[photo: Tina with Sir Paul McCartney back in 1999, when he accepted a posthumous IVU award on behalf of Linda. Tina is from Liverpool like Sir Paul.]
Tina Fox needs no introduction to the leaders of IVU member societies, who will undoubtedly agree that she is very deserving of her recent election as an IVU Fellow. (For more on Fellows - www.ivu.org/members/council/fellows.html)
From 1980 to about 1995, Tina ran Wirral Animal Rights. In 1995, she became Chief Executive of the Vegetarian Society UK after having served as a trustee for the same organisation for a couple of years. She was elected to the IVU Council at the Thailand Congress in 1999, became Deputy Chair in 2000 and then Chair of the IVU International Council in 2002.
Tina stepped down as VSUK Chief Executive in 2006, the same year that she was appointed to Vegetarian for Life (now Director), and has now decided to step down from the IVU Council.
Recently, Tina kindly agreed to be interviewed for IVU Online News.
Hi Tina. First off, who is the gentleman with you in this photo?
Tony Banks was a vegetarian Labour Member of Parliament in the UK, who fought very hard for the animals - anti hunt, anti vivisection, etc. and worked to improve the vegetarian catering at the House of Commons. He died unexpectedly about 6-7 years ago, and the animals lost a very good friend.
When and why did you first decide to become a vegetarian activist?
Almost as soon as I went vegetarian (for ethical reasons) in 1972, I became a member of the Vegetarian Society UK and started up my own local group - Ostrich - so called because we were trying to pull people's heads out of the sand in relation to animal exploitation.
What was the public perception of vegetarianism at that time?
That we were all wacky weirdos!
What was one of your most fulfilling moments promoting vegetarianism?
Two really, first of all putting on our group's first major event in Liverpool with lectures, food tasting stands, etc., and the second, much later, when I organised the IVU World Vegetarian Congress in Edinburgh.
We all learn from our mistakes. What is one example from your own experience?
I have learned as I get older that it is so important to promote the message positively. Making people feel guilty about animal cruelty or their diet never works, as they shy away from you, and I am sure I was guilty of that when I was younger and probably more aggressive!
Who is one of your heroes from the vegetarian movement? What can we learn from that person?
I don't think I have just one particular person. I admire Gandhi a great deal for his persistence and willingness to suffer for the vegetarian and other causes, and I also admire George Bernard Shaw, as he used humour, and I think that is a very valuable tool in our armoury.
You have spent a lot of time leading organisations, such as Vegetarian Society UK. What is one piece of advice you have for other leaders?
Listen to those you are working with, whether it is staff, members, trustees, whoever and try to be positive as much as possible. Also, try to make your organisation a supportive one rather than one putting out lots of critical press, etc. We find this is particularly the case with Vegetarian for Life - people working in the care sector are often underpaid and overworked, so criticising them for poor catering won't achieve anything, but giving them easy veg*n recipes and showing them you understand their budgetary and other difficulties works wonders.
What do you see as an important strategy for veg activists going forward?
Again, use positive messages wherever possible and at present use people's concerns for the planet and their pocket as a springboard to promote the message that vegetarianism is good for the planet, their health and their pockets.
What most worries you about the future of vegetarianism?
That it can't come quick enough to save lots of animals from suffering.
What about IVU specifically? What changes have you seen, and what future changes do you expect?
I have seen IVU grow and become much more inclusive, and I expect this to continue. It is great to be part of such a worldwide family.
The current project closest to your heart is Vegetarian for Life. Please tell us about that.
Vegetarian for Life was set up in 2007 specifically to help older vegetarians and vegans in the UK. We work closely with all the other UK vegetarian and vegan groups and also with age related groups such as Age UK, WRVS and Dignity in Care. We started off by producing a Catering Guide for Care homes which we sent to 14,000 UK care homes and sheltered schemes and also to nearly 3000 home care agencies.
We also set up the UK List of Veg*n Friendly Care Homes - we started off with just 100 in May 2008 and now have 316 and expect to have many more. This helps anyone looking for a care home or sheltered scheme in the UK know where there is one in their preferred location that will take their dietary needs seriously.
Following that, we produced a guide for individual older vegetarians and vegans and also set up a grant scheme to help them stay in their own homes. For example, earlier this year, we gave a grant to a 74 year old so she could get a stair lift - this enabled her to come out of a nursing home and return to independent living. We set up catering courses for care caterers in partnership with Cordon Vert (the VSUK's cookery school) and have so far carried out six very successful courses with four more at least in the pipeline.
We attend lots of exhibitions, etc. relevant to the work, such as the Incredible Veggie Show in Brighton, the Retirement Show and Primary Care Exhibition and are involved in some work with the UK National Health Service. The work has grown a great deal since we set up, and all this with just one part time member of staff - me! We are also fortunate in having a small but active board of committed trustees who put a lot of time and energy into the project, and I am sure it will continue to grow in strength and influence.
IVU Online News: www.ivu.org/onlinenews.php