International Vegetarian Union (IVU)
IVU logo

23rd IVU World Vegetarian Congress 1975
Orono, Maine, USA

from pages 8 & 9 of The Vegetarian (UK), October 1975:


maine line to Maine

Dr. Tessa Unthank joins the veg-adventure of the year

After bidding farewell to our summer crop of wilting undergraduates on August 14, that very same evening we were en route to Orono, Maine, over 1,300 long hot miles from York Cottage, Kentucky. Thise miles were covered in a Superbeetle containing besides yur correspondent, a 6ft. 200lb. husband, an 80lb Golden Retreiver, and the usual bandboxes of drip-dries. Although the American speed limit has been firmly set at 55 mph for months now, by cheating outrageousl in places we made Orono by August 16 for the opening of the World Vegetarian Congress on the pleasant campus of the University of Maine.

Strangely enough on the way we passed a restaurant called The Jolly Butcher (yuk!) just south of Brattleboro and then, as we drove into Portland, Maine, we saw a V shaped trail in the cloudless sky, a much happier sign. Certainly a happy atmosphere permeated all we saw and did in the necessarily hectic days we spent at Orono. Hectic because we had to drive the 1,300 miles back to Kentucky for the opening of the college's Fall Semester on August 25.

Because we had Chipsa, our retriever, we could not stay on the campus so we lodged at a pleasant motel five minutes drive away.

At the risk of sounding lyrical I must record that it was a memorable experience to sit in the packed Memorial Gymnasium that fist evening and hear Dr. Gordon Latto, President of the International Vegetarian Union and also of the Vegetarian Society of the United Kingdom, denounce in his rich Scots voice, the horrors of "the slaughter-r-r-r-r-houses". He really made that foul word sound like the malediction it is and if there were any non-believers in vegetarianism present I am sure he made converts right there. In addition to Gordon there was a fascinating group of speakers - and listeners - from all over the world. As one New Yorker commented, "Here is a United Nations that really does have a common purpose."

Many of the stalwarts of our vegetarian movement were there, people who have worked devotedly over the years and who cannot be catalogued in this small space - Isabel James, Dr.Richard St.Barbe Baker, and octogenarian "Woody" Kahler, past president of the IVU, who invited everyone to his birthday party on February 6, 2000.

Inevitably as in any parge gathering of cosmopolites, there was a gallimaufry of characters who were so far out they were in.

And there were the Westerners who had become so determinedly Eastern that they outdid the genuine article, swishing around in tangerine togs under newly-acquired exotic names. Fortunately for our movement's image there was, as always, a good solid core of unpretentious, just-plain-folks who needed no gimmicks and were there solely to concentrate on lessening the suffering of what many speakers referred to, in the classic Franciscan manner as "our younger brothers and sister, the creatures".

Possibly it may sound fanciful and out of character coming from one whose main field of study has been the cool Age of Reason but, all exhibitionism aside, on that hot Maine evening, in that crowded gym, there was an almost palpable emanation of unity, of goodwill, of positive thinking about vegetarianism that very obviously affected many besides myself. And I venture to say that no one was unaffected when magnificent Scott Nearing, accompanied by his gelightful and vital Helen, strode to the platform. The audience rose spontaneously and clapped thunderously for several minutes. My black neighbour was moved to tears.

It was inevitable that Scott, an incredible 92, and Helen, should steal the show, as they deserved for their courage in bucking the materialistic-carnivorous trend long ago when it was absolutely unheard of. They have lived to vindicate their beliefs and over 2,500 pairs of feet beat a path to their door every year. The Nearing Monday lecture was packed and the young were well in evidence, a good sign. Questions about homesteading and vegetarianism were thoughtful and pertinent. Although Scott and Helen had corresponded with me in the past in consequence of a letter of mine in Time defending meatlessness, those 1,300 miles had precluded our meeting until now but we made up for lost time. We drove the seventy miles from Orono to their Harborside retreat, taking winding country roads with frequent sea views and toured their beautifully-walled kitchen garden and their peaceful acres on which they are building a second house overlooking the bay. Meantime they live in a benign old frame farmhouse that seemed to reflect the serenity of its owners and the quiet order of their lives. The terrain is quite different from that of Kentucky and I felt briefly, as if I were back in my native Yorkshire. I can pay a place no greater compliment.

The catering committee must have had many gargantuan headaches in planning meals for vegans, lacto-vegetarians, raw-fooders, and, as the Maine Sunday Telegram expressed it, "A group from India (which) will eat nothing that grow below ground while another group from India won't drink water that has been drawn through a pipe." I did hear praise for the good quality of the fruit served at Wells Commons and for the imaginative toppings on the wholewheat pizzas.

