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Vegetarianism describes a diet based on foods of plant origin, including fruits, vegetables, grains, and nuts. In practise, most vegetarians eat animal-derived products such as eggs, honey, milk, and cheese, but avoid all animal flesh, such as fish, flesh, and fowl. There are four popular types of vegetarian diets: lacto-ovo vegetarianism, lacto vegetarianism, ovo vegetarianism, and veganism. Vegans exclude all protein of animal origin from their diets, and may also choose not to use or wear anything made from, or containing, animal by-products, including leather, silk, feather, and fur.
The International Vegetarian Union defines vegetarianism as "the
practice of not eating meat, poultry or fish or their by-products, with
or without the use of dairy products or eggs." The 27th session
of the Codex Committee on Food Labelling held in April 1999 in Ottawa
discussed draft guidelines for the international use of the term "vegetarianism."
The delegation from India indicated that, for religious and cultural
reasons, vegetarianism in India excludes eggs, while the delegation
from Sweden preferred that the term be restricted to ingredients of
Vegetarianism has been common in Hindu countries, such as India, since possibly the 2nd millennium BC for spiritual reasons, such as ahimsa (nonviolence) and reducing bad karmic influences. Jainism, which claims between eight to ten million adherants, enjoins its followers to be vegetarian. Many Buddhist monks have also historically practiced vegetarianism. In looking for parallels in Jewish and Christian antiquity for these practices, some Christian vegetarians feel a kinship with Nazirite and Ebionite practices.
Many Hindu scriptures advocate the diet. For instance, the epic Mahabharata states: "He who desires to augment his own flesh by eating the flesh of other creatures lives in misery in whatever species he may take his birth." Citation needed The secular literature of Tirukural in Tamil Nadu, India, proclaimed over 2000 years ago: "Perceptive souls who have abandoned passion will not feed on flesh abandoned by life. How can he practise true compassion, he who eats the flesh of an animal to fatten his own flesh?"
Vegetarians in Europe used to be called "Pythagoreans",after the philosopher and his followers abstained from meat in the 6th century BC. These people followed a vegetarian diet for nutritional and ethical reasons. According to the Roman poet Ovid, Pythagoras said: "As long as Man continues to be the ruthless destroyer of lower living beings he will never know health or peace. For as long as men massacre animals, they will kill each other. Indeed, he who sows the seed of murder and pain cannot reap joy and love."
In 1847, attendees at the meeting of the first Vegetarian Society in Ramsgate, England, agreed that a "vegetarian" — from the Latin uegetus "lively", and suggestive of the English word "vegetable" — was a person who refuses to consume flesh of any kind.
Indian vegetarians, primarily lacto-vegetarians, are estimated to make up more than 70% of the world's vegetarians. They make up 20 to 30% of the population in India, while occasional meat-eaters make up another 30%.
In the Western world, the popularity of vegetarianism steadily grew over the 20th century as a result of nutritional, ethical, and more recently, environmental concerns. In the U.S., as of 2000, 2.5 to 3% said they never eat meat, which may mean they are vegetarian, while 5 to 6% said they do not eat meat. This represents an increase over the last decade and a great increase since 1950 when vegetarianism was very rare, although per-capita meat consumption has increased considerably since then, as the price of meat has fallen due to factory farming, and the average income has risen.
Recently concerns about the environmental accumulation of pesticides and poisons up a food chain have led some to avoid meat, while incidents of mad cow disease have also seen significant increases in the numbers of vegetarians in the United Kingdom and United States. Citation needed
In the Western world, vegetarians are twice as likely to be female as male, are more likely to be young to middle-aged than older, and are more likely to be liberal than conservative. In countries with predominantly Hindu and Jain communities, the ratios may favour females, older, and more conservative individuals.
Terminology and varieties of vegetarianism
Different practices of vegetarianism include:
* Lacto vegetarianism — Lacto vegetarians do not eat meat or eggs, but may consume dairy products. Most vegetarians in India, as also those in the classical Mediterranean lands, such as Pythagoras, are/were lacto-vegetarian.
* Lacto-ovo vegetarianism — Lacto-ovo vegetarians do not eat meat, but may consume animal products such as dairy (i.e. milk and its derivatives, like cheese, butter, or yogurt) and eggs. This is the most common variety in the western world.
* Ovo vegetarianism — Ovo vegetarians do not eat meat or dairy products, but may eat eggs.
* Veganism — Those who avoid eating any animal products, including eggs, milk, cheese, and honey, are known as dietary vegans. Those who avoid eating or using animal products, such as leather and some cosmetics, are called vegans.
