Vegetarianism has been common in the Indian subcontinent, since possibly the 2nd millennium BC for spiritual reasons, such as ahimsa (nonviolence), to avoid indulgences (as meat was considered an indulgence), and to reduce bad karmic influences. Hinduism preaches that it is the ideal diet for spiritual progress and Jainism enjoins all its followers to be vegetarian. Some Buddhist monks have also historically practiced vegetarianism. It is an optional vow highly thought of by Buddhists, but not taken up by all Buddhists. A small number of Jewish and Christian sects have historically practiced vegetarianism including the Nazirites, Essenes and Ebionites.
Many Hindu scriptures advocate a vegetarian diet. 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 practice 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 Pythagoras, who with 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, the first Vegetarian Society in Ramsgate, England, defined a "vegetarian" from the Latin uegetus "lively", and suggestive of the English word "vegetable" as a person who refuses to consume flesh of any kind. Vegetarianism in the 19th century was associated with many cultural reform movements, such as temperance and anti-vivisection. Many "new women" feminists at the end of the century were vegetarians.
Seventh-day Adventists and Rastafarians, denominations founded in the 19th and 20th centuries, are also frequently vegetarian. African Hebrew Israelites only eat an organic vegetarian diet that also excludes dairy products such as milk.
Followers of the Sikh religion are divided in their opinion on whether their religion opposes meat consumption.
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%. Most Asian countries had a predominantly vegetarian diet until the past few decades, when increasing industrialization and westernization changed that. A famous study concluded that over the last few decades, adoptation of an increasingly high fat meat-based Western diet in Japan led to large inceases in heart disease, various cancers and balding in men and women.
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 a survey in the U.S. in 2000, 2.5% of the 968 people surveyed identified themselves as ovo-lacto-vegetarians . In 2003 the same source recorded 2.8%, indicating a modest growth of 4% per year over the 4 years. A 1994 and 1997 survey showed about 1% , again indicating that the general trend has been upwards.
Terminology and varieties of vegetarianism
Practices of vegetarianism include:
Lacto vegetarianism Lacto vegetarians do not eat meat or eggs but do consume dairy products. Most vegetarians in India and those in the classical Mediterranean lands, such as Pythagoreans, are or were lacto vegetarian.
Ovo-lacto vegetarianism (also called eggitarian colloquially in India) Lacto-ovo vegetarians do not eat meat but do consume dairy products and eggs. This is currently the most common variety in the Western world.
Ovo vegetarianism Ovo vegetarians do not eat meat or dairy products but do eat eggs.
Veganism Those who avoid eating any animal products, including eggs, milk, cheese, and sometimes honey, are known specifically as dietary vegans or strict vegetarians. Most additionally avoid using animal products, such as leather and some cosmetics, and are called vegans.
The following are less common practices of vegetarianism:
Fruitarianism is a diet of 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. Thus, a fruitarian will eat beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, pumpkins, and the like, but will refuse to eat potatoes or spinach.
A raw food diet includes only food, usually vegan, which is not heated above 46.7 C (116 F) ; 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", soak the food in water a while before consumption, which they believe activates the enzymes. Some spiritual raw foodists are also fruitarians, and many eat only organic foods.
A macrobiotic diet is a diet consisting mostly of whole grains and beans and is usually spiritually based, like fruitarianism.
Natural Hygiene, in its classic form, includes a diet principally of raw vegan foods.
The following similarly named diets are not considered full vegetarianism:
Pesco/pollo vegetarianism (semi-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. It may also be used as an interim diet by individuals who are on a path to becoming fully vegetarian.
Lacto-ovo-pesco vegetarianism This refers to someone who doesnt eat meat but does consume milk, eggs, and fish. This diet is popular in Japan where it is referred to as the Okinawa diet.
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 freeganism is concerned about waste, freegans prefer to make use of discarded commodities than to allow them to go to waste and consume landfill space.
Most nutritionists claim that a diet rich in fresh fruit and vegetables but low in animal fat and red meat offers numerous health benefits, including a significantly lower risk of heart disease, cancer, renal failure 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 acids. For example, grains and nuts are low in lysine and legumes are low in methionine. 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, edamame, etc). The intake of such foods has to be larger since the protein percentage in these foods are comparatively 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 vegetarian diet does not include fish - a major source of Omega 3, though some plant-based sources of it exist such as soy, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, canola oil and, especially, hempseed and flaxseed.
Studies endorsed by the ADA found that vegetarians had levels of iron or calcium similar to non-vegetarians.] Some claim that 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. .
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. The belief also exists among vegetarians that other lives should not have to end in order for theirs to continue. 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.
