International Vegetarian Union (IVU)
IVU logo

6th World Vegetarian Congress 1926

London, England

The editorial from The Vegetarian News, July 1926:


"Not all the Whit-week conferences are of the dry-as-dust variety." It is with this sentence that the writer of the well-known "Miscellany" column in the Manchester Guardian prefaces his comment relating to the recent International Vegetarian Congress. The latter was certainly remarkable, both on account of the enthusiasm displayed and for the variety of subjects dealt with on its agenda, and the success of the Congress is especially a matter for congratulation in view of the fact that the event so narrowly escaped having to be postponed, as a result of the disturbed conditions due to the general strike - a depressing fate which, we regret to note, actually befel not a few other celebrations of a like kind. Delegates from eleven different countries assembled, and the vegetarian public also responded well to the opportunities offered to it so far as the various evening engagements were concerned. Those who came must have been impressed and encouraged by the reminder that the way of life which the practice of vegetarianism implies is trodden by so many people in so many different lands, and also by the fact that the enthusiasm so often shown for vegetarian principles is no less characteristic of the movement than is the variety of the ways in which those principles are wont to express themselves. A correspondent of a Bristol paper, writing with reference to the proceedings of the Congress, even ventures to advance the opinion that vegetarians, in claiming to have a solution for so many different problems, are really attempting to prove too much, and he suggests that "one at a time " would, perhaps, he a more suitable motto. For ourselves and our readers, however, no such "statute of limitations" is possible. It is the chief merit of a philosophy to be comprehensive, and, if the recent Congress served to emphasise one thing more than another, it is that vegetarianism stands for nothing less than a complete philosophy of life and that the very idea of a merely piecemeal reform is foreign alike to its practice and to its conception.

But it was not oniy those who were able to attend the various sessions of the Congress who gained a new assurance of the comprehensiveness of the vegetarian ideal, as a glance at the hundred-and-sixty press cuttings before us goes to show. After their doleful period of inactivity occasioned b the general strike, the exuberance of those whose business it is to pen the headlines in the popular newspapers knew no bounds, and it goes without saying that full advantage was taken of the opportunity provided by the various speeches delivered at the Congress. Thus, "Nuts in May" and "Es-chewing Meat" are the respective titles of two of the articles before us, while another writer, moved to criticism by the fact that "fruit cup" was the only form in which the juice of the grape was served at the banquet, emblazons his page with the words, "Nuts but No Wine." But the great opportunity for the facetious to display their skill came when one of the speakers - representing, so far as we are aware, the opinion of no one except himself - made bold to declare that "anyone who indulged in large quantities of milk tended to develop the brain and mentality of a cow, and was only a cow in human form," - as to which it need only be remarked that, if the Congress provided a great many wise sayings. it also supplied one excellent example of the things that are better left unsaid. However, the first shock of an utterance such as this having been survived, vegetarians, like the rest of the world, were able to enjoy scanning the legends with which the newspapers next day greeted the occasion. "Two-legged Cows", and "Men with Cows' Brains: Vegetarian Doctor's Fright for Milk Drinkers" are examples of these while Punch, discussing what it described as "Another Sex Problem," ventured the remark:

"Granted that what you say is true,
Jane might turn cow and start to moo,
But wouldn't John be bull and bellow?"

The most amusing comment of all, perhaps, was that of the Yorkshire paper which, with a seriousness that it is charitable to suppose was unassumed, besought the vegetarians to believe that in pursuing this argument they had, in fact, "taken the wrong turning". If cows' milk will give us cows' brains," proceeded the solicitous one, what will be the result of living on the gentle cabbage or the winsome kidney bean?"

Midway between the purely facetious references and those of a definitely serious kind lie those whose wisdom - so it would appear - blushes to declare itself as such, but seeks the shelter of a humorous medium as a means to getting itself said. To this class, if we are not mistaken, most of the witticisms of Mr. E. V. Knox ("Evoe," of Punch) belong. Writing of "Diet and Democracy" in the Daily News, Mr. Knox observes that "it is a splendid sight sometimes, to see the human gazelles gathered together, and it would be equally refreshing if the human tigers could also be mustered for some annual - I will not say bean-feast, but conference or fête. When I think," - he goes on - "of the murderous glares, the tyrannical speeches the quantity of underdone steak - but I suppose this will never be. The world keeps settling itself down into compromise, of which we see the most ridiculously illogical instances everywhere." Last of all there are the comments which can justly rank as criticisms, even if in the commonly restricted meaning of the word they cannot be described as appreciations ; and that the speeches at the Congress provided plenty of food for serious thought, a brief perusal of the report published with our present number will be sufficient to show. In this category headlines such as "What to Eat," "Against the Flesh Pots," "Diet and Healing," and "Vegetarians' Vision" automatically arrange themselves. The writer of the last-named article (in the Newcastle Evening Chronicle) says that "it is impossible, in this warm weather at least, not to feel a sneaking sympathy with these disciples a simpler life. "Few will dispute," he says, "that we all eat too much meat, at any rate, and that we should be healthier if we indulged in a little rationing, and restricted our carnivorous appetites."

Apart from the hygienic side of the question (he goes on), the asthetic aspect has to be considered, and if a Martian on a plane of existence much higher than our own could visit this sphere he would undoubtedly be horrified to find the Earthman avidly consuming the flesh of lower animals, just as we in our turn read with disgust of the practice of cannibalism a propensity which, after all, is not so very far removed from our own method of diet. So, firmly rooted in custom as meat-eating is, it is not altogether fantastic to believe that in a few thousand years' time our descendants may look back upon our misguided tastes with surprise and disgust.

The Yorkshire Post suggested that the Congress before it dispersed, thould pay attention to a remarkable report just presented to the Royal Society by Professor E. P. Cathcart and Mr. W. A. Burnett, which prompted an excellent rejoinder by the President of the London Vegetarian Society in the newspaper concerned ; while the Glasgow Herald, not to be outdone either in humour or in the recognition of the breadth of the issues involved, declared that "the march of science is making it possible for the vegetarian to give more than lip service, for vegetarian boots, fur, razor strops, collar studs, dog collars, and tennis rackets can now be obtained." The orthodaox vegetarian, it was suggested, might therefore "put to sea happy in the knowledge that when cast on a desert island he could eat his boots à la rosbif or his collar stud en casserole with a clear conscience" - which is at least a well-merited testimony to the excellent enterprise of Mr. Herbert Owen.

"We are quite prepared to admit that a dietetic regime on vegetarian lines would appear to suit many people and maintain them in good physical health." Thus comments a medical paper in its leading article concerning the Congress, and, for those who have eyes to see, the admission is significant enough. The italics are ours, but some day, perhaps, the "many" will be "most," and who knows whether , yet later, it may not be "all" ? We are often told that man is a creature of instinct. By general admission the instinct of the vegetarian is right, and, as Thoreau says, it is as surely a part of the destiny of the human race in its gradual development to leave off eating animals as it is of the savage tribe to leave off eating one another when they come in contact with people who are more civilised. Each Congress as it comes round finds that blissful time brought a little nearer.