Besides the Telegram just mentioned, other papers such as the Bangor Daily News gave good coverage and pictures of the Congress and, besides local radio and TV spots, there was TV coverage as far south as Tennessee and Kenticky, as interested friends rushed to tell us.

There was something for everybody among the lecture topics, from 6.30 am Yoga classes to advice on how to raise healthy vegetarian pets. There were also exhibits and sales of organic foods, handcrafted items, and lots of useful "freebies" in the way of pamphlets and booklets. The University bookstore also had a good display of books specially interesting to vegetarians.

There is a saying in America, usually applied to politics, which goes something like, "As Maine goes, so goes the nation". Let's hope that the dynamic goodwill, overall friendliness, common-sense and compassion so very evident at this 23rd World Vegetarian Congress will be carried away by our members to all the parts of the globe from which they came so that many others will be moved to join us. Then, eventually, historians might be able to write, "As Orono, Maine, went in August 1975, so went the rest of the world".





Britons play an important part in the International Vegetarian Union - Isabel James (left), VSUK Deputy Chairman, is newly elected secretary for the IVU European Region; Jack Lucas (centre), Scientific Adviser to The Vegetarian Society, is Chairman of SCIVU, Science Council of the IVU; Brian Gunn-King, from Northern Ireland, is the indefatigable General Secretary of the IVU. Isabel has exciting plans for the European Region, hopes to strengthen the ties, and arrangea Regional Congress during alternate years. Jack Lucas was well-pleased with the tremendous interest shown at the Congress in the scientific activities of SCIVU. Their information bulletin was felt to be of great importance, and this should be expanding still further with the collation and distribution of vital information between member countries. A new suggestion put forward was the formation of small, specialist groups who will study in depth the really topical subjects, such as fatty acids and textured vegetable proteins. So much more can be achieved collectively than individually, and it is gratifying to find the British leading the way to international co-operation, with Brian Gunn-King already busy planning the next World Vegetarian Congress.

No Congress would be complete without them - Woodland Kahler, Marquis de St.Innocent, and Shri Jayantilal N.Mankar, Secretary of the Bombay Humanitarian League. Woody, as he is known to one and all, is immediate Past President.of the International Vegetarian Union and was Honorary Chairman of the 23rd World Vegetarian Congress. Mankar is IVU General Secretary for Asia and has long been a key figure in the Indian vegetarian movement. Both men are over 80, have been active in humanitarian work for a good portion of their lives - and neither shows any sign of flagging for a long while yet!

It's not a bit like school - children at the Congress responded enthusiastically to their very own classes. This one is being run by Nat Altman, author of the well-researched book on vegetarianism, Eating for Life, and the subject is Growing up Healthy.On other days they heard about Our Friends, The Animals, learned about what they should eat, discussed the problems of vegetarian children. When the serious business was over they were provided with everything from modelling clay and paints to toys of every description. But undoubtedly the most important thing for most of them was simply the contact with other kids who didn't eat meat, reinforcing their own families' vegetarian beliefs.

More eloquent than a thousand words - Maharaj Bir Singh Ji of the Namdhari Sikhs expresses Inida's message of compassion by means of the age-old tradition of song and music, a foretaste of what is in store for visitors to the 24th World Vegetarian Congress in India, 1977.

Living the good life - Scott Nearing and his wife Helen spoke on homesteading at the Congress, have shown by practical example that it's possible to reject the materialistic approach of our time and return to the land. An inspiration to young people everywhere, the Nearings drew capacity audiences, said that they receive some 2,000 visitors a year. Vegetarians Helen and Scott, who live almost entirely on home grown produce, also gave lectures on natural gardening methods. Clear-thinking and physically active at 92, Scott is a great advertisement for the simple life, and visitors to the Congress had a unique opportunity to visit thier holding in Maine, and see what pioneering's all about.

T he casual companionship of the Congress - three young Americans provide impromptu music in the open air. The steps outside Wells Commons, the central dining area, were a popular spot for chatting casually with a variety of folk in the warm summer sunshine. Many of the youngsters came to vegetarianism through yoga, and there were classes held on the lawn early every morning. The enthusiasm of these young people, their energy and idealism, provided older vegetarians with renewed hope for the future. And their uninhibited capacity for enjoyment meant that between lectures and serious discussions there was plenty of real fun.