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Vegetarian congress opens
with festivities and food
galore

The goods: Visitors try mushroom sate during a vegetarian food festival at Jakarta International Expo in Kemayoran on Friday. The event, organized by the International Vegetarian Union, will run until next Tuesday.JP/Ricky Yudhistira

The 39th International Vegetarian Union’s World Vegetarian Congress opened Friday in Jakarta with a festive atmosphere and enthusiasm among participants as well as vendors selling to a growing market.

Clad mostly in batik and other traditional attire, guests from various parts of the world enjoyed an all-vegetarian buffet while others swarmed food stalls at an adjacent food expo in the Gedung Pusat Niaga building inside the Jakarta International Expo center.

The congress, involving participants from 20 countries, will run until next Tuesday, with seminars, vegetarian product exhibitions, cooking demonstrations and scientific workshops in the program. The event will then continue in Bali from Oct. 7-9.

The head of the organizing committee, Susianto, said earlier this month that the event was expected to draw 8,000 participants, based on the fact that the previous one-day Southeast Asian Vegetarian Congress in Medan attracted 2,000 participants.

He said the number of vegetarians in Indonesia was estimated at 1 million.

The number of members of the Indonesian Vegetarian Society has grown from 5,000 in 1998 to 60,000 in 2007, said Susianto, the society’s chief operations officer.

Karim Taslim, the public relations officer for the event, said that environmental health concerns had played a big role in encouraging people to become vegetarians.

He said the livestock business was often guilty of animal cruelty and that emissions from the industry contributed significantly to global warming. “At least 10 percent of the world are vegetarians,” he said.

Some 70 vendors had opened stalls at the expo, of which 30 were food stalls.

The food sold at the stalls mostly carried an Indonesian theme, including vegetarian rendang (usually meat in savory, spicy coconut milk sauce), vegetarian South Sumatran pempek (usually fish cakes), and vegetarian satay.

Masruroh, the Culture and Tourism Ministry’s deputy director of meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions, said the ministry had helped the organizing committee by funding the event’s opening ceremony and gala dinner.

“We also have concern for tourists who are vegetarians. There are many restaurants and hotels that now serve vegetarian food,” she said.

Minarto, the Health Ministry’s director of community nutrition, said at the event that the ministry supported the event. He said the standard diet of the majority of the population was healthy, but added that some people, such as people with obesity, might want to consider a vegetarian diet to improve their health.

International Vegetarian Union manager John Davis said during the opening ceremony in front of hundreds of participants that Indonesia’s vegetarians were now “one of the biggest vegetarian societies in world”.

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