Definitions

Salmonella infection

Vegetarianism

[vej-i-tair-ee-uh-niz-uhm]

Vegetarianism is the practice of a diet that excludes meat (including game and slaughter by-products), fish (including shellfish and other sea animals) and poultry. There are several variants of the diet, some of which also exclude eggs and/or some products produced from animal labour such as dairy products and honey.

A vegan diet is a form of vegetarianism which excludes all animal products from the diet, such as meat, poultry, fish, dairy products, eggs and honey. Strict veganism also excludes the use of animal products such as wool, silk, leather, and fur for attire and adornment, even though some of these do not directly involve the death or slaughter of an animal.

Most vegetarians consume dairy products, and many eat eggs. Lacto-vegetarianism includes dairy products but excludes eggs, ovo-vegetarianism includes eggs but not dairy, and lacto-ovo-vegetarianism includes both eggs and dairy products.

Semi-vegetarianism consists of a diet largely of vegetarian foods, but may include fish and sometimes even poultry, as well as dairy products and eggs. The association of semi-vegetarianism with vegetarianism in popular vernacular, particularly pescetarianism (also called pesco-vegetarianism and described as a "vegetarian" diet that includes fish), has led to what vegetarian groups cite as improper categorisation of these diets as vegetarian. The Vegetarian Society, which initiated popular usage of the term vegetarian as early as 1847, condemns the association of semi-vegetarian diets as valid vegetarianism; the organisation points out that the consumption of fish is not vegetarian.

The reasons for choosing vegetarianism may be related to morality, religion, culture, ethics, aesthetics, environment, society, economy, politics, taste, or health. A generic term for both vegetarianism and veganism, as well as for similar diets, is "plant-based diets". Properly planned vegetarian diets have been found to satisfy the nutritional needs for all stages of life, and large-scale studies have shown vegetarianism to significantly lower risks of cancer, ischaemic heart disease, and other diseases.

Terminology and varieties of vegetarianism

Foods in the main vegetarian diets
Diet Name Meat, Poultry, Fish Eggs Dairy Honey
Lacto-ovo vegetarianism
No
Yes Yes Yes
Lacto vegetarianism
No
No Yes Yes
Ovo vegetarianism
No
Yes No Yes
Veganism
No
No No No

Other dietary practices commonly associated with vegetarianism

Some vegetarians also avoid products that may use animal ingredients not included in their labels or which use animal products in their manufacturing i.e. cheeses that use animal rennet, gelatin (from animal skin, bones, and connective tissue), 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. Vegetarians who eat eggs sometimes prefer free-range eggs (as opposed to battery farmed eggs) on moral grounds.

Semi-vegetarian diets

Semi-vegetarian diets are diets that primarily consist of vegetarian foods, but make exceptions for some non-vegetarian foods. These diets may be followed by those who choose to reduce the amount of animal flesh consumed, or sometimes as a way of transitioning to a vegetarian diet. These terms are neologisms based on the word "vegetarian". They may be regarded with contention by some strict vegetarians, as they combine terms for vegetarian and non-vegetarian diets.

Additionally, many individuals describe themselves as simply "vegetarian" while actually practicing a semi-vegetarian diet.

Etymology

The Vegetarian Society, founded in 1847, claims to have "created the word vegetarian from the Latin 'vegetus' meaning 'lively' (which is how these early vegetarians claimed their diet made them feel) ... However, the Oxford English Dictionary and other standard dictionaries state that the word was formed from the term "vegetable" and the suffix "-arian".

The Oxford English Dictionary also gives evidence that the word was already in use before the foundation of the Vegetarian Society:

  • 1839 - "If I had had to be my own cook, I should inevitably become a vegetarian." (F. A. Kemble, Jrnl. Residence on Georgian Plantation (1863) 251)
  • 1842 - "To tell a healthy vegetarian that his diet is very uncongenial with the wants of his nature." (Healthian, Apr. 34)

But notes that "The general use of the word appears to have been largely due to the formation of the Vegetarian Society at Ramsgate in 1847."

History

The earliest records of vegetarianism as a concept and practice amongst a significant number of people concern ancient India and the ancient Greek civilisation in Southern Italy and in Greece in the 6th century BCE. In both instances the diet was closely connected with the idea of nonviolence towards animals (called ahimsa in India) and was promoted by religious groups and philosophers. Following the Christianisation of the Roman Empire in late antiquity, vegetarianism practically disappeared from Europe. Several orders of monks in medieval Europe restricted or banned the consumption of meat for ascetic reasons, but none of them eschewed fish. Vegetarianism re-emerged somewhat in Europe during the Renaissance. It became a more widespread practice in the 19th and 20th centuries.