The following are less common practices of vegetarianism:
* Raw food diet — Involves food, usually vegan, which is not heated above 116°F (46.7°C); it may be warmed slightly or raw, but never cooked. Raw foodists argue that cooking destroys enzymes and/or portions of each nutrient. However, some raw foodists believe certain foods become more bio-available when warmed slightly as the process softens them, which more than negates the destruction of nutrients and enzymes. Other raw foodists, called "living foodists", activate the enzymes through soaking the food in water a while before consumption. Some spiritual raw foodists are also fruitarians and many eat only organic foods.
* Macrobiotic diet — Involves a diet consisting mostly of whole grains and beans, and is usually spiritually based like fruitarianism.
* Natural Hygiene — Involves a diet principally of raw vegan foods.
* Fruitarianism — Fruitarians, or fructarians, eat only fruit, nuts, seeds, and other plant matter that can be gathered without harming the plant (some fruitarians eat only plant matter that has already fallen off the plant). This typically arises out of a holistic philosophy. Thus, a fruitarian will eat beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, pumpkins, and the like, but will refuse to eat potatoes or spinach. It is disputed whether it is possible to avoid malnutrition with a fruitarian diet, which is rarer than other types of vegetarian or vegan diet.
Religious dietary restrictions come in many forms and are sometimes compatible with the secular terminology.
The following are not considered vegetarianism:
* Pesco/pollo vegetarianism — Some people choose to avoid certain types of meat for many of the same reasons that others choose vegetarianism: health, ethical beliefs, etc. For example, some people will not eat "red meat" (mammal meat – beef, lamb, pork, etc.) while still consuming poultry and seafood. This is not vegetarianism, but has recently been referred to in the media as semi-vegetarianism or pesco/pollo vegetarianism.
* Flexitarianism — Flexitarians adhere to a diet that is mostly vegetarian but occasionally consume meat. Some, for instance, may regard the suffering of animals in factory farm conditions as their sole reason for avoiding meat or meat-based foods, and will eat meat or meat products from animals raised under more humane conditions or hunted in the wild.
* Freeganism — Freegans practice a lifestyle based on concerns about the exploitation of animals, the earth, and human beings in the production of consumer goods. Many tend towards veganism but this is not an inherent practice. Those that eat meat generally support the arguments for vegetarianism, but as freegans are very concerned about waste many prefer to make use of discarded commodities than to allow them to go to waste and consume landfill space.
Some nutritionists claim that a diet rich in fresh fruit and vegetables but low in, or excluding, animal fat and protein offers numerous health benefits, including a significantly lower risk of heart disease, cancer, renal failure, obesity, diabetes and stroke. The American Dietetic Association, the largest organization of nutrition professionals , states on its website "Vegetarian diets offer a number of nutritional benefits, including lower levels of saturated fat, cholesterol, and animal protein as well as higher levels of carbohydrates, fiber, magnesium, potassium, folate, and antioxidants such as vitamins C and E and phytochemicals. Vegetarians have been reported to have lower body mass indices than nonvegetarians, as well as lower rates of death from ischemic heart disease; vegetarians also show lower blood cholesterol levels; lower blood pressure; and lower rates of hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and prostate and colon cancer." The American Heart Association's website states "Many studies have shown that vegetarians seem to have a lower risk of obesity, coronary heart disease (which causes heart attack), high blood pressure, diabetes mellitus and some forms of cancer." Studies show that a vegetarian mother's breast milk has significantly lower levels of pesticide residue than a non-vegetarian's.
Some vegetable protein sources lack in one or more "essential" amino acid. For example, Grains and nuts are low in lysine and legumes are low in methionine. While everyone should eat a variety of foods to ensure a balanced nutrition, the body’s requirement for essential amino acids now appears to be much less important than researchers once believed. Vegetarians get all the protein and amino acids they need from eating a normal variety of whole grains (whole wheat bread, oatmeal, brown rice), beans, nuts, and soy (tofu, veggie burgers/hotdogs, etc). The intake of such foods has to be larger since the protein percentage in these foods are comparitively lower than in a similar serving of meat. Attaining sufficient protein intake is rarely a problem in developed countries and the lower protein intake of vegetarians has even been suggested as a possible cause of some of the health benefits above. A purely vegetarian diet does not include fish - a major source of Omega 3, though some plant-based sources of it exist such as soy, flaxseed, hempseed, pumpkin seeds, canola oil and especially, walnuts.
