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

A Personal Report from Gerry Coffey

From: Gerry Coffey -
Date: Sat, 6 Feb 1999 12:24:10 EST

Tina Fox's comments caused me to try and compose my own before my memories of WVCThai99 get lost in day-to-day routine. Forgive me if it's wordy, unobjective and imprecise, as my time is limited. Tina said: ... "Don't we all think too much of our stomachs! I enjoyed all the Thai food I had except at the Lotus, Thai cookery is generally excellent but food invariably deteriorates when catering is for large numbers as I know from organising vegsoc events... "

Tina's absolutely right. It is difficult to keep hot food hot, cold food cold, and all/any of it looking appetizing when prepared in large amounts for any length of time. Nevertheless, the WVCThai99 was billed as a vegan event and the wonderful Thai fruits and vegetables were always fresh, beautifully served and plentiful. That alone would keep a body healthy, wealthy and wise.

In fact, it was most likely over consumption of concentrated protein (the single biggest cause of premature aging and chronic diseases) -- not to mention the oils, salts, sugars and starches, on top of time changes, jet lag, little rest and/or exercise -- that caused most people's gastronomic woes (Not the Lotus Hotel's food, as some seem to think).

Our gracious Thai hosts bent over backwards to cater to our strange, "forang" (foreign) tastes. If it seemed bland much of the time it was because they'd been told to omit many of their usual spices and garlic which gives the sumptuous Thai food it's unique flavor.

Re: the late night meal as a result of a misunderstanding when it was thought everyone had "filled up" on the multitude of finger foods at the pool-side venue. I doubt any Food and Beverage manager at a UK or Stateside hotel would rise his /her staff to the challenge of preparing another meal at that late hour. Particularly for a somewhat loud/impatient/irate crowd. They'd probably say the equivalent of "Sorry bout that," "Take your business elsewhere."

When one thinks about it, even the best of marriages have their breakdowns in communication. To bring so many diverse personalities, cultures, languages, and idiosyncrasies under one roof and expect nirvana is a bit naive. We've been through culture shock and reverse culture shock (on returning to the U.S. after 8 years in Thailand and several trips around the world), and with hindsight, feel gratified to have had the privilege of doing so in the genteel Thai culture. Few other country's natives would have been so tolerant with our Western suedo arrogance.

I confess I selfishly became a vegan for health reasons (a matter of life or death: I chose the former and have never looked back!), but, belatedly, have learned much from my animal-rights' friends. While the animal rights' people are often more dedicated and will not be tempted to eat any flesh food or products, they often neglect their physical health by "pigging out" on junk foods or those saturated with white poisons (salt, sugar, flour), oil and concentrated protein - for fear they won't get enough, when usually the opposite is true. Having an overload of above mentioned toxins in one's system often makes one aggressive, angry and generally negative. I find that whenever I or anyone else points a finger of judgement at another person, I/he/she is generally "out of balance."

On the other hand, health-oriented vegans who are unwell physically might not often "love" themselves enough to ALWAYS make the right food choices and thus exhibit the same "unloving" symptoms.

Over the years I've found when one embraces veganism for ALL reasons (and seasons): animal, physical, emotional, spiritual, and environmental, one naturally tends to nurture neighbor and nature. And that, after all, makes for the best of all worlds.

For our part, Ray and I had already made a number of stops before arriving in Chiangmai. Beginning in Taipei, Taiwan, and then Bangkok, when we had our first introduction to plant foods that looked and tasted like the "forbidden fruits" of yester-year (meats of ALL kinds--made from soy!), we nearly did ourselves in! Thankfully, after a few days of over-indulgence, I came to my senses and reverted to what works best for me (Predominantly fresh, uncooked fruits and veggies.) To help rid myself of the toxins I'd been accumulating, I also started running in the predawn hours with buddy, Mark McClellan (also from Alabama, USA), and a new-found friend from Canada, and got back on track.

