International Vegetarian Union (IVU)
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23rd IVU World Vegetarian Congress 1975
Orono, Maine, USA

from Vegetarian Voice, Vol.1, No.2, 1974:

Why Do We Need World Vegetarian Congresses?

- BY GEO. HILLER, DEPUTY PRES., INTERNATIONAL VEGETARIAN UNION
(from the text of an address delivered to the 22nd World Vegetarian Congress, at Ronneby/Brunn, Sweden, July 10th, 1973)

Mr. President, ladies and gentlemen, dear friends:

As the text of the following contribution to this Congress will be read simultaneously by some friends in the English and Swedish languages, I am forced to stick t my manuscript, although, in principle, I prefer to speak without notes. However, with translated manuscripts having been sent in for the Congress in advance, we could avoid paying a good deal of money to interpreters, which would have raised the Congress fee considerably.

I feel we should praise our ancestors because already at the foundation of the IVU in 1908 they determined in the statutes that every second year a conference should possibly be held on an international level. [sic - no such decision was made in 1908....] According to that regulation, we have now again met here; and I think this is the right moment to ask, "WHY DO WE NEED SUCH CONGRESSES?"

THE IVU IN GERMANY

When Germany was commisioned, in India in 1957, to organize the 16th World Vegetarian Congress, there was much pondering on our side how to do this in the best way, and above all, thereby to draw the attention of as many non-vegetarians as possible to our way of life.

When in 1958, the first decision was taken for a Congress to be held in Germany, we had only to make a selection among the big cities with appropriate halls, mass-media, and the like. So we determined to go to Hanover and Hamburg. Nevertheless, our program also provided for refreshing excursions and hours of rest.

For 9 days we were together in Germany, and during this time several arrangements were made, too, for the public at large, in Hanover as well as in Hamburg. We also had a pleasant trip to Bas Pyrmont, with more than 600 participants.

One evening a dancing-party took place at the cultured restaurant of the Maschee Hotel. Among our guests there were the Prime Minister of Lower Saxony, who also gave us a reception, and the Mayor. Then we went ofr a walk through the blooming Luneburg Moor. There followed an official reception at the town hall in Hamburg, given by the Senator of Health.

At the Auditorium Maximum of the university and at the Curio House, we organized public lectures, partly in cooperation with the local society for the prevention of cruelty to animals, the audience once amounting to 1300 listeners.

I also like to remember a littel trick we tried at that Congress in order to escape the usual press mockery of vegetarians. As Shrimati Rikmini Devi Arundale was among the delegates, I asked her to take the chair. Being aguest of honor of the German Federal Government, she was, of course, protected from unfair criticism. If I could read to you some passages from the affirmative press comments of several newspapers, you would certainly be delighted.

Again and again, people told me afterwards that we had a well-balanced program in 1960, and I, on my part, can only assure you that it caused an astonishing influx of new members to our own vegetarian society. So you may realize that, from our point of view, that Congress proved a very satisfying event.

Later on, there were Congresses which already through the choice of place were more of a family meeting. This, too, may be necessary, because we actually are a kind of big family wishing to cherish, and demonstrate, our belonging together. As in the television age even smaller events are made known to almost everybody, that type of Congress may also be attractive, well justified, and not without publicity.

THE NEED FOR CAUTION TO AVOID CONFUSION AND DAMAGE TO THE VEGETARIAN CAUSE

In any case, each of our Congressess should present the idea of vegetarianism in its purity, which means unmixed with comparable way to improve life on this Earth. Respectable as such attempts may be in themselves, they can easily dilute or, even worse, discredit vegetarianism.

Surely there are a number of endea­vors which seem to touch our cause so clearly that they are often looked upon as a variety of vegetarian thought; and yet they may be detrimental to it. Not every sort of life-reform is vegetarianism! Though all honest striving should have its proper place, we should keep our special and, so to say fragile, concern as unmingled as possible to prevent it from harm.

VARIETIES OF VEGETARIAN VIEWS

Now, each country demonstrates its own kind of vegetarianism at such a World Congress. This is to say that, due to national diversity, sometimes the aspect of health, and sometimes that of the protection of animals prevail, etc. After a classification which we German vegetarians are accustomed to make, I would like to dwell a little on the following aspects, the sequence of which does not, of course, imply any relative moral judgement:

Vegetarianism -for health reasons;
Economic vegetarianism;
Aesthetic vegetarianism;
Ethical vegetarianism;
Religious vegetarianism.

As to vegetarianism for health reasons, vegetarians generally lead a more wholesome life than-flesh-eaters. This is already made manifest by the fact that they much more carefully select their food. A vegetarian will not gulp down everything that tastes good, but will consider the origin, composition, and salubrity, of what he eats. On prin­ciple he abstains from drugs and other abuses or excesses, well knowing that all this otherwise can only impair his health.

Obviously such a vegetarian tends to fail into self-centeredness, for his starting-point is the care for his own welfare. But we all know that vegetarianism of this kind may well be the first step, and an excellent prerequisite, to a fuller conception of vegetarian life. For many of us a dietary prescription marked the beginning of true vegetarianism.

