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Vegetarianism is a dietary practice[?], excluding all body parts of any animal and products derived from them (e.g. lard, tallow, gelatin, cochineal) from one's diet. Most vegetarian diets do include honey as well as milk and dairy products, and some include eggs.
Distinctions between different practices of vegetarianism include:
- In the United States, vegetarianism is usually synonymous with ovo-lacto vegetarianism, which usually tolerates some consumption of animal products such as eggs and milk, while eschewing meat. Then there is lacto vegetarianism, which some people also use synonymously with 'vegetarianism'. The only animal products permitted here are milk and its derivatives, like cheese, butter or yoghurt. Ovo-lacto vegetarians who are such for ethical reasons may additionally refuse to eat cheese made with animal-based enzymes, or eggs produced by factory farms[?]. (In the UK, due to its sizeable Hindu minority, vegetarianism often refers to the Hindu practice described below.)
- People who also avoid the consumption of all animal products (e.g. eggs, milk and cheese) are called strict vegetarians[?]. Today, these people are commonly called vegans, though some reserve this term for those who additionally avoid usage of all kinds of animal products, not just food (e.g. leather).
- In Chinese societies, a particular restricted diet associated with Taoist monks, and sometimes practiced by members of the general population during Taoist festivals. Called "simple eating" (素食 su4shi2) in Chinese, 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.
- Hindus are forbidden from consuming anything gained at the expense of an animal's suffering: e.g. meat, eggs, animal byproducts such as rennet and gelatin (including gelatin capsules) and honey. The milk of cows, buffalo and goats as well as dairy products[?] (other than cheese containing rennet) are acceptable, as milk is given willingly. Leather from cows who have died of natural causes is acceptable. (Note: The orthodox Hindu diet also excludes alcohol, as well as "overly-stimulating" foods such as onions and garlic.)
- All dietary rules listed for Hindus apply to Jains, in addition to which Jains take into account any suffering caused to plants and microorganisms by their dietary choices. They never eat most root vegetables (e.g. potatoes) and deem many other vegetables acceptable only when harvested during certain times of the year.
- Fructarians eat only fruit, nuts, seeds and other plant matter that can be gathered without harming the plant. Thus a fructarian will eat beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, pumpkins and the like, but will refuse to eat potatoes or spinach.
Not considered vegetarianism:
- Some people choose to avoid certain types of meat for many of the same reasons that others choose vegetarianism -- health, ethical beliefs, and so forth. For example, some people will not eat "red meat" (mammal meat -- beef, lamb, pork, etc.) while still consuming poultry and seafood. This is not considered true vegetarianism.
Larger vegetarian diet photo
Vegetarianism has been practised throughout human history for a variety of reasons. The majority of people throughout the world's history have eaten little meat, often on economic grounds since it has historically frequently been expensive. A person's decision to move towards plant-based diets such as those embodied by vegetarianism may be influenced by a combination of factors.
Religion: A majority of the world's vegetarians follow the practice for religious reasons. Many religions, including Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism and especially Jainism, teach that ideally life should always be valued and not willfully destroyed for unnecessary human gratification.
- Many early Christians were vegetarian, including the Desert Fathers[?]. Since then, the Trappist[?], Benedictine, and Carthusian orders have encouraged vegetarianism, as have Seventh-Day Adventists. In the nineteenth century, members of the Bible Christian[?] sect established the first vegetarian groups in England and the United States.
- 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.
- Many non-Orthodox Jews choose to follow a vegetarian diet as their way of keeping kosher. Sometimes this is done for pragmatic reasons (red kosher meat is expensive and hard to come by in most cities and towns); often it is done for ethical reasons. Some prominent rabbis were vegetarian, such as the first Chief Rabbi of pre-state Israel, Abraham Isaac Kook.
- Genesis 1:29 states "And God said: Behold, I have given you every herb yielding seed which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree that has seed-yielding fruit - to you it shall be for food." According to many classical Jewish Bible commentators, this means that God's original plan was for mankind to be vegetarian. Rashi, one of the most important medieval Bible commentators, comments on this verse "God did not permit Adam and his wife to kill a creature and to eat its flesh. Only every green herb shall they all eat together." This is also the view of Jewish commentators such as Abraham ibn Ezra (1092-1167), Maimonides (1135-1214) and Nahmanides (1194-1270). According to many rabbis, God later gave permission for man to eat meat because of man's weak nature, but the ideal would be for man to be vegetarian.