Meeting 80 year-old Arne Winquist, a vegan nearly forever and "raw foodist" for the past 10 years, who recently conducted a water-only fast while leading a 500 plus mile march from Chiangmai to Bangkok, and "Iron Lady ," 64 year-old Ruth Heidrich, (Ruth won 6 Iron Man Triathalons and 1000's of other awards: This after surviving breast cancer surgery!) were further WONDERFUL inspirations. Ruth's advice, dispelling the myth that running on pavement causes joint deterioration ("Only with flesh eaters!" says Ruth.) freed me from that concern.

After running, I could then teach my BODYWORKS classes with ease at 7:00 a.m. and give myself (and hopefully those who attended) a gift for the day! (Note: I prefer to exercise early as if I put it off until later in the day, something often intervenes. Also, when done early, I'm better prepared for whatever else might occur--whether "Eustress or Distress" ;-)

It was a great pleasure for Ray and me to be back in the "Land of Smiles." We regret we were unable to contact many former friends, but were delighted to see General Saiyud, a colleague of Ray's when he was a liaison with the Thai Border Patrol Police. Neither having been a vegetarian in "former" days, Ray asked Gen. Saiyud how that change came about in is life. Gen. Saiyud replied that all his friends and colleagues were dying on him, and he didn't wish to end his life so early, so effectively (obviously) changed his ways.

As the former Supreme Commander of the Thai Armed Forces, the most powerful, authoritative and prestigious (next to His Majesty the King) position in the Kingdom, anything General Saiyud says or does is of great importance to the Thai people, so his pre-eminence in the vegetarian movement in Thailand carries monumental significance.

General Saiyud's presence is no doubt why not only the hotel, but the Food Fair in the nearby shopping Center, the newspapers, magazines, media reports (I was asked to do two interviews while I was there.), and so much attention was allocated to the World Vegetarian Conference.

General Saiyud's presence was also no doubt why His Majesty the King also took care to promote the World Vegetarian Conference and announce His vegetarian leanings to His people. Some of the King's statements were quoted in LAMP, the Health, Environment, Ethic, Nutrition publication printed in Thai and English:

"They say that the poor like to eat brown rice. We eat brown rice everyday, so we are one of the poor," said the King. His Majesty's endorsement will explode long ingrained attitudes and habits where nothing else might. Like the benevolent father they view the King as, they know he would not lead them astray.

It wasn't so long ago, brown rice was not to be found in the Thai market place. Only debased, polished white rice was available. Now, thanks to the King's example, as quoted by LAMP, "He has persuaded Thais to eat brown rice which is very nutritious and will make Thais healthy. Eating brown rice will help Thais saving their money for curing and implant the importance of natural way of life to Thais.

"While His Majesty the King is persuading Thais to eat brown rice, some organisations also launch the campaign urging Thais to eat brown rice for some benefits, especial Demand Side Management (DSM), Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT). This organization is launching a "Rice No. 5" Project to encourage around 30,000 mills to produce more brown rice. (Note Thailand is the top producer and exporter of rice in the world!)

"Because the process of producing brown rice will cut off 3 steps of rice milling, it will use lower electricity than the production of white rice up to 60%. This will save plenty of electricity and oil used in electricity generation.

Encouraging Thais to consume brown rice entails surmounting ingrained conditioning that 1) only prisoners and poor people eat brown rice, and 2) Brown rice costs 5% to 10% more than white rice. A public relations campaign has been launched to reverse this: EGAT will generate market competition by fixing the price of brown rice lower than white by 5 %, and also promote the health and economic benefits. "These are the way to change Thais' attitudes and their ways of life. These will also help them "pay attention to their health, enhance the quality of their lives and in the strength of their minds to be able to fight against recession.

Evidence of the recession and economic decline in Thailand were prominent. Miles of massive skyscrapers in various stages of completion in Bangkok give an illusion of a ghost town, except this one had never had occupants. A bleak testimonial to the glut of overbuilding that contributed to the financial disaster there and in Chiangmai.