In 1847 the first Vegetarian Society was founded in England; Germany, the Netherlands and other countries followed. The International Vegetarian Union, a union of the national societies, was founded in 1908. In the Western world, the popularity of vegetarianism grew during the 20th century as a result of nutritional, ethical, and more recently, environmental and economic concerns. Today, Indian vegetarians, primarily lacto vegetarians, are estimated to make up more than 70% of the world's vegetarians. They make up 20–42% of the population in India, while less than 30% are regular meat-eaters. Surveys in the U.S. have found that roughly 1–2.8% of adults eat no meat (including poultry or fish).

Health benefits and concerns

Vegetarianism is considered a healthy, viable diet. The American Dietetic Association and the Dietitians of Canada have found a properly-planned vegetarian diet to satisfy the nutritional needs for all stages of life, and large-scale studies have shown vegetarianism to significantly lower risks of cancer, ischaemic heart disease, and other fatal diseases. Necessary nutrients, proteins, and amino acids for the body's sustenance can be found in green leafy vegetables, grains, nuts, and fortified juices or soymilk.

Vegetarian diets can aid in keeping body weight under control and substantially reduce risks of heart disease and osteoporosis. Non-lean red meat, in particular, has been found to be directly associated with dramatically increased risk of cancers of the lung, oesophagus, liver, and colon. Other studies have shown that there were no significant differences between vegetarians and nonvegetarians in mortality from cerebrovascular disease, stomach cancer, colorectal cancer, breast cancer, or prostate cancer.

The American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada have stated: "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 tend to have lower body mass index, lower levels of cholesterol, lower blood pressure, and less incidence of heart disease, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, renal disease, osteoporosis, dementias such as Alzheimer’s Disease and other disorders.

Nutrition

Western vegetarian diets are typically high in carotenoids, but relatively low in long-chain n-3 fatty acids, and vitamin B12. Vegans can have particularly low intake of vitamin B and calcium if they do not eat enough items such as collard greens, leafy greens, tempeh and tofu. High levels of dietary fibre, folic acid, vitamins C and E, and magnesium, and low consumption of saturated fat could all be beneficial aspects of a vegetarian diet.

Protein

Protein intake in vegetarian and vegan diets is only slightly lower than in meat diets and can meet daily requirements for any person, including athletes and bodybuilders. Studies by Harvard University as well as other studies conducted in the United States, Great Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and various European countries, have confirmed that vegetarian diets provide more than sufficient protein intake as long as a variety of plant sources are available and consumed. Proteins are composed of amino acids, and a common concern with protein acquired from vegetable sources is an adequate intake of the "essential amino acids", which cannot be synthesised by the human body. While dairy and egg products provide complete sources for lacto-ovo vegetarians, the only vegetable sources with significant amounts of all eight types of essential amino acids are lupin, soy, hempseed, chia seed, amaranth, buckwheat and quinoa. It is not necessary, however, to obtain protein from these sources — the essential amino acids can also be obtained by eating a variety of complementary plant sources that, in combination, provide all eight essential amino acids (e.g. brown rice and beans, or hummus and whole wheat pita, though protein combining in the same meal is not necessary). A varied intake of such sources can be adequate.

Iron

Vegetarian diets typically contain similar levels of iron to non-vegetarian diets, but this has lower bioavailability than iron from meat sources, and its absorption can sometimes be inhibited by other dietary constituents. Vegetarian foods rich in iron include black beans, cashews, kidney beans, lentils, oatmeal, raisins, black-eyed peas, soybeans, many breakfast cereals, sunflower seeds, chickpeas, veggie burgers, tomato juice, tempeh, molasses, and whole-wheat bread. Vegan diets can often be higher in iron than vegetarian diets, because dairy products are low in iron. Iron stores often tend to be lower in vegetarians than non-vegetarians and iron deficiency is thus more common in vegetarian and vegan women and children (adult males are rarely iron deficient), however, iron deficiency anaemia is rare.

Vitamin B12

Plants are not generally significant sources of Vitamin B12, However, vegetarians can obtain B12 from dairy products, eggs, fortified foods and dietary supplements. Since the human body preserves B12 and reuses it without destroying the substance, clinical evidence of B12 deficiency is uncommon. The body can preserve stores of the vitamin for up to 30 years without needing its supplies to be replenished.

