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EVANA interview with Mateus Mendes from Portugal about the ‘International Vegetarian Week’'The vegetarian diet is much more environment-friendly. It cuts one link out of the food chain. It is perhaps the most important lifestyle change required to reduce global warming'
The general interest in vegetarianism is growing and more and more VIPs are getting involved in the promotion of this compassionate and beneficial way of life. In November 2009, Brigitte Bardot called for a European Vegetarian Day. Some weeks later Paul McCartney and Dr. Rajendra K. Pachauri spoke at the European Parliament promoting vegetarianism as a most effective weapon in the fight against climate change: "Less Meat = Less Heat." They recommended the introduction of one meatless day per week to help cut CO2 emissions.
Another proof of the increased importance of a vegetarian lifestyle was the great success of the “International Vegetarian Week 2009” in which non-governmental organizations (NGO) from many countries were involved. We wanted to know more about the meatless week and asked Mateus Mendes who is promoting it so very successfully.
EVANA: Mateus, you must be very pleased with the success of the “International Vegetarian Week 2009”. Did you expect this great international interest?
Mateus Mendes: Sure I'm very pleased. It's quite rewarding to see things working. When it all started I expected some response but definitely things turned out to be much better than I thought.
Question: What is the aim of the Vegetarian Week?
Answer: There have been national and regional vegetarian weeks in the past, organised at national or local levels. So we thought: Why not join efforts and help each other?
The aim of this Vegetarian Week is, therefore, mostly to share ideas and resources so that we can have many organsations promoting the vegetarian lifestyle at about the same time. By working together we can achieve much more with less effort than by working separately.
Question: How do you organise this Vegetarian Week, with so many people and organisations involved?
Answer: The campaign is split in three different levels: International, National and Local.
At the International level we only share ideas and resources such as design templates. Most, if not all, of the material produced goes to the Vegetarian Week website.
At the National level it is up to national organisations. They adapt the templates to their own needs, translate materials and promote the Vegetarian Week in their countries.
At the local level it is up to organisations, companies and individuals, who arrange the events and promote specific campaigns in the week.
Question: What NGOs have participated and in how many countries?
Answer: In 2009 we have records of events in 12 different countries. We didn't keep track of all the events at an international level – there have surely been hundreds of them. We have the information that countries such as Portugal, Italy, New Zealand and others have really been very busy.
Question: Is participation limited to vegetarian organizations or can other NGOs also take part?
Answer: Everyone can help and is encouraged to do so. It's just a matter of seeing where they fit. Cooperation at the international level is more appropriate for experienced activists or organisations who can contribute with campaigning materials. The national level is more appropriate for organisations that can adapt the template materials available in the website and promote the Vegetarian Week in their respective countries. As for the rest, everyone can join in - use the materials available or produce their own, organise events, divulge and do whatever they can to promote the vegetarian lifestyle. That is making the Vegetarian Week.
Question: What assistance and materials (posters, designs, labels etc) are you able to offer?
Answer: Currently there are templates for posters, leaflets, press releases, banners and other material on the website. Everyone is free to download the templates, translate and adapt the materials for their own needs – if used to promote the vegetarian lifestyle, that is OK.
Question: Has the food industry shown an interest and, if not, do you have plans and ideas about how to get companies on board?
Answer: Yes, many companies have become involved by promoting workshops, talks, or simply offering discounts during Vegetarian Week. Especially restaurants have shown great interest. I believe many more will join in the coming years. After all, this is also a way for them to promote their products and services.
Question: This project aims at addressing the public instead of remaining within the circle of vegetarians, like so many others. What issues are the most attractive and interesting to meateaters?
Answer: People like things that help break their routine. Vegetarian Week is an opportunity to try something different. For example, many restaurants promoted campaigns like “bring a meat eater to try a vegetarian meal and he can have lunch for 1 euro.” This attracts people to sample vegetarian food for the first time. It's an opportunity to try something exotic and it helps breaking some reluctance that may exist.
Question: Do you think it possible that the regrettable Copenhagen flop can become a motivation for those involved in future Vegetarian Weeks to go the extra mile?
Answer: The vegetarian diet is much more environment-friendly. It cuts one link out of the food chain. It is perhaps the most important lifestyle change required to reduce global warming – and yet it is much simpler than other measures, such as stopping the use of cars. So yes, the fact that Copenhagen failed is yet another reason for us to double efforts.
Question: What are your plans and hopes for Vegetarian Week 2010?
Answer: So far the preparations are going quite well. Many organisations have informed us that they will promote Vegetarian Week and many outstanding people have confirmed their support. Hence, I am very confident that Vegetarian Week 2010 will be even stronger than the previous ones – it is gaining momentum.
Question: You are very involved in the Portuguese Vegetarian Centre which runs a great number of activities during the Vegetarian Weeks. What are the priorities of that community?
Answer: The Portuguese Vegetarian Centre is a very active organisation. Its most important tool and means of communication is the website. It is updated almost on a daily basis and it is a very complete source of recipes, restaurant list and almost everything for vegetarians. The Centre also promotes many campaigns on a regular basis, including Vegetarian Week. For 2010 it has an important project, an “Academic Merit Award,” which will give a 500 Euros prize for a remarkable academic work about the vegetarian lifestyle.
Moreover we are promoting vegetarianism in Portugal, which is not yet a veggie-friendly nation. However, things are improving at an impressive rate. The number of vegetarian restaurants *) has more than tripled in the last 9 years and we are updating the list almost every month as a free service for Portuguese vegetarians and tourists.
Question: One last question: How do you expect the international vegetarian community to develop over the next years?
Answer: I expect fairly great improvements. Although the consumption of meat is still increasing, I think that a dietary change will be inevitable. Unfortunately, mankind has a lot of inertia – we don't change when we should, but only when we have to. And we will have to find a sustainable way of living. That can be the consumption of vegan flesh grown in laboratories or the consumption of no flesh at all, but that is the way to go. Vegetarian activists have an important word to say about this and help to make it happen sooner rather than later.
EVANA: Mateus, we thank you for taking the time to answer our questions and wish you a happy 2010 and, of course, lots of success for the next “International Vegetarian Week” in October 2010.
Mateus: Thank you too EVANA, for the great work in promoting a change towards a better world!
Link: International Vegetarian Week Promoters
Link: International Vegetarian Week Supporters
Link: Portuguese Vegetarian Centre
Link: Selected pictures
Other EVANA-articles about this topic:
Invitation to join the International Vegetarian Week Campaign (en)
EVANA introduces promoters of the Vegetarian Week: Animal Life Foundation, a Dutch charity (en)