VEGETARIAN SOLUTIONS FOR A SUSTAINABLE ENVIRONMENTWritten by Shabari Monica Saha, EVU Secretary General
The EVU Talks for this year, between Thursday 30 April and Sunday 3 April 2009, were held in the great city of Zagreb, the capital and largest city of Croatia, for the first time. It was organised with the help of Animal Friends Croatia, who did an amazing task of arranging the event for the four days and making sure it was a big success. There were people who came from all over Europe including England, Northern Ireland, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, and Slovenia.
On Thursday evening, it gave us the opportunity to meet the organisers from Animal Friends Croatia in their office, who prepared delicious vegan local dishes for dinner. It was exciting to find out more about Animal Friends Croatia and the actions and campaigns they are involved in, such as having their own educational channel on YouTube on www.youtube.com/afcroatia .
The venue for the EVU Talks was the Human Rights Centre in Zagreb. The organisers from Animal Friends Croatia had arranged breakfast there for 3 days, which was a wonderful selection of vegan ‘meat’ and ‘cheese’ slices, tofu, pates, breads, dips, cereals, soya milk, herbal teas and juices. We also had a vegan buffet lunch there on Friday and Saturday. The catering was prepared by local Hare Krsna restaurant and catering business Vegehop.
The meeting on Friday started off with an introduction to the vegetarian movement in Croatia, presented by Anita Euschen who is the International Campaign Co-ordinator of Animal Friends Croatia. Animal Friends Croatia was established in 2002 with the goal to promote animal rights, animal protection and vegetarianism. It currently has almost 3,400 members worldwide and over 24,000 supporters, and has organised around 250 campaigns, including lobbying to change bills and legislation regarding animal suffering and abuse.
This was followed by an interactive workshop on “Let’s Eat Our Way to a Sustainable Future”, which I facilitated. In this workshop, I covered a number of issues such as what do we mean by a sustainable future, how this is affected by climate change, facts about the environment, disasters from the meat industry, and so on. I got the attendees to consider what are the popular perceptions of the causes of climate change; assumptions people have about the environment; environmental reasons to go vegetarian/vegan; and what you can do as an individual or group. There were many suggestions during the group exercises and discussion, which sparked a debate on a number of issues particularly to do with PETA’s Meat is Not Green video and the vegan driving an SUV vs. meat eater on a bicycle controversy. At the end of the workshop I handed out a quiz on meat and climate change to the attendees to add a bit of fun to a serious topic.
In the afternoon after lunch, EVU president Renato Pichler presented an overview about the topic, followed by a group discussion. In the discussion, it was talked about what we can do to distribute facts. It was suggested that showing examples to politicians and presenting facts to expert committees who give advice to government would be the way to go. For example, to show that enough people are interested in healthy vegetarian food, as politicians are more likely to listen to what the majority of the public wants.
In the final talk for the day, Francesco Maurelli, Vice President of TEVA (Tutmonda Esperantista Vegetarana Asocio), gave a presentation on “Sustainable environment: a photograph of Italy”. In his talk he addressed the current situation about the sustainable environment in Italy in relation to diet, transportation and energy. One of the shocking and amusing things he mentioned was that the Vice Minister of Environment, Francesco Lucara, said during an interview on Le Iene TV show that there were, “substantial proofs that CO2 increase is a benefit of the environment”, “the problem is nature” and “the ices are melting because of the climbers”. However, this is not the attitude that everyone is taking. Former Italian Minister of Health, Umberto Veronesi stated, “150 millions of tons of cereals are used every year to feed the animals we eat, instead of feeding people” and that “Every year a portion of the Amazon forest, as big as Austria, is destroyed to have space for animals”.
After a discussion about the topic, a guided tour around Zagreb was given by one of the volunteers from Animal Friends Croatia. Dinner was arranged at the Feng Shui Centre in the evening. The venue, which is in a magnificent rural area on the outskirts of Zagreb, has a Vege club and holds workshops and various personal development classes and health treatments. The hors d'oeuvres and dishes in the macrobiotic menu were truly superb and made you feel purified and in harmony.
On Saturday morning, Sebastian Zosch from VEBU (German Vegetarian Union) did a workshop on “Improving co-operation and learning from the best. What can we learn from the most successful vegetarian societies in Europe?” In this workshop it was emphasized that it’s good to have different types of organisations, both grassroots and corporate. Sex is one campaign that came up which certainly attracts the public’s attention, e.g. Rude Food, which is a video of The Vegetarian Society UK. The workshop got even more interesting when suddenly a debate broke out about the issue of equality and the disagreements among religious groups as to what is vegetarian, i.e. that eggs is not considered to be vegetarian within the Indian community. As a British Bengali vegan, I have to agree that if there is going to be a standard definition one needs to take into consideration what is acceptable in all ethnicities and not just dismiss their views because they are a minority.
After the workshop, Francesco Maurelli talked about the Polish-Esperanto Vegetarian Symposium, which is an international event being held in Bialystok, Poland on 25 July 2009. In this talk, Francesco highlighted the connection between vegetarianism and Esperanto, which is about lifestyle, rights and brotherhood. An estimated 3 million people in the world speak Esperanto, and the aim of the language is to break down language barriers and have a simple and neutral language. The Symposium is for all those who are interested, and is a great opportunity to meet local vegetarian/animal rights associations, learn more about what is happening, and to support a developing movement in a disadvantaged area of Europe.
After lunch on Saturday, we visited the first Farm Sanctuary in Croatia in the village of Kostanj. There were a number of rescued animals here, including a cow and a bull, pigs, geese, and rabbits. I was particularly moved by the one-eyed pig that was unable to walk properly on his front two legs due to a birth defect. The owner of the sanctuary said that she plans on rescuing more animals in the future. It was really admirable and inspiring to see that she and her husband were so devoted to helping animals and caring for them. On the way back to the city by coach, we were shown the video Truth or Dairy presented by vegan poet Benjamin Zephaniah.
After the visit to the sanctuary, we had the EVU AGM in the AFC offices. At the end of the AGM it was suggested that the next EVU AGM and Talks could be in Switzerland, since a 4 star vegan hotel will be opening near Lake Constance.
Later that evening we went to the Cultural Informative Centre for an open event that was organised by Animal Friends Croatia. This included a presentation of the EVU by Hildegund Scholvien and the international V-Label project by Renato Pichler. There was also a short lecture about the advantages of a vegetarian and vegan diet, along with some vegan snacks. The highlight of the evening was a showing of the film Meat the Truth. Meat the Truth is a documentary presented by Marianne Thieme (leader of the Party for the Animals in The Netherlands), which demonstrates one of the most important causes of climate change that is repeatedly ignored by films such as Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth. Meat the Truth really is an inconvenient truth for some, including Al Gore, as it highlights the immense damage to the environment caused by intensive livestock farming. It is a real eye opener for the general public and is something that everyone who cares about the environment, animals and their health should watch.
Dinner on the last evening was at a local Indian restaurant called Maharadja. I totally recommend going there. The ambience and decor were simply enchanting, and the many dishes that were served were absolutely delightful and bursting with flavour and aroma. I must admit that it was probably the best Indian restaurant I have been to, and I hope that one day they will open a branch in the UK.
On the Sunday morning before leaving Croatia we all said our goodbyes to each other, or rather our au revoirs, after breakfast in the Human Rights Centre. Everyone was given a CD of photos of the EVU Talks that Animal Friends Croatia kindly produced, as well as DVD’s of all the videos shown during the event. It was an amazing event and so wonderful to be with people from various different countries that are relentlessly fighting for the cause. We hope to see many more people at the EVU Talks next year.