Environmental vegetarianism is the belief that the production of meat and animal products at current and likely future levels is environmentally unsustainable. Industrialization has lead to intensive farming practices and diets high in animal protein, primarily in devoloped nations and mainly the United States. According to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) "Most of the world's population today subsists on vegetarian or near-vegetarian diets for reasons that are economic, philosophical, religious, cultural, or ecological." Thus, the main protest of environmental vegetarians is primarily of intensive farming in developed nations.
According to the United Nations Population Fund "Each U.S. citizen consumes an average of 260 lb. of meat per year, the world's highest rate. That is about 1.5 times the industrial world average, three times the East Asian average, and 40 times the average in Bangladesh."
All modern, intensive farming practices consume large amounts of fossil fuel and water resources and have lead to emissions of harmful gases and chemicals. The habitat for wildlife provided by large industrial monoculture farms is very poor, and modern industrial agriculture is a threat to biodiversity compared with farming practices such as organic farming, permaculture, arable, pastoral, and rainfed agriculture.
Animals fed on grain, and also those which rely on grazing, need far more water than grain crops . According to the USDA growing the crops necessary to feed farmed animals requires nearly half of the United States' water supply and 80% of its agricultural land. Additionally, animals raised for food in the U.S. consume 90% of the soy crop, 80% of the corn crop, and a total of 70% of its grain. . In tracking food animal production from the feed trough to the dinner table, the inefficiencies of meat, milk and egg production range from 4:1 energy input to protein output ratio up to 54:1. The result is that producing animal based food is typically much less efficient than the harvesting of grains, vegetables, legumes, seeds and fruits. This criticism could not be applied to animals that are grazed rather than fed, especially those grazed on land that could not be used for other purposes. However, this type of grazing is becoming less common worldwide, being substituted with intense farming, and in some cases leads to topsoil loss.
Environmental vegetarianism can be compared with economic vegetarianism. An economic vegetarian is someone who practices vegetarianism from either the philosophical viewpoint concerning issues such as public health and curbing world starvation, the belief that the consumption of meat is economically unsound, part of a conscious simple living strategy or just out of necessity. According to the WorldWatch Institute "Massive reductions in meat consumption in industrial nations will ease the health care burden while improving public health; declining livestock herds will take pressure off of rangelands and grainlands, allowing the agricultural resource base to rejuvenate. As populations grow, lowering meat consumption worldwide will allow more efficient use of declining per capita land and water resources, while at the same time making grain more affordable to the world's chronically hungry."
Some researchers contend that humans are physiologically better suited to a vegetarian or semi-vegetarian diet. These individuals study statistical information, such as comparing regional life expectancy with local diets. For example, Inuits whose completely non-vegetable based diet consists of only seal meat and fish have one of the lowest life expectancies on Earth . In comparison, one of the world's highest life expectancy rate is in Japan, where their semi-vegetarian and raw fish based Japanese cuisine is considered to be the reason behind their longevity . Other examples include looking within countries themselves. For instance, life expectancy is considerably greater in southern France where a semi-vegetarian Mediterranean diet is common (fresh fruit, vegetables, olive oil, goat's cheese and fish), than northern France where an omnivore diet is more common (also including pork, beef, butter, cows cheese and cream) .
Many other influences come into life expectancy, such as pollution, genetics, exercise and lifestyle (alcohol, smoking, stress etc), making it difficult to scientifically prove any correlation between regional diets and life expectancy.
Some vegetarian beliefs (such as Hare Krishna) suggest that human beings are "designed" to consume vegetable matter rather than meat. The reasons are mainly associated with the differences between predators and plant-eating animals.
Predators usually have sharp teeth or claws to tear fresh meat. Dogs, cats or lions are examples, while plant-eating animals (such as horse and deer) have no sharp teeth or claws to tear meat. Humans occupy a middle ground between the two having no claws and mostly blunt teeth (molars) but also a pair of sharp canine teeth designed for tearing.
The intestines of predators are relatively short compared with those of plant-eating animals. This allows meat eaten by predators to pass more quickly though the intestines. Since meat rots much faster than vegetables, it is necessary for predators to have short intestines to prevent meat rotting inside the body that could harm the creature. Herbivores, however, need a much longer intestine to allow sufficient time for the digestion of vegetable fibres.
According to The Straight Dope, humans have evolved to be omnivores. Human intestinal length is, taken as a ratio, half way between carnivores (such as cats and dogs) and herbivores (such as cows and horses).
The way in which predators and plant eating mammals drink is another reason that is suggested. Predators like dogs, cats or lions use their tongue to drink water as digesting meat does not consume as much water compared with digesting vegetables. Plant-eating animals like horses, deer or sheep, suck water as do humans. Although humans can also use their tongue to ingest water if they choose.
