International Vegetarian Union (IVU)
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The Dancing Chief Executive
from IVU News Oct 2000

34th World Vegetarian Congress
Toronto, Ontario, Canada July 10-16, 2000

Personal report by Tina Fox

The World Vegetarian Congress held in July 2000 was only the second I have attended and I absorbed the sights, sounds and tastes like a sponge, keen to learn from both successes and failures for our own congress on the horizon in Edinburgh in 2002. The failures, if any, were few, more a case of differences in approach but the successes were many. The whole congress from breakfast to bed ran very smoothly with excellent speakers, imaginative and plentiful food and a great team of volunteers staffing the registration desk for long hours. There was also a small but interesting exhibition alongside with various food products and activist groups displaying their wares and ideology.

We traveled with Air Transat which gets a gold star for making most of the food vegan (although they seem to be a bit confused about mini Mars bars), but they must try harder on the quality of that food which was really poor - rock hard tofu with lots of green pepper and very little else on both the outward and return journey and, of course, the inevitable fruit salad! The airport checks and baggage reclaim were amazingly quick and within about an hour of landing we arrived at the Colony hotel and checked into our room. I consider there are three main reasons for attending the Congress - learning from speakers, networking, and food. Unfortunately we arrived too late on Monday for the afternoon speakers but were in time for the evening plenary which generally ran every evening until 9.30- 10.00pm. As we were still running on UK time, five hours ahead of Canada, we couldn't really do the speakers justice but the two I managed to keep my eyes open for, Rae Sikora and Brenda Davis RD were excellent.

Executive Chefs, Ken Bergeron (left) and Ron Pikarski (right), with assistant

By Tuesday morning I was starting to come to grips with the time difference but I woke up starving, as according to my body clock it was lunchtime. The breakfast buffet was more than ample, with tofu rancheros, cereals, blueberry pancakes, walnut and banana muffins and fruit salad. Somewhat fortified, I was able to attend a couple of lectures by Claude Pasquini, European Liaison officer for IVU on animal intelligence and emotions (catch him at Edinburgh!) and Brenda Davis who gave a fascinating talk about the sort of fats that vegetarians and vegans need to eat and the preferred sources.

I took some time out in the afternoon to have a walk around Toronto, a very safe, leisurely and clean city where the traffic quite happily stops for you to cross the road. Above ground it is mostly skyscrapers of various shapes and sizes and below ground is the "shopping city" or path system which runs for six miles. After another filling dinner with a quick IVU council meeting sandwiched in, I was ready for the evening plenary which featured five speakers all on the subject of health issues.

Wednesday dawned a very busy day for me as the IVU held its members' meetmg all morning and I somehow ended up joint chairing it. I missed the afternoon sessions as I wanted to quietly reflect on my own presentation later in the evening plenary session. But I needn't have worried as the audience of around 4-500 loved the Society's "Hot Dinner" and "Cargo" cinema ads and really warmed to the VSUK's approach in using humor to spread our message. I left the stage to an electric atmosphere and on a real high and my only regret was I could not remain for the full plenary as I was teaching circle dance later. The next speaker spoke on food safety issues in the USA and then a group of three speakers presented a session with slides on GM issues. This was excellent but scary and I was very sorry to have to leave. My dance session was worthwhile, not too big and not too small and we danced from 9.30 to nearly midnight so I had a really good night's sleep after that.

That was one of the few drawbacks of Congress - plenty of mental activity but not much physical activity. Thursday I took some time off before lunch to go up the exciting CN tower and returned for the evening sessions. With fourteen sessions to choose from and only time for a maximum of three, it wasn't always easy to decide which to attend. I had no choice about the 4pm session though as I was giving one on our own certification program. The plenary on Thursday evening was a vegan one with six speakers on various aspects of the diet.

Photos: David Pye via The Vegetarian (VSUK magazine)

Friday was a day off. Fortified by breakfast, I was on the coach for a long anticipated trip to Niagara. Vegan lunch boxes were provided although I don't know how I got to be dinner monitor! The weather forecast was not promising hut it held out and the falls were stupendous! We had a good amount of time to walk around and view both the Canadian and American falls and then were taiken on the Maid of the Mist, a boat ride which takes you to the base of the falls. Really exciting and very wet, I was grateful for the blue mack provided to everyone even if it was only a glorified plastic bag. Other than the falls the rest
Niagara is disappointing as it is rather like Blackpool which seems incongruous to the beauty of the falls. Later we traveled to the Victorian town of Niagara on the Lake which was a decided improvement.

We rushed back just in time to atttend Jenny Jones's (previously VSUK trustee) wedding to Peter McQueen, President of the Toronto Vegetarian Association. As Jenny and Peter met at the Congress in Thailand in January 1999 they thought it fitting to wed at Toronto and it was a simple but moving ceremony. Not much time for the evening meal before the plenary, which was rather mixed on Friday with topics ranging from the "Sexual Politics of Meat" through "Vegan Kinship" and "Healing the Planet with a Vegetarian Diet". The session ended with an excellent live performance from the Animal Lover's project featuirng song and dance on animal issues. The singer was really powerful. By Saturday, the sheer volume of material was beginning to get to us so we took a day out sightseeing and returned in plenty of time for the Gala Dinner. This was a little late starting but was well worth the wait as the food was excellent - summer vegetable pancakes, kale pumpkin seed cream soup. pecan brown rice croquettes and other items followed by carob almond tart. The session was chaired by Rachel Perry a Canadian video jockey and there were only three speakers including myself showing slides for Edinburgh. After the meal we were treated to another performance of the Animal Lover's Project and then a disc jockey to help us dance away the night.

Sadly, Sunday was the day we were all going home but sessions continued until the afternoon and as we did not fly until later in the day, we were able to catch the excellent "Witness" video about a man who had really turned his life around (hopefully available in the UK later in the year) and a talk by Dr. Tom Barnard on Vegetarian Viagara!

With up to 1000 attendees and some twenty countries represented, it really was a good opportunity for networking. The only problem being that the schedule of speakers being so intense and going on so late that there was little free time to chat informally. As mentioned before, the food was liberal and interesting, I did find however rather an over-use of tofu which was present, often in more than one format, at just about every meal. Main courses included baked tempeh and tofu, roasted vegetables in wholewheat pita, polenta, scrambled tofu on sandwiches, white bean cakes, kidney beans kombu and my favorite a gorgeous tofu spinach pie. Clearly, the use of tofu is far more established in Canada than here. Seiten was also used but few soya substitutes. I never once had a hash brown which was a disappointment to me. It seemed to be a question of "you will be healthy or else." I am sure I wasn't the only one who had a few sneaky chips outside of the hotel. All in all, however, I found it a thoroughly enjoyable experience and I am sure the organizers are now resting on their well deserved merits. It will be a hard act to follow but we will do our best and we do have the advantage of fabulous scenery and a historic city. Don't forget to put 8 - 14th July 2002 in your diary for the next congress in Edinburgh.