MC (m): It is our pleasure to introduce our next speaker, Mr. Wim Coenen. He's from Belgium. He is the partnership coordinator of EVA or Ethical Vegetarian Alternative, a Belgian organization promoting a healthy vegetarian lifestyle in a positive and appetizing way since the year 2000. In May 2009, the city of Ghent, inspired by EVA, chose to permanently promote Thursdays as a day for avoiding all animal products. Many cities around the world are following this example with São Paulo in Brazil, being the biggest one so far. MC (f): Wow, How amazing is that!
MC (m): Mr. Coenen´s wife, Ms. Jovanka Steele, has also come from Belgium to be with us. She is an EVA volunteer. Let's give a big welcome to Mr. Wim Coenen.
Supreme Master Ching Hai: Yes. Wim Coenen Partnership Coordinator, EVA (Ethical Vegetarian Alternative) Vegan Belgium Coenen (m): Thank you very much, thank you. Thank you. Hallo, Supreme Master Ching Hai.
Supreme Master Ching Hai: Hallo there!
Coenen (m): Hallo, everyone. First of all, my wife Jovanka and I would like to thank you for your gracious invitation. And we also bring you warm greetings from Marie-Jeanne Frédérique who started Belgium's first vegan sanctuary that was awarded your Shining World Compassion Award for her organization, ASBL Fabienne, where both of us volunteer regularly. So thank you. But allow me to turn to EVA - EVA as it's called - the organization which we represent here today. EVA stands for Ethical Vegetarian Alternative, and it's also the Dutch translation of the name “Eve” which, according to biblical tradition, is the first woman and possibly the first vegetarian on Earth, judging by her appetite for forbidden fruit! So, who knows?
Supreme Master Ching Hai: Very good.
Coenen (m): EVA has been active in Belgium since year 2000 as we just heard, promoting the healthy vegetarian lifestyle in a positive and appetizing way, with minimum means but with maximum of enthusiasm. EVA has helped to turn its home city of Ghent into a true vegetarian example with 13 vegetarian restaurants, of which at least 3 are completely vegan. So, statistically, that comes down to one vegetarian restaurant per 18,000 inhabitants, which we think might be a world record.
Supreme Master Ching Hai: Bravo! You are all awarded, from my heart. Coenen (m): Thank you.
Supreme Master Ching Hai: It was just symbolic, like, maybe for the head of the organization, but all the members are, of course, appreciated, yes? Appreciated and grateful and awarded. Coenen (m): Thank you.
Supreme Master Ching Hai: We could give 1000 award to each of you, but I mean, we are not working for award anyway.
Coenen (m): By all the means. Thank you. The man has been already addressed, but in 2008, we were able to invite Mr. Rajendra Pachauri, who is a Nobel laureate and the IPCC Chairman to Ghent, and we convinced him for the very first time to devote an entire talk to the effects of meat and meat production on climate change. (Supreme Master Ching Hai: Bravo.)
Six hundred people attended and interviews appeared in all the major newspapers. But our proudest moment up till now has undoubtedly been the declaration on May 13, 2009 of Thursday as the official weekly vegetarian day in the city of Ghent. The rationale behind this is that if every woman, man, and child in Ghent stops eating meat or fish one day a week, the impact on the climate will be massive, comparable to let's say taking 20,000 cars off the streets of Ghent every day of the week!
Mr. Coenen (m): The reaction to our Weekly Veggie Day, as we called it, Thursday Veggie Day, has been beyond our own and anyone else's expectations. Interviews with the BBC, The Guardian, TIME magazine, Japanese, Russian, German, Italian, French and Dutch TV-specials and most importantly, appreciation from people all over the world for this initiative, and more questions by phone and e-mail than we could ever possibly answer.
Supreme Master Ching Hai: Wow. Congratulations!
Coenen (m): We have no ready-made answer to the question: Why is this Thursday Veggie Day such a success? But I'll try and venture a guess. First of all, our tone is always positive. We do not judge people for eating meat, but we encourage them to sample, to taste, eat and keep eating vegetarian food, which brings me to the fact that no one is ever forced to eat vegetarian - we can only stimulate people's awareness.
