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Going Dutch

I spent a couple of days in Amsterdam last week, at a joint meeting between the Vegetarian Society UK and the Nederlandse Vegetariërsbond (NVB, founded 1894).

They were two of the three founding members of the International Vegetarian Union in 1908. The British, German and Dutch Vegetarian Societies met in Dresden, Germany, and received letters of support from 13 other groups around the world which were unable to attend in person.

Since then NVB has hosted four IVU World Vegetarian Congresses, in 1913, 1950, 1971 and 1994 – only the Germans, Indians and British have hosted more, so NVB has made a major contribution to the development of IVU.

IVU has never existed as a separate organisation, right from the start it was simply a Union of the member societies, meeting together and sharing resources where they could. It still works in basically the same way today, though now with about 120 member groups on every continent of the world.

On the right is Hugo Nolthenius, President of NVB, and therefore President of IVU for the three years leading up to the 1913 Congress. When IVU activities resumed after the First World War, he was elected as IVU treasurer. His colleague, Mr van Borrendam, became the first long term IVU President in the 1930s.

Below is the group photo of the 1913 IVU Congress at The Hague:

In 1987, Rob Snijders, Director of NVB, oversaw the full legal establishment of the European Vegetarian Union. He became the General Secretary and led EVU from the NVB office in Amsterdam (I worked with him to build the first EVU website) until 1995 when it moved to Switzerland.

The meeting I attended was funded by the (political) European Union as part of a project to encourage community groups from EU countries to provide cross-border adult education opportunities. It was a good chance for me visit the NVB offices, meet some of their staff, and learn a lot about the work they do today.

Most of our time was taken up with the two days of meetings, but naturally we got out and about a little in between.  We tried a couple of the many veg restaurants, and I particularly liked the one run by some people from Suriname, a former Dutch colony in South America.

One of the major campaigns run by NVB is their National Vegetarian Restaurant Week – apparently there is a tradition in the Netherlands of restaurants taking different themes for a week, offering extra menu items and discounts. NVB have made use of this to attract a lot of interest for their annual vegetarian week.

Part of our discussions were about the significant increase in the number of people who like eating more vegetarian food, but do want to ‘be vegetarian’ – now often known as ‘flexitarians’. Apparently the Dutch language has the advantage of two separate words for ‘vegetarian food’ and ‘vegetarian people’ – that would be useful in English too!

At the end of day two we had some spare time before the flight home, so I took a ride on one of the tour boats going around the canals – Amsterdam is built on dozens canals and most buildings are next to one. The tour took us past all the major landmarks, including Anne Frank’s house. Below is a photo from the boat, near the heart of the city, showing a succession of bridges along one of the canals, and below that is a typical skyline thru the glass roof of the boat:

For vegan history, see my free e-book: ‘World Veganism – past, present and future.” You can download it for free, or replace your existing copy at: (6mb)

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