Many vegetarians choose to be so in part because they find meat and meat products aesthetically unappetizing. Proponents assert that human beings are not instinctively attracted to eating live or dead meat in nature. For example, the carcass of a cow lying in a forest would attract a real carnivore like a wolf or leopard, but would disgust most human beings. The metaphor by the poet Douglas Dunn is that if one gives a young child an apple and a live chicken, the child would instinctively play with the chicken and eat the apple, whereas if a cat was presented with the same choices, its natural impulse would be the opposite.
Various animal food safety scares over recent years have led people towards semi-vegetarianism or vegetarianism. These scares have included BSE in cows, avian flu in poultry, foot-and-mouth in sheep, salmonella in eggs, PCBs in farmed salmon and high dioxin levels in animal products.
Advocates such as Howard Lyman and groups such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals have promoted vegetarianism in response to cases of E.coli infection and BSE, believed to be transmitted to humans through beef. According to various organisations, vCJD is strongly linked with exposure to the BSE agent . However, E.coli can be acquired
Some people are vegetarian because they were raised in a vegetarian household. Others may have become vegetarians because of a vegetarian partner, family member, or friend. Some people live in a predominantly vegetarian society (such as India), and so adopt this practice to avoid ostracism, or for the difficulty of buying meat in such a society.
Some adherents of Eastern religions, such as Mahatma Gandhi, claim that spiritual awareness and experiences are greatly enhanced on a vegetarian diet. In the Western world there are also individuals like James Redfield who, independent from any specific religious beliefs, share the same sentiment.
This generally means food which excludes ingredients under which an animal must have died, such as meat, meat broth, cheeses that use animal rennet, 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) and alcohol clarified with gelatin or crushed shellfish and sturgeon.
Country specific information
In India vegetarianism is usually synonymous with lacto vegetarianism, although lacto-ovo vegetarianism is practiced as well. 30% of Indians are estimated to be vegetarians and vegetarian restaurants (almost always lacto vegetarian) abound. There are usually many vegetarian (Shakahari (~plant-eater) in Hindi) options available in all restaurants ('hidden' meat ingredients such as lard, gelatin, meat stock are not used in the traditional cuisine). India has devised a system of marking any edible product with a green dot in a green square to signify that only vegetarian ingredients were used and that no 'hidden' meat ingredients were used. A red dot in a red square is meant to convey that one or more ingredients used are of non-vegetarian content or 'hidden' meat ingredients like gelatin, lard, or meat stock may have been used. Even medicines are marked similarly, a famous Omega 3 capsule uses flax seeds to extract omega-3 fatty acids. But it is marked with a Red dot since the capsule uses non vegetarian ingredients.
In the United States, vegetarianism is usually synonymous with ovo-lacto vegetarianism. However, vegetarians are sometimes wrongly assumed to be pesco/pollo vegetarians who will tolerate some meat. Many restaurants and caterers provide vegetarian options to patrons, often explicitly indicated as such. It is also possible to order a vegetarian meal and be served meat. Polls find that 2.8% of Americans are vegetarian as of 2004 . In addition, vegetarianism in the United States generally reflects regional cultural differences. It is more difficult to find vegetarian options in rural restaurants than in urban ones. The same applies to Midwestern city restaurants compared to West Coast restaurants. This seems to be slowly changing as vegetarian market innovations (such as veggie burgers) attain wider acceptance, demand, and distribution.
In the UK, voluntary labelling of vegetarian foods is widespread, but far from universal. Many manufacturers will label food as "suitable for vegetarians", but until recently, no universally agreed definition existed. The Food Standards Agency issued guidance on the labeling of foods as suitable for vegetarians in 2006, which includes the following definition "The term vegetarian should not be applied to foods that are, or are made from or with the aid of products derived from animals that have died, have been slaughtered, or animals that die as a result of being eaten. Animals means farmed, wild or domestic animals, including for example, livestock poultry, game, fish, shellfish, crustacea, amphibians, tunicates, echinoderms, molluscs and insects." In addition, the Vegetarian Society operates a scheme where foods that meet its strict criteria can be labelled as "Vegetarian Society-approved". Cheese is often labelled as well, making it possible to identify cheeses that have been made with non-animal rennet. Flavourings in ingredients lists do not need to specify if they come from animal origin, which can make identifying vegetarian foods difficult if they are not otherwise labelled as such. 5% of the UK are estimated to be vegetarians. The British Vegetarian Society regards a product as vegetarian if it is free of meat, fowl, fish, shellfish, meat or bone stock, animal or carcass fats, gelatin, aspic, or any other ingredient resulting from slaughter, such as rennet. Where eggs are used, they must be free range, and the product should not have involved animal testing. . Almost all restaurants and cafes provide a reasonable selection of vegetarian dishes and are usually clearly labelled as vegetarian.