But the idea of Thursday Veggie Day is based on a motivated choice - so, not on pressure, not on guilt or stories of gloom and doom. In others words, we invite people to try new things by presenting appetizing and 100% vegan recipes in our publications and magazines. Thirdly, we always try to be playful and fun. And as you can see here, most of our publications are full of colorful cartoons, humorous pictures and content. This one being mainly colorful, not so much funny, as you can see. Fourthly, and perhaps most importantly, we do not focus on one particular reason for eating vegetarian food.
We always present five, not ten, five important reasons to eat less meat, and they are: One, eating vegetarian food will be a treat for your taste buds - you will discover beautiful, rich and previously unknown taste sensations.
Secondly, you are taking care of your own health. The average European eats massive, massive amounts of animal protein, and replacing these partly or completely by vegetable proteins will help you get fitter and helps you to prevent physical problems, like heart disease, high cholesterol, etc.
Thirdly, you're saving the planet as we've heard today. Meat production is, after energy, the second biggest cause of global warming, an even bigger contributor to global warming than transportation. And according to the FAO (Food and Agricultural Organization), it's in the top two or three causes as Supreme Master has already said, of every major environmental problem.
Fourthly, you're helping other people. For 1 kilogram of beef, you need 7 to 8 kilograms of grain and 15,000 liters of water. And if we use these resources to feed people, more people in the third world would have sufficient food and access to clean water. And fifthly, the fifth reason we present, very simple, you save animals, because an average person in Belgium eats over 1,800 animals during their lifetime. That's 891 chickens, 42 pigs, 5 cows, 789 fish, 7 sheep, 43 turkeys and 24 rabbits and other so-called game meat. Now, probably everyone on this planet can be convinced to diminish his or her meat intake when they are presented with one or all of these 5 reasons.
Now, a lot of people, here and elsewhere, are keen to find out the secret to our little success: how did we do it and is there a magical EVA formula? I'm glad to reveal to you that there's no secret and that the magic formula simply consists of hard work, a positive outlook on life, and a bunch of dedicated staff and volunteers who have one thing in common - they are willing to give up a bit or a whole lot of spare time for a wonderful and worthy cause. Now, how did we do all this? This is how we went about it. In 2008, we started with publishing a small booklet, Donderdag Veggie Dag,
Thursday Veggie Day. It's a guide for people who want to try and have one vegetarian day a week. So, our original 20,000 copies were supposed to last for two years, but thanks to the huge success of Thursday Veggie Day, we recently ordered 30,000 more copies.
Coenen (m): Our most important task was then to convince restaurants to become more vegetarian and to add more vegetarian options to their menus. At this moment, I am very proud to say that in our small town of 240,000 inhabitants, more than 100 restaurants, diners and snack bars offer at least one wholesome and nice-tasting vegetarian meal on their menu.
Coenen (m): We put all of those places … thank you.
Supreme Master Ching Hai: Very proud of you. Coenen (m): Thank you.
Supreme Master Ching Hai: We're very proud of you.
Coenen (m): I didn't do it myself, but thank you very much.
Supreme Master Ching Hai: All of you. Coenen (m): I thank all my colleagues.
Coenen (m): Thank you. So all those places, all those 100 restaurants, we put on a vegetarian street-map of Ghent. So you can see it here. So that everyone who visits Ghent can easily find their way to a restaurant of their taste. At present, almost 100,000 of these maps have been distributed and we recently had another reprint due to the incessantly popular demand.
Coenen (m): Since May of 2009, thanks to the cooperation of the Ghent city council, two city cafeterias where a lot of the civil servants have their lunch, have started to serve an extra special vegetarian meal on Thursdays. And from October 1, 2009, World Vegetarian Day onwards, the children's lunch in Ghent's 35 city schools will be vegetarian every Thursday. The campaign to launch Vegetarian Thursday in schools, it features Little Red Riding Hood, who's relieved because she doesn't have to be afraid of the wolf on Thursday, he's simply eating carrots. (SLIDE LITTLE RRH, caption reads: “PHEW! I'M GLAD IT'S THURSDAY”) (Audience and Master laughs.)