Some suggest that vegetarians have higher rates of deficiencies in those nutrients which are found in high concentrations in meat. Surprisingly, studies endorsed by the ADA found that this was not the case for iron or calcium. On the other hand, Vitamin B-12 and zinc from vegetarian sources other than dairy products and eggs are not readily absorbed by the body and a vegan diet usually needs supplements. Nonetheless, these nutrients are now commonly supplemented in milks and cereals in the western world, and is not necessarily a problem in a vegetarian diet.
Many vegetarians consider the production, subsequent slaughtering and consumption of meat or animal products as unethical. Reasons for believing this are varied, and may include a belief in animal rights, or an aversion to inflicting pain or harm on other living creatures. In developed countries, ethical vegetarianism has become popular particularly after the spread of factory farming, which has reduced the sense of husbandry that used to exist in farming and led to animals being treated as commodities. Many believe that the treatment which animals undergo in the production of meat and animal products obliges them to never eat meat or use animal products, even if this means considerable inconvenience. In addition to the ethical issues involved, some vegetarians find meat, animal products, and their production unappetizing or emotionally disturbing.
The production of meat and animal products at current and likely future levels is often considered as environmentally and ecologically unsustainable. It is also argued that even if sustainable, modern industrial agriculture is changing ecosystems faster than they can adapt. While vegetarian agriculture produces some of the same problems as animal production, the environmental impact of animal production is significantly greater.
Heavy consumptions of resources such as fossil fuels and water, methane emissions, trawling, and over-grazed lands are some of the problems that are alleviated with vegetarian diets . Environmental vegetarians can be compared with economic vegetarians, who consider the meat industry economically unsound.
"The cost of mass-producing cattle, poultry, pigs, sheep and fish to feed our growing population... include highly inefficient use of freshwater and land, heavy pollution from livestock feces... and spreading destruction of the forests on which much of our planet's life depends." - Time Magazine 11/8/99
Some people are vegetarian for economic reasons, such as those who consciously choose a lifestyle of simple living or those who adopt vegetarianism through necessity. For example, in Britain forced necessity changed dietary habits during the period around World War II and the early 1950's, as animal products were strictly rationed whilst allotment or home grown fruit and vegetables were readily available. Also in developing countries people sometimes follow a mainly vegetarian diet simply because meat is scarce or expensive compared to alternative food sources. The same principle can also be a deciding factor in influencing the diet of students or low income households in the Western world. However since the price of meat has dropped in recent years due to intensive farming and increased competition, plus overall affluence has risen, the percentage of people in the West who are now vegetarian through forced necessity is relatively low.
Some people are vegetarian because they were raised by vegetarians. Others may have become vegetarians because of a vegetarian partner, family member, or friend. Some people live in regions that have a sizeable population who are vegetarian (such as India).
Many Eastern religions claim that spiritual awareness is greatly enhanced on a vegetarian diet. They believe that vegetarianism helps an individual in exploring deeper levels of consciousness and establishing a connection with the Divine, through such practices as meditation, yoga or whirling. In the Western world there are also individuals like James Redfield who, independent from any specific religious beliefs, share the same sentiment. In the West this motivation is regarded by many as a New Age reason for being vegetarian.
The majority of the world's vegetarians, according to the Society of Ethical and Religious Vegetarians, follow the practice for religious reasons. Many religions, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, and especially Jainism, teach that ideally life should always be valued and not willfully destroyed for unnecessary human gratification.
Hindus believe that food shapes the personality, mood and mind. They believe that meat promotes aggressiveness and a mental state of turmoil known as "rajas". On the other hand, a vegetarian diet is considered to promote sattwic qualities, calm the mind, and essential for spiritual progress. They also believe that animals have souls and killing animals have karmic repurcussions that are bound to be reaped later by oneself. Most of the secular motivations for vegetarianism such as ethical considerations and nutrition apply to Hindu motivations as well.
Hindus of certain castes, especially Brahmins, are forbidden from consuming anything gained at the expense of an animal's suffering, and follow a Lacto vegetarian diet. Leather from animals who have died of natural causes is acceptable for some Hindus. The diet of the orthodox Hindu excludes animal products (apart from milk products), alcohol, the rajasic foods - onions and garlic, as well as mushrooms, which are a form of fungus.
The Indian cuisine and diet is primarily vegetarian and most Hindus are semi-vegetarians, refraining from beef and eating meat/seafood only occasionally. Most non-vegetarian practising Hindus maintain a vegetarian diet on religious days.
