International Vegetarian Union (IVU)
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Congress Logo 33rd World Vegetarian Congress
Chiang Mai, Thailand, January 4 - 10, 1999
'Vegetarianism is the Way'
an unforgettable visual, cultural and gastronomic experience

My name is Charles Hershey. I was born in Springfield, Illinois, USA, in 1961, and grew up here. In the spring of 1972 I first thought about the fact that we kill animals to eat them. I had been brought up being taught that one doesn't tease or abuse animals, but treats them with respect. The implication of this is that there is SOMEONE there to tease or abuse. I don't worry about teasing or abusing a rock or a stick. To the best of my knowledge, it is not even possible. I also, of course, was taught that you don't kill someone just because they have something that you want. So the first time that I thought about what we do to non-human animals, it was obvious to me that it was murder. It would be many years before I knew that we are cruel to them as well before we kill them.

Within a day, I stopped eating meat. I had also been taught, as my parents had, that eating meat was necessary to live. Isn't it obvious? This belief seems pretty silly now - an ancient superstition which many people are reluctant to give up. But at the time, we all believed it. So I reluctantly gave in to my parents and began eating meat while trying to find a way out of this dilemma. Finally, in early January, 1973, I quit eating meat for good. I decided that even if it killed me to stop, I couldn't go on the way I had been. During those months in between, I had decided that I would have to spend my life doing what I could to change the world. At the time, I didn't know a single person who thought the way that I did, either personally or through reading about them.

I now have a B.S. in Electrical Engineering & Physics and an M.A. in Marriage, Family Child Therapy. I am self-employed writing computer software for a living. My first involvement with any animal rights or vegetarian organizations came in 1987 while I was living near Boston, Massachussetts, USA. I became active in CEASE (the Coalition to End Animal Suffering and Exploitation) as well as the newly formed Boston Vegetarian Society. In the late eighties and early nineties, I had the pleasure of being active in several Southern California organizations such as EarthSave L.A. and EarthSave Orange County as well as the California Vegetarian Association.

In 1995, I returned here to my hometown of Springfield, Illinois. Drawing upon my knowledge of what is possible that I gained from my Southern California experiences, I started the Springfield Vegetarian Association. While it continues to be a lot of work, I am pleased with the response that I have gotten. Springfield is a Midwestern U.S. town of a little more than 100,000 people (O.K., we are the Capital City of Illinois) surrounded by farmland. For those of you from other countries, we are in the middle of the corn belt where most of the corn and soybeans are grown in the U.S. Most of this, of course, is grown for animal feed, not human consumption. In the United States, the Midwest has a reputation for not being a source of "radical" new ideas (such as vegetarianism), but instead clinging to "old-fashioned" ways. Anyhow, in this Midwestern town of 100,000 or so people, we currently have over 250 people on our mailing list and have probably had 600 or so different people attend various events (speakers, videos, etc.). The biggest ones of these have been the two times that Howard Lyman has spoken here. Most recently, in May of this year, over 100 people showed up to hear him. I am always hearing about more people who are vegetarian who I haven't met and running into others who would like to be. And perhaps those are the most satisfying for me: the people who become more vegetarian as a result of our activities or the information that we make available. It is good to know that we are making a difference in our corner of the world and that I am part of it.

It has been heartwarming over the years to meet and learn of many of the people around the country and throughout the world who actually think about and care about non-human as well as human animals. I now know that I don't have to change the world, but I can do what I can to change my own little piece of it. It is also very encouraging to see and acknowledge the changes that have taken place, at least here in the U.S., in the past 26 years. While it is certainly not as fast as many of us would like it, the changes are actually quite dramatic. Twenty six years ago, I hadn't even heard of a vegetarian in Springfield! And anyone who became one was thought to be endangering their health. My doctor told my parents not to let me do this because I would destroy my body! Now, restaurants will let people know that they serve vegetarian meals. Everyone knows what a vegetarian is and most people associate it with people who want to be healthier. Most people have a suspicion that it might be better for their health. In the U.S., health insurance companies now will pay for scientifically proven programs that use a vegetarian diet in conjunction with other lifestyle changes to treat heart disease (Dr. Dean Ornish's program). Some local heart doctors tell their patients to eat a vegetarian diet! And best of all, here in Springfield, vegetarians and animal rights sympathizers seem to be coming out of the woodwork. It is a very different world than I grew up in. And I like these changes! (And both of my parents are vegetarian now also!)

I am looking forward to meeting all of you. Yikes! It's just a few days away! This is also the first time I've used my passport. The only other country I've been to is Canada (the English speaking part). And I hope I don't offend any Canadians with this, but it's not very different there from here in the U.S. This congress will be a nice way to celebrate 26 years of being a vegetarian and 20 years of being vegan!

- Charles Hershey