by Vincent Post
After I wrote my previous veggie-hydro post for the Responsible Water Scientists Blog, I received an e-mail from a Dutchman called Joep of the Quinta das Aguias foundation in Portugal. He and his team were organising a conference on vegetarianism, and asked if I would be willing to give a presentation about water and food production. I was surprised, because I have been to Portugal many times and I know it as a nation of meat and fish lovers. In fact, back in the day I have also indulged in some of such meals, but since turning vegan, I was wondering if I could even go to Portugal anymore. Would there still be any chance of finding a proper meal?
Well… as it turns out, my fears were unnecessary. I have discovered that there is something brewing in the municipality of Paredes de Coura and it seems that a new epicentre of the plant-based foods movement has formed there. Right where I least expected it: in the rural parts of northern Portugal.
So, first some background. Several years ago Joep and his wife Ivone bought a property called Quinta das Aguias. After living there for some time, they turned it into an animal sanctuary and they now take care of about 140 rescued animals. Cats, dogs, hamsters, horses, turkeys, rabbits, peacocks, ducks, and pigs… A lot! They (helped by a team of wonderful people) do fantastic work and have just started a crowdfunding campaign to upgrade the pigs’ shelter that I want to advertise here. If anyone that reads this wants to donate, please follow this link. I can assure you that your donation will be very-well spent, and you will carry a special place in the hearts of those wonderful pigs!
While living at the Quinta, Joep turned a vegan chef in order to be able to cater for the ever-increasing number of guests that wanted to eat plant-based meals. He had also been spreading the idea to some local restaurants. Then at some point, the mayor of the nearby town Paredes de Coura became interested, and, even though not a vegetarian himself, he contacted Joep and Ivone with the question if they could organise a conference on vegetarian food. And this is how the first edition of the conference came into being three years ago. It was a hit from the start, and has resulted in new legislation in Portugal that makes it compulsory for public canteens (like those in hospitals and schools) to serve at least one vegetarian meal option. Let’s hope that this fantastic achievement inspires other countries to follow.
Leading up to this year’s edition of the conference (the third already), my wife Francis and I spent a number of days at the Quinta. The hospitality that was extended to us was heart-warming, and all those animals made great company. As did the other speakers and visitors, and we had an unforgettable week. The conference itself was very inspiring, and was being attended by almost 300 people. It goes to show that the transition towards plant-based diets is gaining solid ground with more and more people. Seeing it take foothold in rural northern Portugal admittedly was a bit of a surprise to me, but it makes perfect sense if you realise that people around the world are becoming more and more conscious about their food choices. It simply confirms that there is a growing understanding of how these impact on animals, the environment and other people, and that people are taking action. I find this extremely encouraging in a time where there seems to be lots of room for pessimism about our common future. But being surrounded by so many people that mean well and live by it, was so motivating and inspiring that I’ve decided I will visit the conference again next year. And if you are still tossing up where to go on your next holiday, consider making it a meaningful one by visiting Quinta das Aguias. You will not regret it!
Dr. Vincent Post is a hydrogeologist that specialises in coastal groundwater systems and hydrochemistry. He studied and obtained his PhD degree at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam, and then worked there as an assistant professor for 6 years. In 2010, he moved to Australia to work at Flinders University in Adelaide where a national groundwater research centre had just been founded. In 2016, he returned to Europe and he now works as a research associate for the Federal Geological Survey of Germany (BGR).