The first lay precept in Buddhism prohibits killing. But, the Buddha also made a distinction between killing an animal and consumption of meat, stressing that it is immoral conduct that makes one impure, not the food one eats. At one point, the Buddha specifically refused to institute vegetarianism, and the Pali Canon records the Buddha himself eating meat on several occasions. There were, however, rules prohibiting certain types of meat, such as human, leopard or elephant. Monks are also prohibited from consuming meat if they witnessed the animal's death or know it was killed specifically for them.
On the other hand, the Buddha in certain Mahayana sutras strongly denounces the eating of meat. In the Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra, the Buddha states that "the eating of meat extinguishes the seed of great compassion", adding that every kind of meat and fish consumption is prohibited by him.
In the modern Buddhist world, attitudes toward vegetarianism vary by location. In China and Vietnam, monks typically eat no meat (and with other restrictions as well – see Buddhist cuisine). In Japan or Korea some schools do not eat meat, but most do. Tibetan monks and Theravadins in Sri Lanka and South-east Asia, do not practice vegetarianism.
Jews, Christians, and Muslims (Abrahamic religions) are all left with the biblical ideal of the Garden of Eden diet, which from all appearances is fruitarian (see Genesis 1:29, 9:2-4; Isaiah 11:6-9). Accordingly, some Charismatics, Christian anarchists and Jewish vegetarians (Messianic) believe that in order to return to an era of Eden-like paradise, they will have to go back to a holistic approach to health and diet. However, only minorities within these populations actually practice and advocate such strict diets, since the same book of the Bible, Genesis, later gives permission to Noah to consume animal flesh. Commentators agree that this permisson to eat meat largely appears to be a divine concession to human weakness and sin, with penalties — likely including decreased life expectancy (see Genesis 6:3). Some commentators also argue that people may eat animals because God gave Adam and Eve dominion over them.
Rabbinical Judaism discourages ascetic practices in general. On the other hand, the Talmud discourages indulgence and states that it is preferable that one's diet consist mostly of non-meat products. Accordingly, to some Jewish vegetarians, vegetarianism is not a form of self-deprivation, because they don't desire to eat meat.
Though Judaism has not promoted vegetarianism in general, some prominent rabbis have been vegetarian, among them the first Chief Rabbi of pre-state Israel, Abraham Isaac Kook and fomer Chief Rabbi of Israel Shlomo Goren.
An argument used by Jewish vegetarians is that the laws of shechita are meant to prevent the suffering of animals but today, with factory farming and high-speed, mechanized slaughterhouses, even kosher slaughterhouses are considered by some authorities as not rendering the meat kosher. They also say that the Sages only mandated eating an olive's bulk of meat during festivals, but even then, this was because in Talmudic times, meat was considered essential for one's diet. (See Jews for Animal Rights).
Some Christians, such as Keith Akers, believe that Jesus, the twelve apostles and the early Messianic Jewish followers of Jesus (the Ebionites) were vegetarians. They think that a movement away from simple living and vegetarianism began with Paul, and that they need to return to pre-Pauline early Christianity. However critics point out the decision to be vegetarian or omnivore is purely a personal choice, as there are many passages in the Bible that advocate meat and fish within the diet. There are also Christian vegetarians, such as Leo Tolstoy and Ammon Hennacy, who believe that the Christian principles of compassion and nonviolence require a vegetarian diet whether the Jews and the early Christians were historically vegetarians or not.
Islam explicitly permits the eating of some kinds of meat, but does not make it compulsory. There are several hadith that support a vegetarian lifestyle and recommend kindness to animals rather than eating them. "Masih (the messiah, Jesus) said, ‘Flesh eating flesh? How offensive an act!’" (Al-Raghib al-Isfahani), Mahadarat al-Udaba', 1:610.) However, most Islamic scholars assert that if a person is a vegetarian because he does not like meat and prefers eating vegetables or because of some dietary reasons, then this cannot be objected to on religious grounds. However, if he or she thinks that slaughtering animals to eat their meat is doing injustice to them, that is not acceptable, since animals have been created by Allah "solely for the service of man":
And cattle He has created for you. From them you derive warmth, and numerous benefits, and of their [meat] you eat. (16:5)
It is Allah who made cattle for you that you may use some for riding and some for food. (40:79)
According to Islam, one should not try to be more merciful than the Merciful Allah. Such philosophising is tantamount to expressing "ingratitude to Allah". In other words, eating the meat of the animals is acknowledging the favours of a "Gracious" Creator, and this acknowledgement in turn is instrumental in the "inner purification" of a person – the primary goal of Islam. Slaughter animals by Halal is thus important for "inner purification" according to Islam. Some Islamic mystics, such as the Sufis, advocate vegetarianism.