That the King takes an active effort to help the people come to grips with the consequences of poor leadership is what once again might rescue the kingdom, the Magazine points out:

"These new phenomena can happen because of His Majesty's virtue and kindness, and his concern for Thai people...LONG LIVE HIS MAJESTY THE KING." We of Western heritage cannot begin to appreciate the influence such a gesture by the King will have on the Thai people. Even as a long-time resident of Thailand, it took me many years to not only understand but appreciate their complete reverence for their King, who, to them is like a deity. Even more sobering was to learn that their reverence and devotion is well placed AND deserved. Would that our own leaders and those in high positions were as dedicated to the well being of those they have vowed to serve.

And finally, I regret time ran out and I didn't have the opportunity to say "goodbye" to many of my newfound friends, so please know it wasn't intentional to depart without a quick hug, handshake or "wai" (Thai greeting/farewell). Overall, Ray and I thought the Congress was terrific! Some of the lectures and workshops (Regretfully, many overlapped and try as I might I couldn't attend all!) were exceptional. The entertainment was "Majestic" and varied, the weather Great We regret Chiangmai has become so polluted, however! The IVU sessions were informative, sometimes stretched out and strained, but ultimately productive. Accomplishments include:

--Maxwell Lee,long-time vegetarian and IVU member from the UK was re-elected President
--Kevin Pickard, from Toronto, Canada, was elected Vice President
--A new Asian Vegetarian Union was formed
--The next World Vegetarian Congress will be held in Toronto and the following one in Edinburg, Scotland

Important to our cause of educating the masses of the importance of choosing to be vegan, a leading Thai doctor pointed out that Asian diseases unheard of 10 years ago--heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, cancer-- are climbing to the same levels as those in the USA. He noted there was a distinct parallel with the rate of disease and introduction of Western "fast food' outlets in Thailand.

The variety of people from many nations were a wonderful Conference bonus. Unfortunately, time did not permit getting to know more of you. And curiously, the ones we expected to get to know after meeting on the internet, specifically Vanessa and Francisco - we spent possibly a total of two minutes with, they were so frantic tending to other important matters. But thankfully, we did get to know a number of new people and enjoy learning about them.

Alex's workshop on vegetarian guidebooks was very informative, and I would have loved to have learned to carve roses out of vegetables, but couldn't get close enough to see. (A mirror overhead - as in many cooking school labs - would have done much to solve that problem). Finally got to meet Katharina and Katherine, the former who lives in Chiangmai, the latter who lives in Malta. Both were integral participants in Conference, and exceptional assets to our organization.

Charles asked us to mail a postcard from Thailand during our stop in Sydney, Australia. I remembered to give it to our hostess to mail just before we departed for New Zealand, but somehow it ended up in my back pack again, so the postmark will be New Zealand.

We've all been asked to submit recommendations to help make future conferences better. Although Toronto and Edinburg won't have the language and cultural differences experienced in the Far East, the following still might be helpful:


-- Schedule top speakers for more than one lecture would serve two purposes: Allow those conducting another class at the same time an opportunity to attend, and give those attending the other class another chance.

-- Schedule a variety of exercise classes (which everyone needs, especially when keeping such hectic schedules): Suggested times: early a.m., just before lunch - so as to have an empty stomach, and a yoga and/or meditation class after the last event at night would be a great way to wind down and relax to get a good night's sleep.

--And one more suggestion re: exercise: Have someone lead 1 - 3 minute stretch breaks whenever people are required to sit more than 30 to 50 minutes consecutively. It's difficult to concentrate when one's "buns" are getting numb;-)

-- When visiting a foreign country, be certain NEVER to criticize the hosts, particularly in public or in front of local citizens.

--When visiting a foreign country, realize there are bound to be many differences in culture, attitudes and habits, and our habits often seem as barbarian to the natives as theirs might to us (and usually are moreso when all is said and done). But if we wanted the same-old-same-old, we might just as well have stayed at home -and never witness first hand the uniqueness of other lands and peoples.

--Appreciate that frazzled nerves, queasy stomachs, and irate tempers are usually due more to lack of sleep and over-indulgence than to the "thoughtless" person who crossed your way.

For what it's worth: Health is the only true wealth!;-) Gerry Coffey

P.S. Thanks to the wonders of the internet, and people like John Davis to show us the way, we'll still be able to communicate and learn from each other. Keep well, and keep in touch! --gc