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Mediterranean Vegfest a Success!
By Vanessa Clarke
IVU News - March 2000

The Mediterranean vegetarian festival in Malta at the beginning of this month was such a success thatplans are already afoot for a similar event in southern Europe. The next VegFest will take place at the beginning of April next year by the seaside resort of Pitan just a few miles south of Trieste.

The Maltese event, which ran from World Vegetarian Day through World Farm Animals Day, Gandhi's birthday and the Feast of St Francis of Assisi, certainly provided something for everyone. Participants from more than a dozen countries and three continents converged upon the smallest nation state on earth, an influx equivalent to 7,000 vegetarians descending on an event in the UK or 20,000 on North America. Thanks to the warmth and kindness of our Maltese hosts, as well as the glorious weather and seaside location the event turned out to be one of the happiest and most united veggie gatherings I have ever attended!

The inaugural ceremony set the tone for the whole festival, with Francisco Martin and Marcel Hebbelinck both in sparkling form. Other participants includedSigrid De Leo, Claude Pasquini, Jashu Shah, and even a member of the VUNA board, so it was something of a [very] mini world congress and great to see everyone in holiday mood and getting along so well together. A particular treat was the afternoon that Francisco and I spent with Sigrid and Claude and the Hebbelincks at the home of former spealer of the Maltese parliament and Minister of the Environment, Dr.Daniel Micallef, who turned out to have a 3,00 year-old tomb inbhis garden and another under his study [accessed through a none too solid trapdoor in the middle of the floor].

More orthodox excursions included temples twice that age on both Malta and Gozo, the beautiful cities of Medina and Valletta and many other fascinating places. We also visited the Island Dog Sanctuary and met representatives of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the European Anti-Hunting Federation, an important aim for many delegates being to help our Maltese friends put a stop to the barbaric shooting and netting of migratory birds - an outdated horror equivalent to foxhunting in the UK and bullfighting in Spain. A particularly welcome innovation was the decision not to confine people indoors all day but to have talks all morning and then go out in the afternoon, with an all-day excursion at the end of the festival rather than in the middle.

French veggie chef Jean-Claude Juston's food was such a success that the hotel manager now wishes to incorporate vegan dishes in the standard menu - a development barely conceivable even just a few months ago.

The quality of the speakers and the professionalism of the Maltese organisers brought considerable media interest and the Maltese VegSoc have been given a weekly television slot for the next three months as a result. So quite a lot was achieved in building on the hard work of the local society and bringing the veggie message to a culture traditionally somewhat suspicious of it. Any idea of vegetarians being weaker than meat eaters had been demolished from the outset as bemused locals and visitors at the Suncrest observed a 75-year-old British delegate - two metres tall, a world war II navy commander and vegan for decades - racing out for a quick swim between lectures accompanied by an equally impressive, equally vegan and not all that much shorter lady aged 80.

As for the organisers, it was refreshing indeed to work with such honest and honourable people, dedicated to a common cause and without the slightest trace of self- interest of any kind. They even gave up sleeping so as to be able to collect people from the airport at midnight, four in the morning or any other time - a wonderfully welcome and welcoming gesture which will long be remembered. Special thanks from all of us to John Darmanin, Katherine and George Azzopardi, Margaret Grech and all their friends, and of course the inimitable Jean-Claude Juston. All in all, quite an act to follow - but there is every prospect that the similarly young and enthusiastic society in Slovenia will come up wityh an equally memorable event in the spring to coincide with their own mational vegetarian festival. So make sure to keep a space in your diary for that event too!

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