All dietary rules listed for Hindus apply to Jains. In addition, Jains must take into account any suffering caused to plants and suksma jiva (Sanskrit: subtle life forms; refers to what would later be termed "microorganisms") by their dietary choices. They are forbidden from eating most root vegetables (such as potatoes) and deem many other vegetables acceptable only when harvested during certain times of the year.
In Chinese societies, "simple eating" (?? Mandarin: sù shí) refers to a particular restricted diet associated with Taoist monks, and is sometimes practiced by members of the general population during Taoist festivals. It is referred to by the English word "vegetarian". However, though it rejects meat, eggs and milk, this diet does include oysters and oyster products.
The Bahá'í Faith prefers a vegetarian diet, although it is not required. Furthermore, Bahá'ís believe "Fruits and grains" will be the foods of the future and the time will come when meat will no longer be eaten .
In Sikhism, it is believed that one should not eat any type of meat for it involves killing a living, conscious being.
Rastafarians generally follow a diet called "I-tal", which eschews the eating of food that has been artificially preserved, flavoured, or chemically altered in any way. Many Rastafarians consider it to also forbid the eating of meat.
Main article: Vegetarian cuisine
This generally means food which excludes ingredients under which an animal must have died, such as meat, meat broth, cheeses that use animal rennet (some vegetarians will eat all cheeses and others none, because of its milk content), gelatin (from animal skin and connective tissue), and for the strictest, even some sugars that are whitened with bone char (e.g. cane sugar, but not beet sugar).
Country specific information
* In India vegetarianism is usually synonymous with lacto vegetarianism,
although ovo-lacto vegetarianism is practiced as well. 20 to 30% of
Indians are estimated to be vegetarians and vegetarian restaurants (almost
always lacto vegetarian) abound . There are usually many vegetarian
(Shakhahari in Hindi) options available in all restaurants (lard and
gelatin are not used in the traditional cuisine).
Vegetarian societies (apart from India) were first formed in majority meat eating European countries both as a means to promote the diet and to gather together vegetarians for mutual support. By 2000, most western and developing nations had functioning vegetarian societies. The countries that were first to establish societies are still the ones most likely to have the greatest proportion of vegetarians within their populations.
The first societies were:
* 1847 — United Kingdom
The International Vegetarian Union , a union of all the national societies, was founded in 1908.
There are some people who criticise vegetarianism on the grounds that it is difficult, if not impossible, to get a sufficient amount of B12 from a strictly vegetarian diet, although the American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada statement on vegetarianism which has been reaffirmed four times over 15 years strongly disputes this. In any case involving B12 deficiency, this can be easily remedied by simply taking a B12 supplement.
Some people have allegedly suffered from health problems because of various types of vegan diets. However, many other people have suffered from health problems due to various types of non-vegan / non-vegetarian diets. For example, the World Health Organization indicates that eating animal fats increases your risk of cancer, and a study published in The American Journal of Epidemiology in February 2005 finds that consuming meat and/or dairy products increases the risk of death due to cardiovascular disease.
There are also some people who question some of the basic reasons for vegetarianism. For example, it is erroneous to assume that food given to livestock could instead be used to feed humans. In developing countries particularly, such food is usually of poor quality and not fit for human consumption, though the land it utilizes could be turned over to human food production. Also, there exist some types of terrain (such as mountains) that are suitable for grazing animals, but not suitable as farmland.
Some people produce environmental criticism based on the water consumption of local farmers: In most of the poor countries in Asia, the main source of carbohydrates and intake of cereals comes from rice consumption. The cultivation of paddy requires two to four times as much water when compared to cultivation of other dry crops (FAO) thus making it far more environmentally friendly to diversify the production.
Other criticism of vegetarianism comes from people who exclusively eat meat and dairy products produced locally in humane conditions. They consider that vegetarians are undermining the market for these products and tacitly supporting factory farming.
Gourmet Recipes - Free Vegetarian Gourmet Recipes
Vegetarian Recipes - All Recipes has 800 free vegetarian recipes.
Protein Basics Chart Tells how much and what kinds of proteins are required for different lifestyles and has great detailed charts showing how much protein is in various foods.
HappyCow.net A world guide to vegetarian restaurants and health food stores.
VegetarianUSA.com A more extensive guide to vegetarian restaurants and health food stores for the USA only.
Vegweb An extensive, collaborative vegetarian cookbook.