Ethics: Nearly everybody can choose to be vegetarian if they so wish. (Exceptions are members of nomadic hunting or herding societies such as Inuit and Saami, for whom meat is a staple food.) Since it is possible to live perfectly healthily on a vegetarian diet, it can be argued that the vast majority of people who eat meat do so only for the sensual pleasure of eating it, for convenience, or simply out of habit. "Ethical vegetarians" consider that these are not good enough reasons to justify the suffering entailed in the production of meat. Vegetarianism of this sort is often associated with the animal rights movement, although not all ethical vegetarians subscribe to the notion of animal rights.
Environmental or ecological concerns: Particularly since the Industrial Revolution, machinery has enabled people to change their environment at a rate that, some argue, exceeds the ability of ecosystems to adapt. The use of large areas of land for livestock farming, and large-scale fishing in the oceans, have fundamentally affected animal and marine populations. Livestock production is also often linked to de-forestation and theft of the land from indigenous tribal people. In both environmental and economic terms, many vegetarians argue that the "cost" of raising a kilogram of animal protein is many times the "cost" of growing a kilogram of vegetable protein.
Health: Statistics indicate that people on vegetarian diets have lower incidence of heart disease, cancer and osteoporosis. The American Dietetic Association[?] says (http://www.eatright.org/adap1197.html), "Although nondietary factors, including physical activity and abstinence from smoking and alcohol, may play a role, [a meat-free, vegetarian] diet is clearly a contributing factor" in reducing both morbidity and mortality "rates from several chronic degenerative diseases than do nonvegetarians".
- Researchers like Dean Ornish[?] have had successful results treating heart disease patients with strictly vegetarian diet, exercise and stress reduction programs. There are also nutritional considerations which encourage diets emphasizing fruit, vegetables and cereals and minimising meat and fat intake.
Aesthetics: Some people intuitively find meat unappetizing, particularly when raw, and simply prefer to abstain from the consumption of animal flesh for emotional reasons.
Modern-day, industrially produced meat is laced with chemicals, such as growth hormones, antibiotics, preservatives, food-coloring, and pesticides. Moreover, the meat of pen-raised animals (such as feedlot-fattened cows and pigs and farmed salmon) have much higher levels of fat and less nutritional value than the meat of their corresponding free-range or wild bretheren. Hence, many people are vegetarians not for ethical or aesthetic reasons but simply because meat is nowadays has less nutritional value than it once had.
Mention: protein/amino acid problem, a healthy vegetarian diet is possible but not easy, animals were created for being eaten, animals eat animals, animals don't suffer, plants suffer too, etc.
Choosing not to eat meat for one or more of the above-mentioned reasons must be seen as a rational choice. Although there may be logical reasons not to do so, eating meat cannot be seen as being unnatural. Human beings have been omnivores since time immemorial; we have the teeth (incisors and molars) and the digstive systems of creatures who eat both meat and plants. Nearly all the higher primates to whom we are related are omnivores, except the gorilla(?).
In addition, some people do not thrive on purely vegatarian diets, becoming pale and weak. It appears to be related to blood type.
There is a risk that Vitamin B12 deficiency can result from veganism. While just about all animal based foods contain useful quantities of B12, no readily available plant based source does (except the not universally available Indonesian fermented soy product tempeh[?]). However a range of foods have the vitamin added, including breakfast cereals, soft drinks, soy milk, Marmite, Vegemite and others. B12 supplements such as vitamin pills are often prepared from abattoir waste and are thus unsuitable for vegetarians, although there are an increasing number of brands that contain no animal products. B12 is stored in the body for many months, so B12 deficiency symptoms do not appear immediately on embarking on a pure vegan diet, but can eventually be severe. However this deficiency is almost never seen in Western vegans, since the problem is well-known.
Some important nutrients (amino acids, fats, vitamins A, D, K and E) are present in good quantities in meat, but with minimal attention a vegetarian diet with plenty of all of these can be designed. The American Dietetic Association[?] states (http://www.eatright.org/adap1197.html): "Plant sources of protein alone can provide adequate amounts of essential amino acids if a variety of plant foods are consumed and energy needs are met".
It is more common to find instances of scurvy and other consequences of vitamin C deficiency[?] in people who subsist purely on a diet of fast food.
While vegetarianism is commonly defined strictly on the basis of dietary intake, many religiously, ethically or environmentally motivated vegetarians (in common with animal rights and Green movements) try to minimise the harm done to animals in all aspects of their lives.
Many religiously motivated vegetarians consider the avoidance of skin contact with products made from body parts (e.g. leather, tallow soap) an integral part of their definition of vegetarianism. Others consider leather made from the skin of animals who died of natural causes acceptable.
Many health-motivated vegetarians are also associated with the organic food movement and/or are concerned about the use of genetically modified organisms in food production.
See also: Vegetarian cuisine
- List of notable vegetarians
- People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
- List of diets
- Macrobiotic diet
- virtual water
- imitation meat
- in vitro meat
Resources for vegetarians: