International Vegetarian Union (IVU)
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The Finnish vegan society:
The first 3 years

from EVU News, Issue 2 /1997 - Italiano

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Marti Bergestad is Spokesman for the Finish Vegan Society. Please contact him at: Vegaaniliitto, P.O. Box 320, 00151 Helsinki
Tel: +358-9-2963025
Fax:+358-9-2215696
e-mail: mbstad@clinet.fi
Beginnings
The Finnish Vegan Society (Vegaaniliitto) was founded in October 1993 by a group of animal rights activists, who had come to realize that the existing animal protection societies were not willing to actively propagate vegetarianism, presumably out of fear of losing the support of the meat-eating majority of their members. Amazingly, in the beginning of the 1990’s there was no vegetarian society in Finland. It is true that there was - and still is - Elävän Ravinnon Yhdistys ry (the Society for Living Food) which is advocating the dietary ideas of Ann Wigmore and is also a staunch supporter of the EVU. But there was no society that would have been promoting vegetarianism mainly for ethical reasons.

Even though we wanted to promote vegetarianism in general and to serve all vegetarians, it was clear for us from the start that the core of the society should be vegan so as to compensate for the lack of avant-garde vegetarian ideas that the Finnish intellectual climate had so long been suffering from.

Päivi Hagner (then Korhonen), who became the first chairperson of our society, had visited the International Vegan Festival in Britain and made contacts which proved to be very valuable in the first stages. Julia Hope Jacquel, project co-ordinator of Vegans International, paid a visit to us and gave us many good advice and encouragement. During the first year our financial situation was greatly relieved by a grant given by the IVU. We were soon contacted by a number of enthusiastic young people and by the end of 1994 we already had 60 members. Today we have 227 members, about 60 percent of whom are vegan.

Publishing
From the very beginning we have been publishing a quarterly called ‘Vegaia’, which remains the central pillar of our society. Although deadlines regularly cause minor panic, voluntary writers and interesting articles somehow always seem to emerge.

Another important publication has been the Finnish edition of PCRM’s ‘Vegetarian Starter Kit’, which in its twenty pages contains the basic nutritional information about the plant-based diet and also manages to give many practical hints and recipes.

This excellent booklet has been a real steady seller, and I recommend all new vegetarian and vegan societies to publish something similar.

Last year we launched the Finnish version of the Vegan Society UK’s video ‘Truth or Dairy’, which has been well received by the audiences, and we have also been importing some English books.

Lectures etc.
In Helsinki we have arranged three or four public lectures or gatherings every spring and autumn and there are local activities in six other cities.

We have also been celebrating the spring equinox as a Meatout Day and the 2nd of October, Gandhi’s birthday, as World Farm Animal Day, originated by the Farm Animal Reform Movement. In future we plan to concentrate on the 1st of October, which we will observe as World Vegetarian Day together with the Association of Finnish Health Food Retailers.

Campaign for vegetarian school-lunches
This is our first major campaign. The Finnish school system is based on public education in communal schools, which are legally obliged to provide a nourishing meal to every pupil. Because we received complaints from many vegetarians that the schools refused to serve vegetarian food, we carried out two surveys to find out what the situation was like.

Firstly, we sent an inquiry to a hundred school authorities and asked them under what conditions a child would get a vegetarian meal in the schools of their community.

We were gladly suprised to find out that in about half of the communities vegetarian food was given either to everyone who asked for it or at least to those who asked for it for reasons of conviction. However, the attitudes of the other half were not equally positive: in almost 10 % of the communities one could get vegetarian meals only if one could prove with a physician’s certicate that one needed vegetarian food for “reasons of health”.

Secondly, with the assistance of the gymnasium students’ organization we interviewed 1592 pupils, who were asked, if they would choose for their daily lunch a lactovegetarian meal, if this were possible. 14.8 % of the answers were affirmative. This figure includes the 5 % of pupils, who already were served vegetarian meals. To educate the school authorities we compiled a booklet where we presented the main reasons for vegetarianism together with the results of our surveys and argued that it is a pupil’s right to get a meal which is compatible with his or her ethical convictions. We then mailed the booklet to all the communities and also sent a press release. The campaign got quite good publicity in the media, and dozens of communities called us for further information and ordered additional copies of the booklet.

Next autumn we will publish a Swedish version of the booklet. We will also encourage school children to take action on their own and will produce a leaflet, a poster and a petition form for the purpose.

Vegetarianism in Finland today
During the past twenty years people’s attitudes towards vegetarian food have changed a lot. This is mainly due to health education, which has succesfully introduced fruit and vegetables into the Finnish dinner table. Although it still may be difficult in many places to get proper vegetarian meals, vegetarianism is no longer considered an oddity.

Although vegans are still regarded as weirdos by most people, even veganism has definitely entered the Finnish public scene. This is not only due to the efforts of our society, but also because of some well publicized actions of young animal liberationists, who have proclaimed themselves vegan. The public image of vegetarianism and veganism is constantly getting richer and more detailed. A sign of the times is that the first Finnish vegan cookbook was recently published by an established publisher.

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