International Vegetarian Union (IVU)
IVU logo 35th World Vegetarian Congress
'Food for all our futures'

Heriot Watt University, Edinburgh, Scotland
July 8-14, 2002
Hosted by

The Vegetarian Society
of the United Kingdom

Jeff's Congress Journal

Friday, July 12, 2002

Day the Fifth

a Herriot-Watt rabbit

So here we are, dear readers, coming up to the final days of the 35th World Vegetarian Congress in Edinburgh, Scotland. For me, the day began with an early morning 25-minute run out on Herriot-Watt's athletic field. It's so nice being out there early in the morning; all manner of local wildlife scurrying, hopping, soaring over the track.

At that time of day, around 6:15 a.m., there is barely a soul about. Call me a misanthrope if you will, I just find the world so much more agreeable when I rise early enough to greet the day before what Geogre Rodger referred to as the naked ape is about.

Lest you think me also judgmental, let me assure you; I rise at this hour to beat my own neurosis to the day. As soon as the thoughts and noise and ideas and emotions start stirring, the pristine, limitless potential of the day is all but finished. Beginning the morning sans man and mind, however, I feel stirred and inspired, not limited, by the potential of things.

After breakfast, I repaired to a lecture by Hans Diehl called Reversing Heart Disease With Knife and Fork. This was followed by Steven Walsh's talk on the Health of Elderly Vegetarians. There was a lot of overlap between the two presentations. Both emphasized the importance of maintaining a sensible weight, exercise regimen, sensible and balanced vegetarian or vegan diet and trying to maintain a positive outlook on life (at the 2004 Congress, I will be presenting a series of lectures titled Maintaining the Health of the Vegan Misanthrope).

There wasn't a lot that was new or news in terms of things we hadn't heard before about how a fat ass is destined for an early grave. And how, if you're into cremation, cigarettes, hamburgers, chips and steak will expedite the conversion of your flabby flesh into smoked meat in no time.

Despite the fact the lectures didn't present very much new material, both were extremely comprehensive, structured and delivered with clear description and passion; a combined, remedial education about how to maintain a healthy, long life as a vegetarian.

I had the pleasure of speaking with cyber lounge monitor, Adrien Lea, before heading out for my tour of Edinburgh today. Adrien recommended a coffee spot named The Elephant House up on castle hill. After taking a bus into town with John Davis, I got off at King George IV Bridge and made my way up the road. During the walk, I was reminded of why my heart always pines for the old country. Walking through a 900 year-old cathedral, strolling down cobble stone streets Robert Burns and Walter Scott strolled, plugged into Felix Mendelssohn's third "Scottish" symphony all the while… this is what travel is all about. To be able to combine it with a conference with my fellow vegetarians is an added and great delight.

So what thoughts born on this, the eve before the last full day of conference?

Already I am missing the good friends, the collegiality, the community we have enjoyed this week. I also feel a renewed sense of dedication to my vegan lifstyle as a result of being around so many like-minded veggies. I feel rededicated to the work of spreading the vegetarian message in a non-violent, non-proselytizing way.

Perhaps, most importantly, I don't feel the kind of isolation I usually feel regarding the formidable, tormenting reality of living in a world that gives little, if any, thought to what mankind is doing to the Earth, the animals and ourselves. To be in the company of so many people who are living with conscience is a great inspiration. To listen to the brave and tenacious work that is being done for the Earth, for the animals, for us by so many gathered here is to give witness to a living hope for a better world; a world that is conscious, caring and compassionate.

A large part of the reason I journeyed to the Congress and why I am going to journey deeper into the old world afterward is because of a desire to reflect, reconsider what I am doing with my life to defend the animals and heal the planet.

I don't have a wife, mortgage or children (save for three beloved, rescued, parrots I had to adopt out to foster homes but still maintain contact with). I do what I can. I belong to several animal welfare groups; I give what I can monetarily when I can; I use whatever opportunities I have to promote the cause of vegetarianism and animal rights as a writer and journalist. Most importantly, I don't eat or wear animals or animal products when I am with family and friends. I feed the pigeons outside my home; I intervene and try to rescue lost, frightened, injured animals, the quadrapedal, bipedal and winged kind who come across my path.

Francisco (leaning over the table) at a stall run by Dr.Doug Graham (in the blue shorts).

I do what I can. I could probably do more. I could do less. I know I have to discover and give the way I can give if I am going to be any good anyone, any animal. I wish I had the energy and drive Francisco Martin has. He has dedicated his life and time to animal welfare. He has seen and done so much. I'm sure he must have moments when he is as miserable and depressed about the abuse and massive killing of animals as I am. But just being around him this week, it is obvious he is hard-wired to persistent optimism. I am envious, even though I was advised by wise mentors long ago to stay out of the comparison game. We all do what we can, when we can and we all have a unique contribution to make, one which we will make only if we remain true to our own calling and service.

Returning to our center, our soul, our true selves through meditation, prayer, nature, time with the animals or community is what brings us back to this place. This is the most precious thing the Congress has done for me. The joy and goodwill and community indicates it has happened for most of us at this Congress. It may not be a total and lasting healing of the world's ills and imperfections. But if is a ray of hope, a spark of light, a new birth for some, a re-birth for others of a conscious and compassionate way of being in the world.