In Ireland, food labelling is in place. Vegetarianism is not as common as in Great Britain, but is still easy for vegetarian toursists.
In Spain, most vegetarian meals will be served with egg, or even tuna. Stock is normally used in vegetable soups and many sauces. Outside the largest cities or tourist areas, most restaurants only have Starters or tapas that are suitable for vegetarians, with nearly all main courss consisting of meat or fish.
In France the situation is similar to that in Spain. French cuisine does have vegetarian dishes, but these are often considered as starters or side dishes, and the pice de resistance is almost always meat or fish. In France however, chefs are usually more prepared to provide somehing vegetarian on request than in Spain.
In Germany vegetarians make up 7.3 - 9% of the population. There is no food labelling in place, and buying only vegetarian foods can involve having to read the fine printed ingredients list ("Zutaten") on many food products. Wholefood retailers providing sources for vegetarian foods are commonplace, even in remote areas.
In Australia the same conditions apply as in Germany. Some manufacturers who target the vegetarian market will label their foods, however except for foods intended for export to the United Kingdom, this labelling can be inconsistent. Flavourings in ingredients lists do not need to specify if they come from animal origin. As such, natural flavour could be derived from either plant or animal sources. Some food products in Australia are unnecessarily vegetarian unfriendly such as putting gelatine into yoghurt, and vegetarian cheese is not nearly so available as in the UK.
In Norway, conditions are similar to Germany, except pollo-vegetarianism is largely unknown and organic foods stores are less wide spread. Ovo-lacto-vegetarians make out 1-2% of the population, and food targeted for vegetarians is sold mainly in health food stores and supermarkets that focus on selection. Many restaurants will have one or perhaps two vegetarian entries on the menu, or at least produce something on request.
In Switzerland, conditions and attitudes largely depend on the linguistic region, highlighting the strong cultural influence of the neighboring countries on French, German and Italian-speaking Swiss. The conditions in French-speaking Switzerland are much like those of deep rural France, ranging from complete ignorance of vegetarianism to a superficial knowledge for the exotic and fadish value. In spite of cosmopolitan Geneva, there are no vegetarian restaurants in French-speaking Switzerland, and few places (aside from a few Asian restaurants and American fast food outlets) offer vegetarian dishes. Labeling of food is inconsistent and can vary from acceptable to aggresively nonexistent.
In Denmark there are some vegetarian resturants most in urban locations but most resturant will on request be able to produce a dish without meat. Non-meat side-dishes are very common. Vegetarianism is more accepted than ever, but many traditional families will still eat a lot of meat and few vegetables. Vegetarianism is uncommon in provincal areas where traditional Danish cooking is still very common (See Danish Cuisine) There is no distictive labelling in place.
In Italy formal vegetarianism is uncommon. However the cuisine is vegetarian friendly as the second course is usually pasta or polenta based, while the third course is simply a cut of meat or fish; most vegetarians are happy for restaurants/hosts to provide a larger second course and to forego the meat course.
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.
Vegetarian diet and longevity
Some question the claims of better health in vegetarians. The study "Mortality in British vegetarians: review and preliminary results from EPIC-Oxford" , it was concluded that lower mortality in British vegetarians was best explained by behaviours other than their non-consumption of meat. The review states that "British vegetarians have low mortality compared with the general population. Their death rates are similar to those of comparable non-vegetarians, suggesting that much of this benefit may be attributed to non-dietary lifestyle factors such as a low prevalence of smoking and a generally high socio-economic status, or to aspects of the diet other than the avoidance of meat and fish." A related review, "Mortality in vegetarians and nonvegetarians: detailed findings from a collaborative analysis of 5 prospective studies" , also tried to isolate lurking variables in 6 studies of vegetarian diets. The results suggested that the mortality ratio was the lowest in fish eaters (0.82) followed by occasional meat eaters and vegetarians (0.84) which was then followed by regular meat eaters (1.0) and vegans (1.0) . As a group, vegetarians had a 24% lower mortality of ischemic heart disease compared to regular meat eaters.
Some question the assumption 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. Cornell scientists have advised that the U.S. could feed 800 million people with grain that livestock eat . However, some argue that diverting this grain away from livestock would not resolve the economic causes that prevent starving (poor) people from buying food , though a depression in prices due to increased supply may afford them more access, at least in the short term.
Also, there exist some types of terrain (such as mountains, desert fringes, and regions with very poor soil) that are suitable for grazing animals, but not suitable as farmland. Environmentalists counter that these "marginal lands" should not be used at all, and that grazing livestock on these lands exerts more pressure than they can carry and/or directly competes with native wild animal species which would graze the same land
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