Ghents veggie day: for English speaking visitors

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green_planet_300Our Thursday Meatout campaign, with Ghent the first city in the world to officially stimulate a vegetarian day, has received worldwide attention in the press, from BBC to the Guardian to CNN. If you ended up here through a google search and can’t read anything on these Dutch pages, at least you can read this. We would love it if other cities and groups get inspired, so Dit e-mail adres is beschermd tegen spambots, u heeft Javascript nodig om het te kunnen zien. if you want more information or have any questions.

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Frequently asked questions on Ghent’s Thursday Veggie Day campaign

What is Thursday Veggie Day?

Thursday Veggie Day is a campaign invented by EVA (Ethical Vegetarian Alternative, Belgium’s biggest vegetarian organisation) and since mid may officially supported by the city of Ghent. Ghen thus became probably the first western city in the world officially stimulate people to go vegetarian one day a week.

Who is involved?

  • EVA is Belgium’s biggest vegetarian organisation. It has 3.000 members and is probably also the first and only vegetarian organisation that receives structural funding from its government (Flanders, the Dutch speaking part of Belgium), after having been founded in 2000 as an all volunteer organisation. EVA has a staff of four people and is located in Ghent.

  • The city of Ghent, pop. 240.000. Ghent, by representation of councilman for the environment Tom Balthazar, is now probably the first city in the world to have an official veggie day.

What exactly happens?

People are stimulated to go vegetarian on Thursday. Together with EVA, Ghent distributes 5.000 vegetarian street maps among its civil servants. 80.000 more are spread by EVA to the rest of the population. 1500 brochures have been distributed to all restaurants in the city, showing them why and how to put more vegetarian dishes on the menu. City restaurants have extended their vegetarian menu, and from September onwards, city funded schools will offer a vegetarian menu on Thursdays by default.

Is anyone forced to eat vegetarian?

Not at all, everyone can eat what they want. Ghent and EVA just stimulate and motivate. Nobody is compelled to eat anything. That would only be counterproductive.

Why is this being done?

Councilman Balthazar and EVA name four reasons for eating more vegetarian: it’s healthy, it’s good for our planet (and climate), it’s good for the animals, it’s good for people in the south, and (most of the times) it’s very tasty.

Why a veggie day? Why not just stimulate people to eat a bit less meat every day?

First of all that would be a very boring and not very marketable message. A veggie day is a clear concept, feasible, fun, challenging…

Secondly, eating no meat or fish one day requires of people that they really go look for alternatives. They get to know other products, cuisines, restaurants… which wouldn’t be the case if they ate a little meat every day.

How are people reacting?

There are very few hostile reactions. Response is generally extremely positive. We know that people’s awareness of the issues concerning meat (and especially the global warming impact) is rising., and perhaps many of them realize that something really serious needs to happen, and that it can only be fastened by some political courage.

What about the rest of the world?

The reactions we are getting are wonderful. There’s not just the worldwide press attention (from BBC to CNN, from Brazil to Thailand), but there’s also congratulations from groups and individuals from all over the world. People say they are inspired to imitate this idea, and that was actually our point with the press release. I think it’s great that we showed that something like this is possible, and this precedent will make it easier for other groups and cities to do the same.

Any other cities in Belgium following Ghent’s lead?

Yes, we expect the city of Hasselt to be next.

How did the project come about? Who had the idea? How long was the preparation phase?

Our Thursday Meatout campaign has been running for a year and a half now. We arrived at the idea of a weekly meatout by ourselves I believe, but later found out there’s already meatless Mondays and meatout Mondays in the US.

How did you manage to get such a constructive first contact with the administration of Ghent? Was there immediate official interest or did you have a lot of convincing to do?

What helped was that last year, we managed to convince IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri to come to Ghent (we just asked him, if you want to know how we did that), where he talked for the very first time at length about meat and global warming. Tom Balthazar, the councilman responsible for the environment, was there, and he got more and more convinced after that. We made contact with two of his staff who were also enthusiastic, and we suggested that they asked Balthazar if he would be prepared to officially proclaim Thursdays to be veggie days.

But maybe some of the politicians are already vegetarians which helped to build up this constructive cooperation?

Not at all. Ghent, however, is a very vegetarian friendly city. We have 13 veg restaurants on a population of 240.000 people, which is better than any western city I know of.

Are your political partners mainly from the public health sector or are also experts on ecology involved?

Tom Baltazar, the councilman, is actually responsible for the four domains that we usually name as the four good reasons to be a vegetarian: health, environment, animal welfare and north-south relationships. So he was the one we had to get to.

What is your advice for every vegetarian organization interested in following EVA’s example to establish decisive contacts with the world of decision makers?

The climate is good for vegetarianism (no pun intended). Also, as an organisation, EVA has made every effort to be a credible partner and to have a professional image.

Whom can we contact for more info?

Tobias Leenaert, Dit e-mail adres is beschermd tegen spambots, u heeft Javascript nodig om het te kunnen zien.
Melanie Jaecques, Dit e-mail adres is beschermd tegen spambots, u heeft Javascript nodig om het te kunnen zien.