Let me add a personal remark here: I have always found that "vegetarians -by resolution" as I call those friends who have resigned from the flesh-pots are much more resistant to the temp­tation to again eat meat, than vegetar­ians by birth who never had to take a similar decision. I know some of the latter, who one day succumbed to the "inviting taste" of meat.

He who is vegetarian for economic reasons takes the fact seriously, that vegetarianism is the most profitable way of using arable land. We have all learnt that only one meat-eater can be fed (that is, if he were attempting to live exclusively on meat - ed) on an area that suffices for ten vegetarians. If the world populce goes on breeding at the present rate, nothing else will be left to mankind than to stop breeding and killing animals for food. I most highly esteem those friends who confine themselves to plant food out of a feeling of responsibility for the starving masses of people on this Earth, because the motive for their vegetarianism is genuinely altruistic.

The number of aesthetic vegetarians is comparatively small. This is astonishing, as a bloody cadaver and all the window display of a butcher shop are anything but an aesthetic sight and must, in fact, be repulsive to an impartial observer. I am also amazed at the habit of some refined people who "decorate" their walls with paintings showing blood stained pheasants, hares, and other animals.

The adherents of ethical vegetarianism are the largest group among all vegetarians, because a moral disposition is inherent in man. Unfortunately the concept of "ethics" today often resembles a coin which has been in currency for too long a time, so that its value can no longer be ascertained. Nevertheless, we should remember that ethical reasoning has always elevated the spirit of man and inspired him to take the right choice in his daily life.

In Germany, we vegetarians have discovered that the members of societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals, present that reservoir from which it is easiest to win new members to our own society. This is quite natural, for people who really like animals are hardly destined to eat them up (although most of them still do so.) In an case, three out of five applicants for membership in our vegetarian society come from those circles, which has caused us to make a vegetarian appeal to all of them from time to time, by distributing lots of copies of our magazine.

Speaking of active animal lovers, I naturally bear in mind all the friends, too, who fight vaccination (with all the cruelty implied in that), decline the use of leather, strive for "Beauty Without Cruelty", or work successfully for a fur-free fashion. All these merciful defenders of our minor brothers ans sisters take great efforts to bring about new laws for animal protection, and to reach a general decrease even in the use of various by-products which the slaughterhouse supplies. There is no need for me to say more about the ethical vegetarianism, because it will doubtlessly be dealt with by quite a number of friends at this Congress.

In the last place, let me mention the religious kind of vegetarianism, i.e, the way of those friends who act from religious conviction.

In my experience religious vegetarians are, so to say, the most reliable of all. They can only doubt, or abandon, their vegetarianism f they change, or lose, their basci conviction, which, though not absolutely impossible, is extremely unusual. Just think of M. Rance, the founder of the Trappist Order, whose community did not know anything about hormones, vitamins, and the like, but for religious reasons refused to eat anything derived from killed animals, irrespective of dietary deficiencies that may well have ensued from such a decision at that time.

But now we must return from this digression to our main subject and ask again:

"WHY DO WE NEED WORLD VEGETARIAN CONGRESSES, SO URGENTLY THAT WE ACTUALLY CANNOT DISPENSE WITH THEM?"

Besides, for whom are they so necessary?

During these seven days we are to spend here at the beautiful Reso Hotel, a good many speakers will inform you in the best way possible on vegetarian theory and practice characteristic of their respective nations. You will hear of various ways of sound nutrition in countries where life-reform has reached a high standard of development. From elsewhere you will learn that preference is given to compassion for animals, and therefore, to their protection from cruelty.

So each lecture will present its particular aspect of vegetarianism, in accordance with the national diversity in attitude. As in an orchestra each musician must play his instrument perfectly if full harmony is to be achieved, only a World Congress like this can display vegetarianism in the broad spectrum of its various types.

For this reason, I, together with my friends in the Executive Committee (sic) of the International Vegetarian Union, strongly feel that our World Congresses are most essential to the whole movement and cannot, in fact, be dispensed with. We shall therefore, endeavor to organize such meetings also in the future.

I am confident that the present Congress will foster the progress and recognition of vegetarianism in this beautiful country. Thus our visit to it may be valued as a little return of gratitude for the immense trouble that the organizers of this Congress had to take. We Germans well know such pains from the 1960 Congress, but we can also report that then, in consequence of our efforts, the number of members to our own vegetarian society trebled within a few months. Neither before nor afterwards could we achieve such an increase in so short a period.

To conclude my speech, let me express heartfelt thanks to the organizers of this Congress. The German delegation highly appreciates all the trouble you took, and we are glad to express this acknowledgement already through the great number in our delegation. But we also thank all the other friends from everywhere in the world who have spared neither pains nor money to come here and make the Congress a full success and an inspiring event.

We would all be gald, if we, on one hand, could learn here about many new aspects of our common cause, and, on the other, help to direct the attention of the Swedish public to vegetarianism. Every mass-medium-radio, television, and newspapers - should be used in order to make our concerns most widely known. With great pleasure I shall fulfill my natural duty to publish the Congress lectures in our German monthly, "DER VEGETARIER", for which purpose I ask the ladies and gentlemen who speak here to hand me the copies of their manuscripts.

I thank all of you for your attention. Being one of the first speakers, I can now look forward to listening to many interesting and well-thought-out lectures of friends from all nations.