International Vegetarian Union (IVU)
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11th IVU World Vegetarian Congress 1947

Stonehouse, England

From The Vegetarian News (London) Winter 1947:


J. H. Bolt, the Dutch philosopher-Statesman of the vegetarian movement, was, throughout the war, honorary secretary of the International Vegetarian Union. In 1946 he sent a questionnaire to societies in Europe and America to discover what had been the dietary experience of vegetarians under rationing during the war, and what had been the effect of war on the background of vegetarianism, on the spiritual man. Bolt reported his findings to the first post-war Congress of the International Vegetarian Union at Wycliffe College, Gloucestershire, in July, 1947. The report, summarised below, was the climax of the conference, a deeply significant completion of the insight towards which it had been steadily moving.

THE questionnaire was something more than just that. It was the first attempt to communicate with vegetarians in various countries after the cessation of hostilities. By bringing the national movements, isolated by war conditions, into a single focus, the first move was made towards the welcome renewal of communications and friendships at the 1947 Congress.

The thirty-eight replies came from thirteen countries; in only four - England, Germany, Holland and Switzerland - had governments been persuaded to make special provision for vegetarians during the war. In America, of course, it was unnecessary, because there was no serious food shortage. In Switzerland there were two kinds of ration card, one of which gave bread, milk and cheese instead of meat, and everybody was entitled to choose. In Holland, however, only members of the Vegetarian Society could obtain vegetarian rations, with the result that the Dutch Society grew in one year from 1,200 to some 6,000 members, becoming probably the largest in the world; some drop in membership is anticipated when rationing ends. In Belgium and France, however, where food was very scarce, there was no vegetarian ration at all, a failure attributed to the small number of vegetarians and the weakness of their societies. In Belgium, the quantities of flesh, fish and fowl availableo to all consumers was negligible, but enforced abstinence from flesh foods is not synonymous with vegetarianism. The right-minded vegetarian abstains from meat and fish because his whole being protests against the use of it. Therefore, it is not right to say that the greater part of Europe during the war lived a vegetarian life. They did not get as
much flesh food as they wanted, but this had nothing to do with their outlook on life, and they returned as soon as possible to their former habits.

Vegetarians will, in future, demand not only an adequate diet in terms of calories and nutrients but a better and healthier way of living, In accordance with nature and in harmony with the animal kingdom. We must undertake a world-wide propaganda to help people to understand the difference between healthy food and inferior food, and to show them how to prepare food and get the best from it. This is one of the most important tasks not only for the national societies but also for the I.V.U.

Nearly all the correspondents believed that vegetarians managed better through the was than the general public, not so much because rations were better but because vegetrarians showed greater adaptability to new circumstances, did not suffer froim craving for meat, fish, tobacco and alcohol, lived more simply and had less fear of under-nourishment. Except in areas where food shortages meant definite malnutrition for everybody, vegetarians reported health conditions as better than pre-war.

But everywhere the spiritual life suffered through the war, humanitarian movements were hampered, the influence of the churches on all kinds of spiritual activities, even on pacifism, was negligible. The idealists outside the churches are the caretakers of the spiritual progress of the world if there is any. As long as we believe in that progress we, the idealists, have to arouse and support it. Many fortunately are vegetarians.

Vegetarianism is a humanitarian way of living. It is not a thing in itself, it is a result of our way of looking on life, an expression of our philosophy or beliefs. Sometimes it is not even that, but only the result of hygeinic conceptions or of medical prescription. The various vegetarian societies stand for vegetarianism in the restricted sense of the word. Generally they preach vegetarianism on moral, ethical hygienic or medical grounds. Among them are people of all kinds of belief, ethical and philosophical conceptions. Some of them are vegetarians because vegetarlanlsm is part of their being. They can do no other. The question is, are we prepared to continue our propaganda with mostly ethical arguments or would it be better to appeal to the inner man, putting before the public the idea of a broader conception of life, explaining that we are not only sensitive persons, shrinking from killing animals, but that we have to consider the world as a whole, a unity, and that in this unity every being has its function, its own place and its own rights. The right to live is one of them. In other words, have we in future to stand only for vegetarianism as an attractive dietary habit or have we the more important duty to educate not only outsiders but also insiders to a more exalted life, of which vegetarianism forms only a part?

I, for one, cannot speak about vegetarianism or anti-vivisection without referring to my conception of life, which compels me to be a vegetarian and to oppose vivisection. Others may have other reasons, other conceptions of life, but there are among us many ideas to put forward. Already we preach not only vegetarianism but better agricultural methods, bio-chemical manure, medicine without vivisection. We have extended the borders of our field of activity. We are on the verge of further recognition of the spiritual background which leads inescapably to vegetarianism. It will be the task of the immediate future to find ways and means to co-ordinate all these various tendencies into one wide movement embracing not only all vegetarians of the world, but also all who seek spiritual enlightenment, seek essential man behind the veil of his corporal being. If such conclusions may be drawn from this simp:e enquiry, it has been well worth while and I am glad to have undertaken it.