Vegetarians in Paradise takes great pride in presenting its 24 Carrot Award to John Davis of the International Vegetarian Union and acknowledging his accomplishments in promoting the work of that organization. Since 1995 he has been IVU webmaster creating and maintaining the organization's website. During that time he has researched the history of the organization as well as the history of vegetarianism culminating in over 10,000 historical files on the IVU website.
Since 2006 Davis has held the prestigious title of IVU Manager and played an active role in the IVU's 100th anniversay in 2008. During his IVU tenure he has attended the organizations congresses and other events in many countries, including Brazil, China, Germany, India, Italy, Indonesia, Scotland, Spain, Switzerland, Thailand, and the United States.
He takes pride in the fact that the he had the opportunity to support the first vegetarian congresses ever held in Africa because of funds raised by IVU.
What follows are the questions asked by Vegetarians in Paradise (VIP) and the answers by John Davis (JD).
JD: In 1995 I was running some websites for UK veg groups and we were looking for funding. I contacted the then General Secretary of IVU (the role no longer exists) who didn't have much money to offer, but asked me to set up an IVU website as well. Eventually I passed all the others on to other people, but continued with IVU myself.
In 1997 I was co-opted onto the International Council, during a European Congress in Italy, then at the 1999 Congress in Thailand I was elected to the council. However the work of running the website was getting time consuming, so the Council agreed to pay me a small fee. That meant I had to resign the elected position but was made an ex-officio non-voting member, so I still can join in all the discussions.
By 2006 I had taken on various other responsibilities as more and more was being done online, so I was designated as IVU Manager, and have continued in that role.
VIP: Some of our readers may not be familiar with the IVU. Could you give them information about the major goals and activities of the organization?
JD: The main objective is to promote organised vegetarianism around the world. This is a little different to just promoting veg*ism to individuals, we want existing veg*ans to work together to promote the cause.
To do that we encourage the formation of organizations; promotion of international gatherings; fund raising; information sharing; and anything else which can help to achieve that objective. We currently have 120 member organizations worldwide.
VIP: What are some of the major accomplishments of the IVU?
JD: As VegParadise readers are mainly in the USA, the one that stands out is the 1975 IVU World Vegetarian Congress, held in Maine and the first such event in North America. It is generally recognised by historians as having kick-started the organized veg movement in the region.
In more recent years the priorities have been in the developing world. We had the first World Veg Congress in Latin America in 2004; the first veg congress of any sort in Africa in 2007; now we have events in the Middle East, China, and many places that we couldn't reach in the past.
VIP: The IVU has held many conferences around the world. What countries have hosted these events since you have been involved? What were some of the high spots for you personally?
JD: There have been congresses on every continent, and I've been to all of them except Africa -- but I'm planning to be at the East African Congress in Nigeria, Kenya, in December 2010.
The events that stand out for me are probably the 2004 IVU Congress in Brazil, and the centenary Congress in Dresden, Germany, 2008. But there have been many others, and all the result of a huge amount of work by local organizers.
VIP: You've done considerable research on the history of IVU. What dignitaries and celebrities were involved in the organization? Are there any unusual historical tidbits you might share?
JD: IVU is a union of the member societies, founded in 1908, so celebrities have tended to be associated with those societies, rather than directly with IVU itself.
The thing that seems to surprise many Americans is that the first American Vegetarian Society was founded in 1850 -- despite the common myth that it was all invented by the hippies in the 1960s. In fact, there were important American vegetarians in the 1830s, such as Sylvester Graham whose name lives on in Graham Crackers.
George Bernard Shaw was prominent member of the UK Society, and Mahatma Gandhi was on the committee of the London Vegetarian Society while he was a law student there.
VIP: Some people might call you a "computer techie" because of your experience in creating websites. What are some of the significant internet websites you have helped to create?
JD: No, I'm not a 'techie' in that I've never really been that interested in the technology itself. My career has been mostly in communicating with people. When I first got onto the primitive internet in the early 1990s it was just obvious that this was the greatest communications tool ever created. I just taught myself enough of the technical stuff to be able to make full use of it.
In 1994 I was involved with the first website for the Vegetarian Society UK; then in 1995 Viva (Vegetarians International Voice for Animals) and EVU (European Vegetarian Union). I've been able to help out a bit with various others along the way, but these days I rely on genuine techies for the clever stuff.
VIP: Anyone visiting the IVU website will find a treasure trove of information. What are some of the highlights you would like to share with our readers?
JD: The unique achievement of the IVU website is undoubtedly the historical info available on vegetarianism. That just doesn't exist anywhere else online. We have about 10,000 files, many of them contributed by people around the world sending in the results of their own research.
However the most popular section is always the 3,000+ vegan recipes, again sent in by countless visitors over the years.
VIP: Other than IVU, which organizations do you belong to and support?
JD: Mostly local community groups where I live in rural England, dealing with wildlife, local history, etc.
VIP: Looking into your crystal ball, what predictions would you dare to make for the progress of the vegetarian movement during the next twenty years?
JD: The major development will be the end of most of the vegetarian societies. The traditional route of the paying subs, electing a committee at an AGM, posting a printed newsletter etc. The internet is having a huge impact on all of this with the creation of informal meetup groups, online news and info, and far more opportunities for non-profit business models.
Within a few years I would expect only the biggest of the traditional societies to remain in existence, and even they will have to review how they are organized. This obviously poses major issues for IVU in how we can most appropriately encourage veg*ns to work together in the future. We have to be much more flexible now as things are changing faster all the time.
VIP: What personal experiences led you to vegetarianism/veganism?
JD: It was eventually a family decision about 30 years ago. I had 'dabbled' on and off in the 1970s, and in the end it was just the right thing to do for all the usual reasons.
VIP: Of all of your personal accomplishments, which ones give you the most pride and satisfaction?
JD: That would have to be the fund raising for first West African Congress in 2007. All the hard work was done by Emmanuel Eyoh in Nigeria. I just had to persuade people around the world to donate the money for it, and then hope it all worked. It did and we've since supported a 2nd one in Ghana.
VIP: How do your friends and relatives react to your emphasis on a plant-based diet?
JD: In the UK it's not an issue. Virtually all catering establishments offer some sort of vegetarian food, of very variable quality, and purely vegan is always that much harder. But the principle is just routine now, so there is rarely much of a reaction from anyone.
VIP: What personal goals have you set for yourself in the coming years?
JD: I want to do more traveling, visiting lots of the great veg*ns I've been talking to online all these years. Later this year I'm planning to go to Indonesia, Australia, India, China, Kenya and Dubai -- so if anyone reading this is in any of those countries, do get in touch!
VIP: We understand you are not a city dweller. Would you share information about your home and the surrounding area?
JD: I grew up in the country because our city had been bombed in WWII and my parents moved out. After working in the city again for many years, my wife, Hazel, and I decided about ten years ago that it was time to move out again.
We now live in a very small village near the border with Wales. Working online has no set time schedules, so if the sun is shining I can just go for a walk in the countryside and deal with all the emails when I get back. I've recently started doing some more wildlife photography again, a slightly unusual collection as it's all from my office window, see http://www.oswild.org/hobnob/photos