Supreme Master Ching Hai: Very smart! Very funny.
Coenen (m): We're very proud of everything we've achieved with this campaign and we are proud that three other important Belgian cities, Hasselt and Mechelen, and now also Aalst have asked us to help them with their own Thursday Veggie Day.
Coenen (m): But we are also proud and we're humbled by the reaction in other cities around the world. São Paulo, as it has been said, one of the biggest cities in the world with more than 15 million inhabitants, they have declared Monday as their Veggie Day and we hope it becomes the first in a series of cities around the world to follow the example of Ghent. We continue to do our job in the firm belief that being vegetarian is one of the most powerful things an individual can do to change the world. Through eating vegetarian, one improves one's health, the health of the planet, and the fate of the animals. But most of all, the individual person changes, allowing him or herself to open their heart to others. Veganism is perhaps the single most important step towards a new world, in which we can all live in peace. Thank you very much.
Supreme Master Ching Hai: Thank you. Thank you, thank you. Bravo. We like your group. Bravo, bravo. Thank you.
Coenen (m): Thank you very much. We have also a question for you.
Supreme Master Ching Hai: Please.
Coenen (m): As a small organization, we've accomplished more than we could dream of in such a short amount of time. (Supreme Master Ching Hai: That's right.) And as I've said, we rely on a positive attitude, creativity, a lot of volunteers, but our organization, with a small staff of only 5 people, is under intense pressure to help and advise more people and organizations than it can realistically handle. What do you think we can do to further develop our organization and spread our message to an increasingly larger audience?
Supreme Master Ching Hai: You ask me? I was going to join your group and now you ask me? Hi, Mr. Coenen. Mr. Coenen, I'm so proud of you guys and thank you ever so much. God bless you so much. When there is a will, there is a way, Mr. Coenen. I hope your group is doing fine under pressure, although, I can imagine how heavy a burden it is now. Success is a burden. Yes, I know all that, I know all that. But nevertheless, we have to continue, we have no other choice, we must. Yes. I'm also in deficit of staff.
We are in the same boat, Mr. Coenen. No matter how many staff I have, no matter how many volunteers I have, I always feel we don't have enough people. And I myself, could do with like what the Quan Yin Bodhisattva does, like 10,000 eyes, 10,000 arms. But, unfortunately, it doesn't grow on my body. Now, no matter what, we just have to do, Mr. Coenen.
But thank you, thank you, all of you guys, the volunteer and the staff, for all the hard work, all the pressure that you undergo to spread the veg trend and in such a positive way. I am so impressed, so impressed, and I am so happy, truly. It was really funny, smart, and positive and successful. Maybe everyone should learn a little bit from this EVA program. So, thank you for showing people this exciting, compassionate way of life, and helping countless loving, defenseless animal as well. We are going in the same direction and, of course, we are having the same problems.
Now you know the problems, I don't have to tell you, you know my problems by now. Everyone who is working to better the environment, or the welfare of all beings on this planet understand your problem. Believe me, they understand more than 100%. Whatever it is, we have to do it. Your organization does excellent work anyway. No wonder you are inundated with requests from all over for your advice and services. The same with us. I wish I could go shake hands with everyone that ask me questions, and encourage us or support us, and hug them in person. But this is impossible. Even God comes down here, Hes couldn't do it. That's why we have to do it. Hes gives us the push, the power, and the means and the ways, somehow, and then we would do it. And you will just pray.
I like your group very much, whatever it is. I really like your group, the way you do it is wonderful. I like your group so much. I guess we just have to do our best. As they say, from small beginnings come great things. Many, many small little groups with great ideals have been in the historical record of success. So, you are just one of them and you may be the best of them. You may be one of the best. From what I understand, your group, EVA (Ethical Vegetarian Alternative) is very, very creative, respected, smart, and successful in promoting the vegetarian lifestyle to the mainstream world. And you are smart, you are smart, because you make a smaller goal, achievable goal, like one day a week.
My heart is just burning with pain and sorrow for the animals and for the spiritual degradation of our planet. I don't know how to advise you, because I am also in the same situation. Namely, we're always short of staff, we're always short of volunteers, we're always short of time. And the world always changes too slow for my patience. But we just have to accept, whatever we can do, and we do the priority, and we do the most urgent task first. And we do what we can, the best first, and from there it's a stepping stone for us to go further.
