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International Congress on Vegetarian Nutrition—Report One


The International Congress on Vegetarian Nutrition is being held February 24-26, at Loma Linda University. A special pre-conference session happened Saturday evening that featured Roy Branson, moderator, and three speakers on “Vegetarianism: The Interface of Science and Values”. They also took the opportunity to honor (in absentia, due to illness) Allan Buller, retired president/CEO of Worthington Foods. (See Spectrum interview here.) In a video-taped interview, he described himself as growing up in a Mennonite family who butchered animals every autumn for food. His family converted to Adventism when he was six and he grew up to be the president of a vegetarian food products company. He was instrumental in establishing a nutrition council  and organizing the first vegetarian congress in Washington D.C. in March of 1987.

Vegetarianism is consistent with three values, better health, protecting the environment, and more humane treatment of animals. The three speakers tonight addressed all three of these to a packed room in the Damazo Amphitheater of the Centennial Complex at LLU. 

The first speaker was Claus Leitzmann, Ph.D., a retired professor of Justus Liebig University in Giessen, Germany. He did not grow up in an SDA environment, but said that he likes to come to LLU because he doesn’t have to worry about what he will eat and he doesn’t have to defend it. He became a vegetarian out of his concerns for world hunger issues, CO2 emissions and animal treatment. When his youngest daughter suggested that the family do their part by becoming vegetarians, they started their new diet the next day and haven’t changed back since. He also expressed concerns that people become vegetarians with different priorities. Those who become vegetarians primarily for animal rights, may not take as good care of their own health as those who choose it for health reasons. He suggested that because even vegetarians have obesity problems, that many vegetarians eat too much fat (even good fat is high calorie), too much refined sugar and white flour, too much salt, drink too many liquid calories and eat too many ready-to-eat processed foods.

Theologian and physican Sigve Tonstad, Ph.D., spoke next, looking at Isaiah 11:9 and Romans 8:19. He suggested that the biblical texts that speak to animal treatment in the ideal world are less about health than they are about humans and non-humans co-existing in mutually non-predatory ways. He is originally from Norway, but now resides in Southern California. He recommended a couple of books during his presentation: Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System by Raj Patel  and Dominion: The Power of Man, The Suffering of Animals, and The Call to Mercy by Matthew Scully.

The last speaker was Marianne Theime, LL.M., who is a member of the House of Representatives in the Netherlands. (See Spectrum interview here.) I found her to be quite an intriguing character. She became a vegetarian for animal protection while she was a law student at Erasmus University in Rotterdam. She was disappointed that her law school didn’t do more to address the protection of animals. She was raised Catholic and was disappointed that they blessed bull fights and hunting. Her personal interest finally became a professional interest and she founded the Party for the Animals in 2002.  The party now has 25,000 members and has won two seats in the national parliament, and eight seats in regional parliaments. They take the position that animals have an inherent value separate from their value to humans. Theirs is the only party of its kind in the world and they were criticized for being a one issue party. Marianne suggests, however, that what is good for animals is also good for humans in the areas of health, climate and environment, water use, antibiotic use, and economics. They have pushed for legislation for better treatment of chickens on factory farms, to ban fur farms, and to budget for non-animal alternatives for medical research. She produced the documentaries Meat the Truth and Sea the Truth and has written a book, The Century of the Animal.  She became a Seventh-day Adventist about seven years ago because she felt it was consistent with her values. The man she married became a vegetarian and because he missed his meat, he has started a new company in making vegetarian protein foods from the lupin beans on his organic farm. He is called the vegetarian butcher. I have not heard of lupin as a protein source and I’m hoping that If I can run into her during the conference, she can tell me how to get a taste.

—Vicki Saunders, M.S., is an instructor of nutrition at Pacific Union College and is the past-president of the Seventh-day Adventist Dietetic Association.

Click here to read the second report from the conference.

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