International Vegetarian Union (IVU)
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16th World Vegetarian Congress 1960

Hannover and Hamburg, Germany

From The Brtitish Vegetarian Nov/Dec 1960:

VEGETARIAN CATERING IN BRITAIN
(Abridged)
ISABEL JAMES, B.A.
Hon. Secretary of The Vegetarian Catering Association

I have been asked to tell you something of the progress of vegetarian catering in my own country. This is a very practical subject, but, nevertheless, perhaps the most fundamental of all approaches to vegetarianism, for though ethical and moral approaches are of great importance, without a sound nutri-tional basis all vegetarian philosophy falls to the ground. Scientific research now supports the theory that man's behaviour is influenced by his diet. "Man is what he eats." If we can persuade our fellow human beings to eat a pure and health-giving diet, we shall more easily persuade them to live peacefully
together. According to the great Count Tolstoy, "The Vegetarian Movement ought to fill with gladness the souls of those who have at heart the realisation
of God's kingdom on earth."

Up to the beginning of the nineteenth century, there was little organised vegetarian propaganda, although down the ages there have been innumerable philosophers and scholars who have advocated a fleshless diet. From the early nineteenth century onwards there was a growing interest in vegetarianism. The Vegetarian Society itself was founded in 1847, and the first vegetarian cookery book, the first guest house, and the first restaurant appeared about that time. But a vegetarian was considered to be a "peculiar person," a "crank." A great step forward was taken when The Vegetarian Society held its first Holiday Centre in 1901. So successful was the experiment that it was decided to hold one of these every year. This has been done, with the excep-tion of the war years, and there is no doubt that these centres have been a source of inspiration to many.

During the last war, the Government in Great Britain itself popularised vegetarian dishes, and many people learned by experience that it was possible to be perfectly healthy without so much meat. Discoveries about food values and vitamins during the last forty years have also proved that vegetarianism is a complete diet. Consequently, the popularity of vegetarian guest houses and restaurants has increased. There has been a "wind of change" and we are, no longer considered to be such cranks as we were! There is no doubt that the living testimonies of those who have been pioneers and have blazed the trail for generations have helped to bring about this change of opinion. It has been of tremendous value that some vegetarians have become champion tennis players, wrestlers, cyclists, Olympic and Channel swimmers, and marathon walkers (like Dr. Barbara Moore). These people have shown the general public that it is possible to achieve such physical fitness on our diet.

Many restaurants and hotels will now provide a limited kind of vegetarian meal: cheese or egg salads, beans on toast, omelettes, or cheese dishes are generally available. Some holiday associations such as the Co-operative Holidays Association and the Holiday Fellowship provide for vegetarians; travel on railways and on board ship or plane presents no difficulty if one warns them beforehand. Even in the Army and in prison vegetarians have the right to ask for vegetarian food. Only, I regret to say, in our schools is it still very difficult to get special provision for our children. Some boarding schools do provide vegetarian food, and I would like to pay tribute to the work at Wycliffe College of Mr. W. A. Silby in establishing a vegetarian house there. Mr. and Mrs. Lyn Harris have made an invaluable contribution in the success of the vegetarian school, St. Christopher's, at Letchworth, with 400 pupils. I would also like to pay a tribute to the great work being done at Stanborough School, Watford, Herts. But in day schools most vegetarian parents still have to provide their children with sandwiches, if it is necessary for them to stay at school for their midday meal. The Vegetarian Societies are still trying to improve the position, and are at present preparing a special leaflet with information and recipes for use in universities and schools.

There is, however, among the general public, a wider understanding of the needs of vegetarians, and a growing consciousness of the importance of fresh fruits and salads and whole unprocessed foods. And with this a growing demand for the guest house or hotel which will provide this type of food.

The Vegetarian Catering Association was founded in 1946 to safeguard the welfare of visitors to, as well as the interests of proprietors of the numerous vegetarian guest houses which then existed or were being established.

Originally, membership of the Association sets out to render service to the vegetarian movement:-

1.- By offering to the general public a diet we are convinced is better than the one to which they are accustomed. In this way we have a great opportunity to spread a wider knowledge of our better and obler way of life. Handy recipe booklets have been prepared especially for the newcomer to our diet. Also a chart showing the foods vegetarians eat in place of orthodox foods. Each year a list of members is published.

2.- By providing food which is acceptable to our fellow vegetarians when they are away from home; food which is chosen carefully for its nutritive value, and which is fresh, unprocessed and and balanced. Of course, fruits and salads occupy an important place in our menus, and special emphasis is placed on whole foods.

3.- We have a great opportunity in our guest houses of welding together the diverse sections that have grown with and around our movement. In so many idealistic movements, through the development of strong individual points of view, differences arise, tending to cause controversies. If we are to progress, we must sink our differences, and find a common meeting ground. In Britain, for example, there are wide differences between the points of view of the food reformer, whose emphasis is on the nutritive value of the food he eats, the humane vegetarian who is concerned firstly with sparing the sufferings of our dumb friends, the animals, and those who base their vege-tarianism on the principles of a particular cult. In our guest houses we meet all these points of view, and I feel much good is done by the discussions which take place in our lounges in a happy and contented atmosphere. Perhaps the food reformer becomes a little more conscious of the humane ideals of vegetarianism ; the animal lover may realise more clearly the importance of choosing and preparing his food more carefully ; while the adherent of a particular cult may realise that there are other points of view than his own. This, then, is the third contribution guest houses can make to vegetarianism as a whole : they provide a meeting ground which can help to integrate our movement.

Can we measure this present-day contribution? About thirty of the fifty or so exclusively vegetarian establishments in Britain belong to the V.C.A. These are scattered all over the country, mainly in holiday resorts. We estimate that some 20,000 guests come to them each year. By no means all of these are vegetarians; perhaps 60% may he. Some visitors are converted, and many go home with an entirely new outlook. Many come year after
year. Some come back years later and tell us that they have not eaten any meat since their last visit. The restaurants also daily spread familiarity with our dishes to thousands.

Some of our members travel round the country giving cookery demonstra-tions to the general public. These are usually organised by local vegetarian societies and supported financially by the national Vegetarian Societies. I would like to mention that admission to these demonstrations is free, and recipes of dishes prepared are also distributed free. Literature and further recipes for sale are also available. This is found to be an easy way of attracting a wider audience than will attend a lecture. As a rule not less than 50-100 people attend such demonstrations. Often the Domestic Science College in the town sends its senior classes to watch. At the close of the demonstration, numerous questions are answered and there is always a rush to taste the prepared dishes. Some of the audience are interested immediately others go home at any rate wiser than they came! Indeed, the demand for demonstrations puts a strain on the demonstrators free to undertake this work, and, to try to train more demonstrators, the V.C.A. has prepared a special leaflet, Demonstrations of Vegetarian Cookery, and has organised classes for would-be demonstrators.

To meet the demand for more detailed instruction, short cookery and dietetic courses have been organised specially for housewives and others interested. During the last ten years 24 such courses have been held in different parts of the country and about 200 students have attended these. Several domestic science teachers have attended, and we hope they are now passing their new knowledge on to their pupils, for official teaching about our cookery in orthodox domestic science courses is very limited and very narrow. Longer courses, specially planned to train would-be cooks, have also been organised, though this has proved difficult without a properly equipped school. We have had to use our busy kitchens as training grounds. One of our ambitions is to establish a School of Vegetarian Cookery and Dietetics and to obtain official recognition from the Education Authorities for Examina-tions in the Theory and Practice of our specialised knowledge. But this, I fear, is as yet far in the future.