International Vegetarian Union (IVU)
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Congress Logo 33rd World Vegetarian Congress
Chiang Mai, Thailand, January 4 - 10, 1999
'Vegetarianism is the Way'
an unforgettable visual, cultural and gastronomic experience

Since I [Vanessa] am having no luck whatever in persuading Francisco to say a few words about himself [with him it's modesty, with me it's mere idleness] I shall risk the wrath to come by forwarding the following article which appeared in the US magazine Vegetarian Living in 1994, two years before he became General Secretary of IVU:


a Spaniard struggles to ban his country's national pastime

It's as if an American were campaigning to outlaw baseball. Francisco Martin, a 45-year-old industrial engineer and resident of Madrid, Spain, has spent the past decade crusading to ban bullfighting - the pre-eminent symbol of his country's culture - on the grounds that it celebrates cruelty to animals. Martin has been called unpatriotic and worse by critics who don't always stop at name-calling: last year a bullfight promoter stopped him on the street and slugged him. Still Martin persists, organising marches around the country, speaking on radio talk shows and lobbying the mayor of Madrid not to build another bullfighting arena.

A vegan for 23 years, Martin developed his compassion for animals early on. As a youngster, he kept hens as pets and refused to eat them. "Later I realized the injustice of killing other animals when eating meat is not only unnecessary but harmful to us," Martin says. While attending college in Canada, he met other vegetarians and decided to become an activist.

Martin's efforts have not been limited to the bullring. He travels extensively as the founder of Spain's first national vegetarian society, edits an environmental newsletter and is responsible for introducing the word vegano into the Spanish language. Last year he singlehandedly organised the seventh International Vegan Festival (which takes place in a different country each year), drawing 150 people from all over the world to the week-long conference outside Barcelona. Martin did much of the translating himself, putting into practice his fluent English, French, German and Italian. His speeches - in any language - are masterpieces of improvisation and eloquence, rich with informed detail and gentle prods to listeners to reconsider their lifelong habits.

His enthusiasm is infectious. "Veganism is more than a way of eating," says Martin, "It's a non-violent way of life." The first task for vegetarian activists, he says, is to show that their lifestyle is an attractive and feasible choice rather than an exercise in self-denial. "We're not masochists," he says, "We enjoy our meals; we enjoy our lives. We simply want to cause the least harm possible to animals, the environment and our own health."

Promoting veganism can be a solitary endeavour in a country that has ritualised the slaughter of livestock into a national pastime. Aside from the encouragement of a few loyal comrades, Martin gets most of his emotional support from the vegetarian friends he meets abroad. "It's a little lonely out here," he admits. But that doesn't slow him down. After all, like that other Spanish idealist, Don Quixote, Martin has set his sights high: "We're fighting to change the world."