I am sure you and your staff know what it is to do. The entire world now, at least, knows about your Thursday Veggie campaign, everybody knows, and that is really a very, very encouraging sign and motivation for everybody. Now, it is even made into an official program for the city of Ghent. It's a shining small example like a lamp that lit the whole room up. No matter how dark it has been for 1000 years, just one lamp it would lit up. And then slowly there're more rooms would be lit up. Just like you have mentioned, there are some more cities already beginning to ask for your help to start the same Thursday Veggie program.
So you can ask our Association members in where your country is, if they can help you in any way. We are doing our best also, but if we have more chance to help you, we would be willing to. Please continue, no matter how hard it is. And please pray every minute that you have a chance. Please pray, because this is the power that can help you to overcome all the difficulty and the setback and the physical exhaustion also. Praying. Praying or meditation is the same kind of contemplation that will help us to walk forward with more inner strength and outer radiance that convince others.
And it will radiate love from your conviction, and your good-hearted intention. I am so happy that even the city council and the deputy mayor are supported by celebrities, and well publicized by international media, even in BBC in UK, and CNN and the TIME in North America. My God. Other cities in Belgium, and groups in Germany, UK, etc., etc., they approached you to find out how you did it. I am so happy, I'm so happy for you. My God. God bless you so much. God planted you there. God sent you here to do this work.
So, we just have to do it whether we are short or long of staff! Thank you so much. You'll be very busy, busy already, and you still take time to come here to share your opinions and encouragement with us. You are just wonderful, I love you so much. I love you, your group. I love all of you - the volunteers and everybody. That's all I can say, get more volunteers, grab them on the streets, restaurants, whatever you can. And try. Okay? Coenen (m): Thank you.
Supreme Master Ching Hai: We do what we can, okay? And all my love to you. Coenen (m): Thank you very much.
Coenen (m): Thank you.
Supreme Master Ching Hai: Bless you, bless you. And by the way, you're good looking also, outside! You're also handsome outside, not only inside. If that helps to make you work further, encouraged and feel a little bit more cheerful. Thank you anyway - you, your wife, and the rest of the company.
MC (f): Thank you. Our final speaker today is Mr. John Carmody. He has come all the way from Ireland where he founded the Animal Rights Action Network (ARAN). This organization is the most successful animal rights group in Ireland and he is responsible for overseeing all the activities of the organization across Ireland, including fundraising, organizing volunteers, campaign work, education and programs.
MC (f): We extend a heartfelt welcome to John. We are proud to have you here.
Supreme Master Ching Hai: Yes, we are!
John Carmody Founder, Animal Rights Action Network Vegan Ireland
Carmody (m): Well, hallo Supreme Master, how are you? I was waiting for this for a long time.
Supreme Master Ching Hai: Hallo!
Carmody (m): Well, I finally got it. Okay, well I just want to say thank you very much for having me here today, like your colleague had just said there, I am head of the animal advocacy group, the Animal Rights Action Network, and we are based in Ireland. And what we do is we work to educate and promote a cruelty-free, compassionate and kind lifestyle. I am delighted to be here this afternoon. And like I said, I am excited that I have been given an opportunity to express my delight and appreciation for your new book The Noble Wilds.
When I first learned about your book launch, I immediately jumped at the opportunity to come here today, not only to talk about all the wonderful work your organization is truly doing, but also to the work your organization is doing across the globe to help animals, promote veganism and to reverse the danger of climate change, but because I have wanted to meet you for quite some time. So, I am grateful that I have been given an opportunity to speak today. In Ireland, I formed the Animal Rights Action Network when I was just sixteen years of age.
Carmody (m): Yes, it was almost 12 or 13 years ago. My life changed after I'd seen images of Canada's seal hunt on the front cover of an Irish newspaper and I knew that I had to do something to help stop that cruelty I'd observed in a morning newspaper. It changed my life forever! Since then I've led the Animal Rights Action Network into becoming Ireland's largest and most respected animal protection group there is in the country.
