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Australasian Regional Report
By Robert Fraser
IVU News - August 1999

Truth to tell, there isn't a great deal to report from this part of the world at the present time, but perhaps readers might like to know something of the general Australian public's attitude to vegetarianism. Unfortunately, when Australia was first settled by white people in the 18th century, almost their first act was to import European animals for food purposes. These animals, mainly cows and sheep, were totally unsuited to the Australian conditions, and the environment was severely degraded by them. Even today, some two hundred years later, this process continues. Australia's 26 million cattle and 120 million sheep represent a massive environmental burden on the country. They also outnumber humans by about 16:1, compared to about 5:1 in most other countries.

The "average" Australian, if indeed there is such a person as "average", tends to regard the vegetarian life-style as a bit of a mystery. They reckon it's extraordinary that a person could possibly survive a day without meat, and as for going vegan - that's something totally beyond their comprehension. Yet, paradoxically, it's becoming more and more easy to get vegetarian food in restaurants. Whilst it may be a bit of a problem in small country towns, in the cities it's unusual not to be able to get a decent vegetarian meal. And we have Australia's past migration policies to thank for that.

Thousand of migrants from European countries entered Australia after World War II, and many of these came from Italy, bringing with them their Mediterranean cuisine, pasta, olive oil, garlic, and tomatoes. Even in fast food outlets, which tend to concentrate heavily on meat and fish, it's usually possible to get a serving of pasta and salad. Each wave of migrants brings its dietary preferences with them, so the result is that we have Chinese, Indian, Italian, Greek, Malaysian, Turkish, and Lebanese food outlets. Not all, however, are totally vegetarian, but it's generally possible to find something tasty and "safe" to eat.

Vegetarian and Vegan societies exist in most of the major cities of Australia and New Zealand. There has been a formal movement in Australia since 1948, and the New Zealand movement is even older. Some of these societies are extremely active with regular events, whilst others tend to concentrate on providing an information service. And what questions we do get asked! Where can I buy asafoetida? Which cheeses contain genetically engineered rennet? Where can I buy a cruelty-free mouse trap? Is fish vegan?

But it's an uphill struggle. With few enthusiastic workers and little funding, we cannot hope to counteract the million dollar messages coming from the meat and dairy lobby. The junk food giants worm their way into every aspect of people's lives, including sponsoring school kids and getting educational authorities to recognize serving at burger outlets as a legitimate school subject! Don't laugh - it has happened! Several Australian states have given the go-ahead recently. And dairy companies are shipping massive quantities of Australian milk to China so that the Chinese will get "improved" nutrition and extra calcium. Where will it end?

The International Vegan Festival was held in Perth, Australia shortly before the World Vegetarian Congress. I don't know if anyone had the energy to attend both of these events in their entirety (Alex Bourke was present at both), but by all accounts, the event was one long carnival of cooking, eating, talking and learning. Held in a rambling old guest house, the events ranged from producing and performing a play to discussing the spirituality of the raw food diet.

Oh yes - did you hear the one about the New Zealander who plans to run around the country? He proposes to cover 50km per day, running six days a week, and hopes to complete his feat in four months. A vegetarian of twenty years standing, Don Wood hopes to disprove the myth that red meat equals energy and emphasize the importance of physical fitness. He expects to start at midnight on December 31st, 1999.

"New Vegetarian and Natural Health," a nationwide publication, continues to go from strength to strength. With a print run of some 13,000, it finds its way not only to members of vegetarian societies, but into local libraries, and is even to be found at supermarket checkouts and news agencies. The next issue should be out shortly - overseas subscriptions welcome! If you are interested, please let me know and I will arrange it!!

Robert Fraser
Regional Secretary, Australasia

Contributions to IVU News are welcomed. Material published does not necessarily reflect the views of the editor or the policy of the International Vegetarian Union.