Indonesia has a population of about 240 million people living on 17,508 islands - a population only exceeded by China and India with more than a billion each, and the USA with 307 million. So what happens there is of major importance for veg*ism worldwide.
Below is an interview with Meyrick Sumantri (photo in the graphic) a son of Mr Bambang Sumantri, the founder and president of the Indonesia Vegetarian Society (IVS), host of the 39th IVU World Vegetarian Congress which takes place this month in Jakarta and Bali, see: www.wvc2010.org
Hi, Meyrick. Please tell us a bit about your father and how he became involved with vegetarianism.
My father has been vegetarian for the past twenty years, and over time, our family has followed. So, everyone in my immediate family is now vegetarian. At first, we were reluctant to change our lifestyles, but through many persistent and logical talks together, we eventually gained an understanding of why our father was vegetarian, and why he suggested us to be as well.
Today, he still passionately believes in vegetarianism, which is why he continues to vigorously spreading knowledge of the benefits of a vegetarian lifestyle to the Indonesian community.
What about yourself, your brother and sister? Why are you vegetarians?
It's quite interesting because we're all vegetarians for different reasons: my sister for health reasons, my brother for environmental reasons, and myself for ethical reasons. All in all, however, we too believe in the advantages of a vegetarian lifestyle and are passionate in spreading this knowledge.
Indonesian Vegetarian Society (IVS) is an impressive organisation with 10s of thousands of members and approximately 50 chapters around the country. What was your father's role in the founding and growth of IVS?
One day, in 1998, my father decided that it was time for him to spread vegetarianism on a larger scale. He always says that if you passionately believe in something and have the knowledge that will benefit yourself and others, it becomes your responsibility to share this knowledge.
And so he and a group of passionate fellow vegetarians formed the Keluarga Vegetarian Maitreya Indonesia, which translates to the Indonesian Maitreya Society. In 2006, the organization's name was changed to the Indonesian Vegetarian Society, as we wanted to also include those that were not Maitreya (Buddhist) related in our activities.
Your father also started a hospital that serves vegetarian food exclusively. Please tell us a bit about that.
Aligned with his vision of spreading the benefits of vegetarianism on a larger scale, my father decided to turn Royal Progress Hospital into the first vegetarian hospital in the country. He wasn't sure at first how the general public would react, because at that time - in 1992 - the concept of vegetarianism was relatively new to Indonesia outside of the Buddhist community.
But he learned that by taking time to truly share with our team of doctors, employees, and patients the health benefits of vegetarianism that they would eventually see for themselves the benefits of having a vegetarian hospital.
All of our patients and the 1,000 hospital employees are now more than satisfied with the vegetarian menu served. With food, it all comes down to taste; so, we had to take the extra step in putting together a talented kitchen staff capable of serving exceptionally delicious and healthy vegetarian food.
What about your own perspective as a person in his 20s? What about the eating habits and perspectives of your contemporaries?
Well, initially, I turned vegetarian for ethical reasons. Today, after having attended many seminars and talks related to the topic, I realize all the other reasons for me to remain vegetarian.
Do you notice much change?
I feel that my energy levels - on a day-to-day basis - are much higher and that I have more stamina in sports. I love the outdoors, and keep myself busy with soccer, tennis, and beach volleyball. I find that being vegetarian actually helps my stamina levels.
In Indonesia, there's the notion that being vegetarian makes you feel weak. So, it's important for us to educate the public that if vegetarianism is done right (i.e., a well planned, healthy balanced diet) there's a lot it can do for one's physical endurance.
What is your family's vision for the future of IVS and of the vegetarian movement in Indonesia?
We are so blessed to have such a devoted, motivated, and bright group of individuals supporting this organization. The vision is quite simple - to share our knowledge of vegetarianism as best we can, so that the general public can make informed decisions about their dietary lifestyles.
The Indonesian Vegetarian Society is a member of the International Vegetarian Union. More about IVU Online News at www.ivu.org/onlinenews.php