From the beginning, ARAN has had enormous amount of positive achievements in Ireland. Just recently we've convinced one of the top department stores in the country to go fur-free and we also helped to persuade the Irish government to support the EU trade ban on the Canadian seal products into Europe, which was a huge achievement. And more good news for you as well, Master Ching Hai, is that Ireland has just recently said that they are going to ban fur farming in Ireland within three years, and stag hunting is also going to be banned too, which is a huge, huge achievement.
Supreme Master Ching Hai: Indeed, indeed. Congratulations!
Carmody (m): Really good.
Supreme Master Ching Hai: Very happy to know.
Carmody (m): One of our priorities, ARAN, focuses on, we also reach out to children and students nationwide, educating them about cruelty and critical situations facing animals today and, of course, helping them to know that there is a kinder, more compassionate way of living. And thankfully, we are seeing a genuine huge change in attitudes in Irish people. Already we are seeing a large increase in the amount of people being vegetarian in Ireland and those who are, were already vegetarian are now opting for the vegan diet.
Our organization is also seeing a change in the way people view animals. Nowadays, there is far more press coverage talking about cruelty to animals and more than whatever I can remember since I formed the organization. And today we receive calls almost weekly from Irish radio stations requesting interviews from ARAN and national newspapers demanding comment on animal issues, which is really good, too.
Carmody (m): This is just a snapshot of what's really happening, and although we are working hard to reverse an age-old way of thinking about animals, Animal Rights Action Network is devoted to moving Heaven and Earth to help stop the cruelty and protect our animal friends on this planet. When I read your book The Noble Wilds, I could not help to be taken in by your message of being kind to animals.
Much of what you say and convey makes so much sense. What I like about your book was that you impart many touching stories that are bound to touch the hardest of hearts and to reach out to those who have a heart. In The Noble Wilds book, you enlighten the reader about a female goat and how, when she became pregnant, ran away from her human caretaker. This loving little mother goat telepathically told you that she was concerned for the lives of her unborn babies, as she feared her human caretaker would eat her baby goats after they were born.
Thanks to your intervention, the story was a happy ending. I now realize that animals completely understand the thoughts and intentions of humans around them. Your book makes sense, and makes the case that we, as humans, should end our view that animals are nothing more than commodities, and start realizing that they are just like us - capable of feeling pain, fear, suffering, loneliness, sadness and joy. It was great to see the pictures of animal families living their lives in peace and tranquility, which always lead me to ask a question, “What do animals really want?” And I think my answer is they just want to be left alone.
Supreme Master Ching Hai: Yes.
Carmody (m): For me, I believe that animals have nothing but their lives and their skins and even at that there are people out there who want to take those from them. But your book truly did bring me comfort whilst reading it. I received a great sense of peace reading your touching stories. I was taken in by the beautiful pictures of animals who share our planet. I have no doubt that anyone who reads this book will find it hard to put down.
Here I am today, lucky enough to tell you all how grateful I am for all the work your great organization contributes across the country. I have been lucky to see firsthand how devoted and hard working, Supreme Master, your Irish center really and truly is. They do so much good work. Much of the work Animal Rights Action Network does in Ireland would not be possible if it was not for the kind support we receive from your Irish center.
So I am so grateful that they're lending out and helping us do so much more. As we go forward we know that there is quite an amount of work that still needs to be done. In the coming weeks we've got the Copenhagen climate change conference which will genuinely give world leaders a real chance to make positive change to help the climate. It's also a wake-up call to all those who attend to know that when they sit down to dinner that their meal may very well have come from an innocent animal who suffered to be that person's steak or ham sandwich, and that eating meat is known to be far more deadly to the Earth's climate than pretty much any other industry on the face of this planet to have connections with greenhouse emissions.
And finally, my dream is to see this world reverse all the suffering, all the cruelty, all the exploitation and to start working towards a society that respects everyone, including our animal friends. I leave you with a quote from Henry James, and that quote is: “There are three things in human life that are important: One, is to be kind. The second, is to be kind. And the third, is to be kind.” (Supreme Master Ching Hai: Yes.) Thank you.