October is World Vegetarian Month, and this year the NZ Vegetarian Society celebrates 75 years. It is a good time to reflect on the societal change towards health, the environment and animal rights.
Step back in time to 1979 and you’ll find vegetarianism described in the NZ Herald as an “extreme cult diet” and “food faddism”. Doctors quoted from the British Medical Journal declared “zealous adherents of an extreme faddist diet… may be mentally ill.”
Since it was formed in 1943 the NZ Vegetarian Society has been a pioneer in this field. “To find such ignorance in today’s probing world is simply astonishing,” was the spirited retort to those 1979 claims.
By 1984 there was progress: “Vegetarians no longer ‘unusual’” headlined the NZ Herald. “Regarded as oddities 40 years ago, vegetarians are increasingly being accepted in New Zealand society.”
No longer just accepted but embraced, today vegetarianism is seen as a kinder, healthier, more sustainable lifestyle. It’s considered by many to be the answer to the global warming and water shortage crises threatening the world today. Veganism is experiencing unprecedented growth and popularity, with athletes and celebrities joining the lifestyle.
The face of vegetarianism has changed dramatically over the last century.
A “meatless meal” offered to “such people” back in the 1970s would often be a ham omelette. Today almost all restaurants have vegetarian, and often vegan, items on the general menu and fully vegetarian restaurants and fast food outlets are popping up everywhere.
“In the past, several members of the NZ Vegetarian Society have been told by doctors they will die if they do not eat meat,” said Mr Conrad Jamieson, NZ Vegetarian Society President in 1984. “I was one of them – and I’m still okay after 40 years.”
Interestingly, it’s now being proven that what the NZ Vegetarian Society and its members were saying all those years ago is true.
An article titled “No longer a diet just for rabbits” in a 1979 NZ Women’s Weekly wrote that vegetarians claimed, “Illnesses such as gout, heart disease and bowel cancers have been linked to a meat diet. They also have reduced body odour…There is lack of scientific evidence for these claims.”
Forty years on it is widely recognised that a plant-based diet significantly reduces the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, and some cancers, particularly bowel cancer.
With the World Health Organisation announcing that processed red meat is carcinogenic (cancer forming) and red meat probably is too, and the American Dietetic Association stating that well-planned vegetarian and vegan diets are appropriate for individuals during all life stages, there’s substantial evidence that a plant-based diet is a healthy choice. And it’s clearly better for the animals too.
Last century it wasn’t easy being vegetarian. There were challenges both culturally and food-wise. But it’s easy now.
Greater knowledge, growing variety of food products and our multi-cultural cuisine means a plant-based diet is simple, economical and delicious.
This month, the NZ Vegetarian Society is looking back at all the hard work its members have done to help vegetarianism / veganism get to where it is now. From introducing humane stunning at abattoirs in the early days, to certifying vegetarian and vegan foods now, there’s been a lot to do.
“I find it so rewarding to see how the aspirations of the founders of the NZVS - to bring about the cessation of cruelty and suffering of animals by encouraging everyone to follow a plant-based diet - are being fulfilled,” says Margaret Johns, past NZVS president. “The work of NZ Vegetarian Society volunteers and members over the past 75 years has provided a great base for the acceptance of veg~nism as a natural way of life, increased the awareness of New Zealanders to the inhumane treatment of animals - and provided numerous campaigners for the rights of animals.”
Current NZVS President, Julia Clements, notes that “It has changed, in that instead of asking me why I was vegetarian, it’s now how?”
On Labour Weekend, the NZ Vegetarian Society will celebrate with guests from South to the Far North, during a weekend which includes a posh vegan Anniversary Dinner at its first Vegetarian Society Approved hotel restaurant, Hectors, a “Café Crawl” in Ponsonby and a “Movie & Munch” family night.
Everyone is welcome and dinner guests will receive a goody bag worth over $50, donated by various NZVS certified companies. Tickets can be purchased via www.vegetarian.org.nz.