 200 years ago I wouldn't have agreed with those who wanted one-metre chains on black slaves rather than half-metre ones, I cannot today agree with a similar stance on animal welfare. The chains must be broken, and freedom must be the right of all those whose skin is a different colour from our own - this is the only conclusion we can come to: a middle-of-the-road position is unacceptable.

To my mind, that is where conferences like these fall short: they don't arrive at conclusions, except that some vegetarians talked to some other vegetarians, explaining things that many of them already knew, maintaining that the vegetarian diet is the best - and this is a big theme with us. But even if things were the other way round, even if the vegetarian diet were harmful, even if the liberation of animals caused pollution… I for one, and I hope you too, would still be here saying that animals must be liberated. Out of all the options connected with animal liberation, the one we touch on most is vegetarianism, but the one we neglect the most is moral motivation, the moral choice, which is what makes people go vegetarian and stay vegetarian all their lives. Even if a third of the human race were vegetarians, this would not change things for animals: they would still be tortured, killed, butchered and eaten. So if we vegetarians at these conferences do not also view things from a political perspective, if we do not devise strategies and set targets, then a few decades from now there will be many more or us, but for animals the problem will still be the same. I would ask for future Congresses to be not just a glorification of the nutritional side of vegetarianism, not just an evaluation of the impact of vegetarianism on the environment and on ourselves, and the contrasting impact of meateating: I hope that future Congresses will also become political, with the various associations putting forward their targets and strategies to force carnivores to go vegetarian.

- translations by Hugh Rees, Milan - commissioned by Associazione Vegetariana Italiana (AVI)