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

Wednesday, July 10, 2002

Day the Third

Today is our day off. The preponderance of attendees seem to have made their way to the tour buses this morning, bound for some visits to magnificent Scottish vistas and magnificent Scottish breweries.

Some of the Congress Attendees on one of the trips.
(photos: Charles Hershey)

I decided to pass on the tour because I'm more interested in urban history and architecture. Edinburgh is truly a gold mine in this regard. The historic antecedents of the city can be traced back millennia. The castle fortress, the visual and historic focal point of the nation's capital, looms anachronistically against a caliginous gray and white sky. Sea gulls drift overhead, peering cynically at all manner of tourists on Prince's Street, heavily burdened by the pounds they acquired at the local Burger King and the pounds they dropped at the department stores, pubs and tourist traps in downtown Edinburgh. All in all, a perfect day for losing oneself in a time and place that is older and deeper and richer than the rich nation one issued from.

So why am I sitting at one of at least three Edinburgh Starbucks, sipping a tall, dark coffee of the day, plugged into Beethoven's Missa Solemnis (Solemn Mass) on my CD walkman?

One hour and 43 minutes of sleep the previous night is a partial explanation; a persistent case of jet lag; separation anxiety; the broken lock on my dormitory room door last night, part of the attack plan, I had convinced myself, formulated by Congress officials I had offended in yesterday's journal.

This Starbucks also affords a great view of the castle; great view of five coquettish females from Verona who seem to be feeling as caffeine-deprived as I am; but it is also the anticipation of the meeting with Beethoven I have arranged in Vienna post-Congress, and my desire to journal to this taste of the new world mixed with the old has me sitting here sipping and writing to you, dear reader.

One of the most wonderful, charming and erudite people I have met, and met right here at our 35th bi-annual congress, Dr. Bianca Molinari, a political science professor at the University of San Diego, reminded me of the inconsistency inherent in my boycott of Nike and other labour and ecology-exploiting multinationals and my patronage of Starbucks. Okay, so I'm not as immaculate a candidate for sainthood as most people think. However, Starbucks does keep me wired and alert enough to continue to do battle against the nefarious deracinators and third-world exploiters of the Earth. A feeble excuse, to be sure. A better one than telling you I have to fuel up on Whoppers and fries to maintain the battle.

photos: John Davis

But enough about me. I want to tell you about the stirring and profoundly moving performances of Highland dance and Celtic harp songs we were treated to last night. Two lovely young Scottish women rendered a performance that made the trip across the pond worth it but for that alone. I was seated next to the good Dr. Molinari during the performance. I was afraid she might see the tears well up in my eyes as the mellifluous Scottish folk melodies filled the auditorium. Although quite taken with the music herself, she kept nodding off, as many of us have been, because of jet lag and the emotional, intellectual and gustatorial if this congressional feast.

One other thing, goodly readers, while we are on the subject of profoundly moving experiences. That was the third day's late afternoon plenary session. Juliet Gellatley of VIVA! and Francisco Martin, the President of the Spanish Vegan Society, two of the key plenary speakers, talked about the horrible abuses of factory farming and the consequences of objectifying and commodifying what society has come to regard as "lower life forms."

It was a revealing, illustrative and gut-wrenching experience listening to the two of them. It also made me very grateful I have been able to attend this conference. Although I have been advocating for animals most of my life, I still need to hear these things. I need to be reminded of the extent of the exploitation, confinement, abuse and murder of innocent creatures on a global basis. It's not that I ever forget these things are happening; but I find myself trying not to think about the extent of the daily misery, and I know it is very important that I, that we, never forget. Also that tireless, dedicated advocates such as Martin and Gellatley are fighting it around the world.

I'm sure this is why many of us at this congress became and remain vegetarians and vegans. What is being done to the animals is a crime and tragedy of Holocaust proportions. I may offend some of my Jewish brethren by making this comparison. But the G-d I pray to and the only world I care to inhabit weeps with sorrow and trembles with rage at the sight, the sound, the smell of the death of millions of sentient creatures every day, every month, every year.

The valiant efforts of all the champions of animal welfare makes me rededicate myself to the cause of animal liberation, as futile as it seems at times. I am extremely grateful to all those who organized this congress, the speakers, the delegates, all those who continue to espouse vegetarianism for our sake, for the sake of the animals, for the sake of the Earth. In the historic context of this magnificent capital of Edinburgh, distinguished by its glorious patina of tradition and noble struggle for freedom and independence, I am convinced our efforts are appropriate, the need for our determination absolute, our objectives morally imperative, just and achievable. By grave necessity, as determined by the unacceptable alternatives to victory, our determination and our victory is and must remain necessary and achievable.