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

The International Vegetarian Congress:
The highlight of National Vegetarian Week 2002

By Jane Bowler (editor of The Vegetarian - VSUK magazine)

Monday: roots and shoots

On the first day of the Congress, Maxwell Lee, VSUK President, and Derek Antrobus, an Open University lecturer and Salford City Council member, spoke about the genesis of the British vegetarian movement. We were immensely proud to explain to delegates that the Vegetarian Society of the UK was the world's first Vegetarian Society.

Maxwell Lee told us that the Vegetarian Society was originally formed in 1847, and although its first meeting was held at a 'health hydra' in Ramsgate, it quickly established roots in Salford. In the 1880s a second society was formed in the UK - the London Vegetarian Society. Well-known members included George Bernard Shaw, and Gandhi, who joined whilst visiting Britain in 1888. The 1880s also saw the start of the Vegetarian Cycling and Athletic Club (VCAC) which is still going strong today, with members actively demonstrating that a vegetarian diet has a positive effect on their energy and sporting performance.

The first international congress took place in Chicago in 1893. The International Vegetarian Union (IVU) was created in 1908 and since then congresses have been staged regularly, with recent host countries including India, Canada, Israel and Thailand.

Derek Antrobus pointed out that vegetarianism in the UK was a product of the Victorian era, and that it did not begin in the 1 960s, as so many believe. He feels that understanding more about the history of the movement can help people to realise that vegetarianism is not just a 'fad', or a left-over from the hippy era.

The Vegetarian Society's Chief Executive, Tina Fox, brought us up to date with a very upbeat talk about today's Vegetarian Society. Tina explained: 'In the past, the Society sometimes used gory images to get its message across, but times have changed. Guilt is a very poor motivator. After all, people like forbidden fruit!' Today, the Society uses positive images and humour, to encourage people to try vegetarianism, and provides recipes and support. National Vegetarian Week now focuses on positive messages and mouth-wateringly good food. The Society now has a number of celebrity patrons, and last year saw the first annual Gala Dinner and Vegetarian Awards ceremony in London. Tina told us:

'Vegetarianism is no longer about self-denial. It is an aspirational lifestyle.'

During the evening's ice-breaking veggie quiz, I got to know Fern and Bill Dews, a lovely American couple of 'mature years', who were on their honeymoon!