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Interviews with Vegetarian/Vegan Activists
August 2009

Centro Vegetariano - Vegetarianismo e VeganismoInterview with Cristina Rodriques of Centro Vegetariano - Portugal

Cristina Rodrigues is leader of Centro Vegetariano - - a vegetarian organisation in Portugal. Cristina kindly agreed to be interviewed for ‘IVU Online News’.

What made you decide to become a vegetarian? When did that happen? How old were you at the time?

It all happened 8 years ago, when I was 23. I realized that I could eat a more healthy diet, while saving the lives of many animals and mitigating environmental problems.

You are a leader of a member society of IVU. How long have you been a leader of this organisation?

I have been the head of Centro Vegetariano since 2004. But I have been with the organisation since 2001, when we decided to create the organisation.

What made you decide to become active in promoting vegetarianism?

When I became aware of the many advantages of the vegetarian diet and lifestyle, back in 2001, there was little information in Portuguese about it. That's why we decided to get active, to pass the word to other people who might be interested and, at the same time, to contribute to a better world.

What is it that sustains your desire to be active?

What motivates me most is that I see the interest in vegetarianism and Centro Vegetariano growing every day. I understand that my organisation is doing good work. Our website is increasingly popular, there are more and more media reports about us, more people and companies interested in becoming members, etc. This inspires us to continue.

What is an obstacle that you face in remaining active in promoting vegetarianism? How do you overcome this obstacle?

The lack of volunteers is an obstacle. We minimise this problem by working in a virtual team that communicates through a mailing list. This way, we can live several kms apart and still work together. 

Another problem is the constant lack of financial resources. We tried to minimise that by negotiating with stores and other businesses for some advantages for our members. We also opened an online veg store on our website, and that really made a difference.

What is one of your organisation’s accomplishments that makes you especially proud?

In 2007, we commissioned a survey to determine the number of vegetarians in Portugal, conducted by the company AC Nielsen. It was the first of its kind in Portugal. We can affirm with 95% confidence that in October 2007, there were 30 thousand vegetarians in Portugal. That was a great achievement for our organisation.

Another great accomplishment was the Vegetarian Week. In 2008, we promoted it for the first time, and it was also quite a success. More than 35 organisations and companies got involved, in 12 different cities. That was enough to get some attention from the media and have people talking about it. This year, we expect no less than that.

How do you try to maintain good relations and enthusiasm amongst your organisation’s members?

We discuss a lot and make an effort to help everyone feel comfortable and involved with the team. All the opinions are welcomed and encouraged, even if not followed. We also try to reward individual merit, as well as share the responsibilities. That is very important.

We offer free membership for people who do actual work, so that no one is prevented by financial reasons from getting involved.

What is one way that your organisation cooperates with other veg organisations?

We are always open to cooperation, national or international. The Vegetarian Week is one example of an international project which I think is being very successful.
At a national level, we always invite other organisations to help us in big projects and help them with theirs, within our means. We've been very supportive of the anti-bullfighting movement, for example. We have produced and distributed leaflets together, and we also advertise their initiatives in our newsletter and magazine.

Do you have any fundraising tips for other organisations?

Clearly, what has worked best for us is the online veg store. As a non-profit, we would have difficulties running the store, so we set up the website and hired it to a friendly company. The company takes care of all the logistic and bureaucratic work, and donates part of the profit to us. This is our main source of financing, with little work for our organisation. Besides, that is an important service to the vegetarian community, since we are providing products which are hard to find in Portugal.

How does your organisation reach out to people who are trying to become veg or who are newly veg?

The most important means is the Internet. Our website is very complete. It has hundreds of articles about different topics, as well as recipes, nutritional tables and many other resources. It indeed attracts thousands of visitors interested in vegetarianism and related topics. But we still use other traditional tools, such as leafleting and distributing free copies of our magazine.

Please share a vegetarian joke with us.

Oh, it's tough to make it look fun. But I can think of tens of ridiculous situations that I've experienced in traditional Portuguese restaurants after saying I'm a vegetarian. The most common answer from the waiter is, “Oh, vegetarian! Very well, I'll get you some fish!” Then, I explain, “Sorry, vegetarians don't eat fish.”, only to hear, “Ah, very well, I'll get you some cod or tuna.”(!)

But perhaps the most embarrassing situation was a wedding party, in which I was served a different soup. However, I noticed it contained ground meat. I called the waiter and explained, “Sorry, I'm a vegetarian, I don't eat meat.”, only to hear, “Ah, sure, we know you're vegetarian, that's why we prepared that soup. The meat is all ground up, you won't even notice it.”