Vegetarianism describes a group of similar voluntary diets, loosely-characterized by a reduction or elimination of animal products. The term vegetarianism can be quite vague and can have different meanings for different people.
Rationale for Vegetarianism
For instance, the Jainist doctrine of non-violence requires all members to be strict vegetarian. Similarly, many Seventh Day Adventists choose to be vegetarian. In a less strict sense, some religions such as Judaism and Islam forbid their adherents from eating pork. All of the Eastern religions which practice Ahimsa or non-violence also believe in Karma. Thus, the killing and/or eating of any sentient being will create negative karma for the killer/eater. Further, the refraining from eating something you like for the sake of Dharma or righteousness will create positive Karma.
As an example of a moral argument for vegetarianism, some believe that, as living beings, animals have innate rights, and thus should not be eaten.
Since vegetarian diets tend to be low in fat and cholesterol and high in dietary fiber, vitamins, and minerals, some believe it is healthier to be a vegetarian. This, of course, depends on the particular diet. Additionally, vegetarian foods are less susceptible to various forms of food poisoning that are common in meats.
Since the amount of resources required to create a single serving of meat is much greater than those necessary to create a serving vegetarian fare, and as many people across the globe are malnourished, some believe in an argument that being vegetarian is more sustainable or environmentally friendly.
The environmental issues have become more "heated" (no pun intended) as the debate over global warming intensifies. The raising of live stock for consumption has been recognized as the single largest contributor to global warming. It is also one of the leading contributors to the global water shortage. It reduces the amount of available potable water by the amount necessary for the live stock themselves to drink, the amount used in irrigating their food crops and the amount polluted by the run-off from the fertilizers used to grow their food crops and by the run-off from their waste products.
There are also some reasons for being a vegetarian which are not easily classified or which can be attributed to more than one of the reasons sited above.
For example, eating the flesh of an animal which has met a violent death means eating flesh which is permeated with stress hormones. Many people believe these hormones will affect the person who eats the flesh in the same way it did the original animal. Thus, eating this kind of flesh may contribute to a person being in a more stressed out state than if he/she did not eat this kind of food.
Also, many ancient cultures (especially the Chinese and Indian) believe you are what you eat. This includes the spiritual and energetic aspects of what you eat. Although nothing alive wishes to die, most people consider conscious beings to have a stronger will to live than plants. Also, by their nature, animals do not think about much besides their own existence and comfort. Thus, following the "You are What you Eat" maxim, eating animals ties a person more strongly to selfishness, materialism, this world and this plane of existence than eating only plants. Therefore, a person who wishes to raise his/her consciousness to a plane higher than the one we live on now, may choose to sever this tie to the material world by not eating animals.
Due to the complexity of reasons involved, vegetarianism can take on different forms; not all vegetarians have the same exact diet.
Types of Vegetarianism
Although types of vegetarianism can be classified according to rationale, they are more often classified according to what a particular member of that classification will eat. Here is a non-exhaustive list of foods that a vegetarian may choose to eat or not eat:
- Beef -- very few people who eat beef will call themselves vegetarians.
- Pork -- very few people who eat pork will call themselves vegetarians.
- Poultry -- some vegetarians choose to eat poultry.
- Seafood -- pesca-vegetarians choose to eat seafood.
- Eggs -- ovo-vegetarians choose to eat eggs.
- Dairy Products -- lacto-vegetarians choose to eat dairy products
- Other animal products
- Gelatin -- a product derived from cow or horse hooves.
- Honey -- a food derived from honey bees.
- Rennet -- an enzyme taken from the fourth stomach of a ruminant. It is used to curdle milk to make most cheeses.
Vegetarians can either be choosing to consume a single type of food above, or a combination of several types. However, there are some who have completely eliminated all forms of animal products from their diet.
Veganism, or strict vegetarianism is a diet in which absolutely no animal products are ingested. Even stricter, Jainists believe that killing a plant constitutes violence, and thus refuse to eat root vegetables such as potatoes or carrots.
Dietary Concerns for Vegetarians
Depending upon which form of vegetarianism a person subscribes to and their individual food preferences within that sub set of vegetarianism (in other words, how limited a person's dietary choices are), satisfying several nutritional requirements may take deliberate forethought and planning. Some areas for concern maybe assimilating enough of the following essential nutrients:
- protein, especially certain amino acids.
- Vitamin B-12: satisfying the dietary requirements for this essential vitamin maybe the most difficult for all vegetarians especially vegans.
- Calcium: although it is present in plant foods, the form it is in may not be readily assimilated by humans.
- Iron: although it is present in plant foods, the form it is in may not be readily assimilated by humans; and/or other components of a vegetarian diet may reduce its absorption rate (such as fiber, phytates and oxalates).
- Vitamin D
In addition to these scientifically quantifiable areas of concern, there is another area of deficiency which is also tied into the "You are what you Eat" theory:
For the very same reason some people consider that the eating of the flesh of animals affects your spirit and spirituality by strengthening your bonds to this plane of existence (as described above), they also believe that if your purpose in life requires you (your spirit) to have more fire, aggression and dominance (soldier, fire fighter, law enforcement, etc.) following a vegetarian diet may not be your best choice.
It should be noted that all of these dietary concerns become even more pressing for growing children.