As the world becomes more aware of the perils of eating meat, chicken and fish in the modern world, more and more people are turning to vegetarianism not only as a means to living a healthier life but also as a means to combat animal cruelty, global warming and living non-violently. Earlier you would have certain sects of society that you could single out as vegetarians in India. But with the number of vegetarians growing around us, it is almost impossible to single out a vegetarian from a crowd. Some might look bohemian and arty, others might look like models and film stars, business folks, body builders, marathon runners and even young girls and guys who have turned vegetarian inspite of growing up in a non-vegetarian environment.
Vegetarians now come in all ages and all shapes and sizes. Today being vegetarian is a good thing! Let us look at the types of vegetarians that we can find today not only in India but the rest of the world.
Types of Vegetarians
A “vegetarian” can be defined as someone who abstains from eating meat, chicken and fish. On the other hand people who have both plants and animals in their diet are called “omnivores” or “non-vegetarians”. Within the vegetarians you have the groups known as “lacto-ovo” and “vegan”.
Lacto-ovo vegetarians avoid consuming all dead animal flesh but do eat eggs (ovo) and dairy products (lacto). Some people are lacto-vegetarians eating dairy but no eggs like a lot of Indians communities. Then there are those who are ovo-vegetarians eating eggs but no diary.
Vegans avoid anything and everything that comes from an animal. This includes eggs, dairy, gelatine (made from bones and connective tissue of animals) and honey. Vegans maintain a staunch stance regarding their lifestyle and avoid animal products not only in their diet but also go far as to include it in all aspects of their life. They may thus shun leather products, wool, silk, tallow soaps and all other animal-based products.
Variations of Vegan
Within vegetarians and the two main categories above, there are lots of variations which depends on the motivation, experience and the specific needs of the person. When people turn to vegetarian food in order to become healthier, they may occasionally choose to have non-veg from time to time. But when the choice is based on ethics or religion, there is a tendency for total adherence to a vegetarian diet.
In my experience as a Diet and Nutrition Consultant, when I see non-vegetarians turning into vegetarians, they will still want to consume eggs and dairy foods. But over time as these same people grow in their knowledge and experience of vegetarian issues, they gradually start to weam themselves off from eggs and diary and move towards protein-rich plant foods like soy, legumes, nuts and seeds. In my opinion, the weaning off is easy with the passage of time.
It is in fact far easier to be a vegetarian in India than anywhere else in the world thanks to the legacy of communities in India who have been vegetarians for thousands of years. Vegetarian food options that are tasty, delicious and nutritious ate conveniently available everywhere. And now every corner grocery store stocks a wide variety of non-diary milks such as soya, almond etc.
The Motivation for Becoming Vegetarian
The path to becoming a vegetarian is based on one underlying thing – LOVE. Love for our fellow animal beings, for our planet and for ourselves. Becoming vegetarian is the first step that we can take ourselves to head towards a kinder and more compassionate world.
The motivation to embark on vegetarianism could start from a single reason. But over time the following four reasons are what most people give for becoming a vegetarian or following a vegan diet.
- To support personal health and healing
- To promote reverence for life
- To protect the environment
- To uphold religious values and principles
Let us look at each of the reasons in detail and how it can positively affect you and the world around you.
Better Health and Healing
Most people cite health as one of the major factors for turning vegetarianism. The world over people now realise that vegetarian diets give you protection against some of the most common diseases in the world. The health benefits of vegetarian diets include:
- Low Obesity
Vegetarians (not all) usually weigh less than non-vegetarians. This usually translates into better health.
- Reduced Risk of Disease
A Vegetarian has reduced risk of heart disease, high BP, type 2 Diabetes and certain forms of cancer as compared to non-vegetarians. Research has concluded that vegetarians also have lesser instances of renal disease, gallbladder disease, diverticular disease and rheumatoid arthritis.
- Improved Longevity
Vegtarians outlive non-vegetarians by 7 – 9 years. A non-vegetarian might make fun of a vegetarian and say, “It just feels longer!” But the reality is that vegetarians are healthier in the later years of their lives with less health problems and much of their mental acuity intact.
- Reduced Risk of Food Borne Disease
Vegetarians have less risk of contracting E. coli, salmonella, listeria, campylobacter and other food-borne pathogens that are passed on to the human body chiefly through animal products.
- Lower Intake of Environmental Pollutants
People who have vegetarian diets have significantly lower exposure to heavy metals, DDT, PCBs, and other environmental contaminants. These environmental pollutants significantly accumulate as one moves up the food chain.
- Improved Nutrition
Vegetarian foods provide a good balance of protein, carbs and fat that is closer to current dietary recommendations. Plant-based foods are also low in saturated fats, cholesterol, animal protein and also trans-fatty acids while also being higher in Vitamins C and E, carotenoids, folate, fibre, magnesium, and phytochemicals.
Reverence for Life
For a lot of people, violence and cruelty against animals is the no. 1 reason for becoming vegetarian. Billions of animals and fishes are killed every year to meet human demand for food. Most people are aware of the intolerably cruel conditions that most captive livestock and poultry is reared in. Let us look at the factors that show us how animals are at the receiving end of profit-making corporations.
- Inhumane Conditions
With the growing human population, demand for food is increasing by humongous amounts each year. To feed this growing population, most animals bred for consumption are kept in unsanitary and overcrowded conditions in order to increase profit. Surgeries, mutilations and amputations without anesthetics are the order of the day. The captive and forcibly-bred animals are not given the opportunity to engage in normal social behaviour and due to this they are often driven insane.
- Appalling transportation Conditions
Animals are bundled together and transported in horrid conditions leading them to experience extreme stress and trauma. They are made to go without food and water for long periods of time as a result of which millions of animals perish each year on route to the slaughterhouse.
- Inhumane Slaughter
Even though laws and regulations regarding the slaughter of food animals are in place, a pure concern for profit means that humane methods for killing the animals are forgotten thus leading to a very painful and disoriented end for most of these animals which end up on your plate eventually.
- Animals have Rights
Animals are not soulless beings. Think about it, animals are thinking and feeling sentient beings who deserve to be treated with love and compassion. Most people do not fail to treat their pets with love and compassion but fail to recognize the fact that food animals also are intelligent and can feel pain just as much as humans do.
There are two documentaries that I recently watched (both on Netflix). One is “What the Health” which talks about the environmental impact of eating meat and also rips open the unholy nexus between the World’s biggest fast food corporations and the very societies and non-profit organisations that are meant to inform and protect the common man or woman against disease and other ailments. The other was “Mission Blue” a wonderful and visually stunning documentary on the rising threat to the oceans and the world’s marine animals from humankind.
We must realise that human beings cannot continue to consume the earth’s finite resources at the current rate if we want our species to continue and prosper into the future. Becoming a vegetarian can reduce our ecological footprint. The famous scientist Albert Einstein had said, “Nothing will benefit human health and increase the chances for survival of life on earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet.” Becoming vegetarian is good for our planet in the following ways:
- Preservation of Water Resources
Tremendous amount of water is used for animal agriculture. It is estimated that in the United States, almost half of all the water consumed by human beings on land, air and sea is used for the raising of livestock. It takes 100 times more water to produce a pound of beef than it takes to produce a pound of wheat. A vegan uses much much less water in the production of his / her food than a meat eater – one year of water for a vegan compared to a month for a meat eater!
- Prevents Water Pollution
Agriculture is the no. 1 polluter of natural water systems. The major contributers to water pollution are livestock-feeding operations. Animals produce more digestive waste than humans. All that manure and methane goes back into the water and the atmosphere respectively and creates long lasting damage to the environment.
- Reduces Overconsumption
If every person of the almost 7 billion people on the planet today were to consume and waste as much food that the average American does today, it would require two more planet earths to sustain the present population! More and more of the world’s resources are being used to raise livestock and to provide grub for the world’s richest while one in six people in the world go hungry!
Uphold Religious Values
The world’s major religions promote vegetarian and / or vegan diets as part of their basic teachings. Buddhism, Jainism, Taoism, Hinduism and Seventh Day Adventists (a branch of Christianity) all promote vegetarianism. Also many religions that do not explicity promote plant-based diets have subgroups that do. Some good examples are the Christian Vegetarian Association, Doukhobors, Jewish Vegetarians of North America, the Muslim Vegan/Vegetarian Society, and some Sufis. Although most people born into a Religion like Jainism like me have become vegetarian by default, the reasons why these religions promote a vegetarian diet can all be likened to all my reasons given above. For example, Jainism promotes a vegetarian diet amongst all it’s followers based on principles of compassion for all living creatures. The Seventh Day Adventists though promote vegetarianism on the basis of the benefits that it confers to human health and longevity.
Whatever be the reason, Vegetarianism / Veganism is a growing movement that is here to stay! If you are a meat eater and wish to become a vegetarian for any of the reasons mentioned above, come and visit me for a consultation. I will provide you with diets, recipes and meal plans that are every bit as tasty and nutritious as the animal products that you have been having all your life. You will feel light, energetic and positive and you will be doing your body and the planet a huge favour!