SPECIAL ISSUE: WORLD VEGETARIAN CONGRESS 2012
This year, the event was supercharged by the arrival of the World Congress of the International Vegetarian Union. Thousands of people came — some over thousands of miles — to see and taste new products, to share information and updates.
The tenor of the event, orchestrated beautifully by Dixie Mahy and Joseph Cadiz, was energetic and upbeat. A dinner at Millennium restaurant opened the event. How lovely to share a table with four energetic proponents of Aktivisto Veg, a new group in Brazil! (Their name, lest the reader wonder, isn’t Portuguese; it’s Esperanto.)
A panelist from the Brazilian Vegetarian Society, Marly Winckler (pictured), described the group's distinctly bold take on the meatless-Monday idea. The society has advanced Segunda Sem Carne (Monday Without Meat, in Portuguese) project, and today two million vegan meals a week are being served in Sao Paulo; no less than 3,000 public schools and cultural institutes participate.
Winckler understands the critics of the meatless-Monday idea who say it doesn’t go far enough. “But the critics should understand,” says Winckler, “In this case, we’re not asking anyone to switch to eggs.”
School principals learn, then, that simply switching from sausages to an egg-based meal won’t do: the point is to serve creative meals that do not rely on animal agribusiness. Because this is happening through a municipal system of this size and reach, and because its expansion will directly save rainforest in the most biodiverse land on the planet, this extra-strength version of Meatless Monday is a welcome success. When the volunteers speak with school administrators one-on-one, they encourage a complete dietary shift — every day.
And they are gaining adherents. Winckler explains, “Once people get acclimated to being weekly vegans through this project, we advocates are no longer seen as strange. People are willing to pick up a vegan cookbook or literature when they feel they know what it’s like to be one of us.”
The project has gained the support of Oxfam, a non-profit which has traditionally supported animal agribusiness to address world hunger. We hope the Brazilian Vegetarian Society can make enough of an impression for Oxfam to turn over a new leaf.
“We Don’t Eat Our Friends”
Priscilla Feral, a panelist on behalf of Friends of Animals, recalled dispelling the idea that wealthy visitors to African countries show respect by serving the flesh of animals at gatherings. At a dinner held in Kenya, guests’ bewilderment turned to appreciation when the host announced, “We’re Friends of Animals. And we don’t eat our friends.”
The idea that Africans must consume animal products is a staple of animal shippers not only at Oxfam, but also at Heifer International, World Vision, Send A Cow, and many other decades-old meat-peddling charities. But Priscilla shared the Animal People review of Friends of Animals’ first cookbook, Dining With Friends: The Art of North American Vegan Cuisine. The review described a multi-course meal prepared fairly faithfully from the cookbook in South Africa, quoting approving commentary from the testers.
Jasmijn de Boo of The Vegan Society in England and Freya Dinshah of the American Vegan Society shared recent successes, and one of these is the offering of academic credits for student chefs preparing a gourmet vegan meal at Carême's in Mays Landing, New Jersey. On the menu at the Autumn Harvest dinner at the Academy of Culinary Arts, in collaboration with the American Vegan Society, was (drum roll, please)…
Citrus and jalapeño mushroom ceviche with crisped plantains. Spiced cauliflower soup with curried chickpea fritters. A salad of baby greens with roasted apples, toasted pecans, puffed cinnamon wheat berries and cider vinaigrette, accompanied by focaccia with roasted tomato oil. A Swiss chard and potato strudel served with peach-hued lentils, caramelized sweet onions and chutney. And a tart made of local pears, walnuts and apricot jam.
The American Vegan Society has made this a series, and the seasonal events at Carême's are sold out each time, with upwards of 60 people enjoying the kitchen tours and conversations with the student chefs, as well as the fine meals, and “scholarship” tickets are available so that everyone can afford to attend.
One moment of the “best practices” session flagged us to remember how campaigners can completely forget about the animals living on nature’s terms. Asked by panel host Dilip Barman about the use of graphic images as a campaign method, one panelist said it’s important to show animals in situations other than torment. They need to be seen living “completely naturally” — so the panelist recommended showing animals in sanctuaries.
We’ve lost sight of the goal if confinement (even well-meaning confinement) is what we deem natural. Living without animal agribusiness is not just kindness to farm animals; it’s a statement that other animals lived on this planet long before we bred them to suit our purposes, and they still do. By declining to eat them, we also free up space on this planet so that genuine freedom for other animals is celebrated.
Fondue is Back
Speaking of celebrated, Miyoko Schinner, of the wonderful new cookbook Artisan Vegan Cheese, offered a brilliantly entertaining vegan cheese-making demo that deserves be shown to a much wider audience. The good news is: It will be! Vegan Mashup, the latest offering from producer Betsy Carson at Delicious TV, is now available to public television stations throughout the United States. Starring Schinner and a host of other vegan chefs preparing dishes in real kitchens — their own — the show has already started airing in California. The sponsorship of Friends of Animals helped to make it possible by supplying much-needed funding for the project. So please ask the public cable channel in your area to air Vegan Mashup.