|International Vegetarian Union (IVU)|
The Sixth European Vegetarian Congress was held in Bussolengo, near Lake Garda, Italy in September 1997, under the theme "Let's Go Vegetarian." The congress was attended by over 140 participants not only from Europe but from as far away as Bermuda, India, Singapore, Japan, Brazil and the USA. A very special guest at the conference was a three-legged mongrel dog called Natalie who attended all the lectures and stole everyone's hearts!
In spite of the organisational difficulties, and disappointment at the unavailability of a number of important guests such as the Dalai Lama, an impressive array of speakers was laid on for us, which we were able to enjoy thanks to the hard work of the conference interpreters who between them tackled the translation of talks given in English, Italian and German.
The conference was officially opened on the Sunday afternoon by Francisco Martín, General Secretary of IVU, and Marco Stellini, President of AVI (Associazione Vegetariana Italiana). Marco said that the timing of the festival was particularly sad in that it coincided with the start of the hunting season in Italy.
There then followed over the next few days a series of talks by many talented speakers. Maxwell Lee spoke of the 150th anniversary of the UK Vegetarian Society, illustrating his presentation with some photographs of the pioneers of the movement. Italian Member of Parliament Anna Maria Procacci asked for co-operation in the fight against genetically manipulated foodstuffs. People in many European countries, she said, were opposed to the introduction of transgenic soya, maize, rapeseed and chicory. A survey drawn up for the Italian Parliament had shown that people's concerns centred on the issues of health and allergies. Austria, she explained, had refused to import transgenic soya. However, Italy had agreed to the import of transgenic maize.
She also expressed concern that on l7th July 1997 the first draft of a directive for patenting life was passed which would give multinationals the right to patent living organisms in the laboratory. She questioned their right to patent life in this way, saying that animals should not be deprived of their dignity as living beings. She called on all those present to work together and co-operate to put an end to the process.
Fabrizio Fabbri of Greenpeace in Italy also spoke out against genetic engineering. He said it was untrue that the process could help to eradicate world hunger. Transgenic plants, he explained, do not yield more produce than a natural crop — the world's hunger problems would remain due to unequal distribution. Most food, he said, was destroyed for marketing reasons. He said that producers should separate genetically modified food from non-modified food and that there needed to be a strong consumer movement pushing for clear labelling. One way would be for producers of non-genetically-modified products to include a certificate of laboratory analysis confirming the authenticity of their products. In Germany consumer power had led to the removal from the shelves of a chocolate spread which was found to contain genetically modified soya lecithin.
IVU president Howard Lyman gave a very inspiring talk. "If we are going to change the world, we'll have to do it with co-operation and a smile and we'll have to work together. We need to go out like the seeder of the soil, plant the seeds, and go out in a new spirit." He stressed the need for people to become vegetarian in order to save the earth's resources: "Never before have we had fewer trees, less topsoil, less clean water, less rainforest - every natural resource is less today than on the day we were born. If there is a future, it depends on people like us. Can we share the message with people in time? Gandhi said: 'Your job is not to save the world your job is to save yourself.' If enough of us do it, we can save the world."
Another speaker, Dr Riccardo Trespidi, quickly earned the nickname "Dracula". He was involved with arranging blood tests and diet studies of congress volunteers for a new medical study taking place at the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Verona. The purpose of the study was to compare the vegetarian diet with the Mediterranean diet which although traditionally considered healthy for its high consumption of vegetables also contains meat. Nutritionally, he explained, a lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet containing excessive quantities of dairy products would entail more problems than the Mediterranean diet. The closest to an ideal diet, he said, was the vegan diet. The outcome of the study would be reported in leading nutrition magazines and he looked forward to receiving the Nobel Prize for Medicine in due course.
Dr Giuseppe Cocca gave a presentation on immunising children. He was very much against vaccination, saying that a better word for it might be "contamination." He questioned why children should be vaccinated between the ages of three months and six months when their immune systems did not develop fully until they were a year old. He expressed concern about children who had become ill as a result of vaccinations and also pondered the ethical use of inoculations, given that vaccines were often derived from animal organs. He had refused to have his own baby vaccinated and had defended his stand in front of a judge in Italy, who had accepted the validity of his reasons.
He said that the most important thing was to follow a healthy lifestyle. He explained that good health occurred when "we live in harmony with nature, eat well, respect natural cycles, have a satisfying job and get on well with people." When illness occurred, he said, we needed to look at which of these elements was lacking and where improvements could be made.
Rozalind Gruben gave a valuable presentation on Energy versus Disease, which focused on the importance of having enough sleep to regenerate the body's energy, "Like a car battery, if you don't put yourself on charge long enough, you won't be able to wake up properly." Without adequate sleep the brain could not communicate properly with the body. She said that disease could occur when a person was constantly short of sleep, over-stressed and affected by pollution, and she recommended adequate sleep as a way of avoiding disease. It was important to practise deliberate relaxation before going to sleep. By going to bed stressed or upset, a person was less likely to enter the cycles of deep sleep needed to maintain good health. She advocated the use of meditation, which she said was valuable in eliminating clutter from the mind.
While at the conference, we were treated to an abundance of Mediterranean vegan food. There were a number of themed dinners, including oriental cuisine, a Rustic evening and a special Gala Dinner. The chef had never cooked vegan food before, but quickly mastered a variety of dishes using ingredients such as tofu, seitan and seaweed following guidance from the AVI organisers. There was a large salad bar accompanying main meals and fresh fruit was always available. The Gala Dinner included dishes such as Fennel Carpaccio with Pâté Canapés, Asparagus Soup, Pasta Timbale à la Bolognese, Seitan in Pastry, and Baked Stuffed Tomatoes.
After all that food, it was important that we had adequate opportunities to take exercise. This was amply provided by a range of activities such as morning yoga with Margaret Gunn-King and keep-fit sessions with Rozalind Gruben, as well as full use of the hotel swimming pool and gym facilities.
There were also a number of trips available for participants to enjoy the beauty of the area. We enjoyed a half-day trip to Verona, a day in Venice and a particularly relaxing boat trip on Lake Garda on the last afternoon.
Francisco Martín rounded off the congress with some closing words saying, "If we want to see a vegetarian world, we have to do our job well. We have to be effective. If every one of us went home and tried to be more efficient and caring, we could be more effective in making societies take a different look at the way we live. We need a universal ethic of respect for life. We need to see things on a universal scale, not a small scale. When people are faced with anger and violence they tend to react the same way, but that isn't the way to do it. Act in a peaceful but passionate way. Do something positive every day."