The recommendation of taking supplements has been challenged by studies indicating that exogenous B12 may actually interfere with the proper absorption of this vitamin in its natural form. The research on vitamin B12 sources has increased in the latest years and researchers at Hiroshima University have developed methods for growing plants rich in vitamin B12.

Fatty acids

Fish is a major source of Omega 3 fatty acids, although some plant-based sources exist such as soy, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, canola oil and, especially, hempseed, chia seed, flaxseed, and purslane. Purslane contains more Omega 3 than any other known leafy green. Plant foods can provide alpha-linolenic acid but not the long-chain n-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, which are found in low levels in eggs and dairy products. Vegetarians, and particularly vegans, have lower levels of EPA and DHA than meat-eaters. While the health effects of low levels of EPA and DHA are unknown, it is unlikely that supplementation with alpha-linolenic acid will significantly increase levels. Recently, some companies have begun to market vegetarian DHA supplements containing seaweed extracts. Similar supplements providing both DHA and EPA have also begun to appear. Whole seaweeds are not suitable for supplementation because their high iodine content limits the amount that may be safely consumed. However, certain algae such as spirulina are good sources of gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), linoleic acid (LA), stearidonic acid (SDA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and arachidonic acid (AA).

Calcium

Calcium intake in vegetarians is similar to non-vegetarians. Some impaired bone mineralisation has been found among vegans who do not consume enough leafy greens, which are sources of abundant calcium. However, this is not found in vegetarians.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D levels do not appear to be lower in vegetarians (although studies have shown that much of the general population is deficient). Vitamin D needs can be met via the human body's own generation upon sufficient and sensible UV sun exposure. Products including milk, soy milk and cereal grains may be fortified to provide a good source of Vitamin D and mushrooms provide over 2700 IU per serving (approx. 3 oz or 1/2 cup) of vitamin D2, if exposed to just 5 minutes of UV light after being harvested; for those who do not get adequate sun exposure and/or food sources, Vitamin D supplementation may be necessary.

Longevity

A 1999 metastudy compared six major studies from western countries. The study found that the mortality ratio was the lowest in fish eaters (0.82) followed by vegetarians (0.84) and occasional meat eaters (0.84), and was then followed by regular meat eaters (1.0) and vegan (1.0). When the study made its best estimate of mortality ratio with confounding factors considered, the mortality ratio for vegetarians was found to be (0.94).

In "Mortality in British vegetarians", it was concluded 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."

The Adventist Health Study is an ongoing study of life expectancy in Seventh-day Adventists. This is the only study among others with similar methodology which had favourable indication for vegetarianism. The researchers found that a combination of different lifestyle choices could influence life expectancy by as much as 10 years. Among the lifestyle choices investigated, a vegetarian diet was estimated to confer an extra 1–1/2 to 2 years of life. The researchers concluded that "the life expectancies of California Adventist men and women are higher than those of any other well-described natural population" at 78.5 years for men and 82.3 years for women. The life expectancy of California Adventists surviving to age 30 was 83.3 years for men and 85.7 years for women.

However, Adventist health study is again incorporated into meta studies titled "Does low meat consumption increase life expectancy in humans?" published in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, which made the conclusion that occasional/low meat eating and other life style choices significantly increase the life expectancy. The study also concluded that "Some of the variation in the survival advantage in vegetarians may have been due to marked differences between studies in adjustment for confounders, the definition of vegetarian, measurement error, age distribution, the healthy volunteer effect, and intake of specific plant foods by the vegetarians." It further states that "This raises the possibility that a low-meat, high plant-food dietary pattern may be the true causal protective factor rather than simply elimination of meat from the diet." In a recent review of studies relating low-meat diet patterns to all-cause mortality, Singh noted that "5 out of 5 studies indicated that adults who followed a low meat, high plant-food diet pattern experienced significant or marginally significant decreases in mortality risk relative to other patterns of intake."

Statistical studies, such as comparing life expectancy with regional areas and local diets in Europe also have found life expectancy considerably greater in southern France, where a low meat, high plant Mediterranean diet is common, than northern France, where a diet with high meat content is more common.

A study by the Institute of Preventive and Clinical Medicine, and Institute of Physiological Chemistry looked at a group of 19 vegetarians (lacto-ovo) and used as a comparison a group of 19 omnivorous subjects recruited from the same region. The study found that this group of vegetarians (lacto-ovo) have a significantly higher amount of plasma carboxymethyllysine and advanced glycation endproducts (AGEs) compared to this group of omnivores. Carboxymethyllysine is a glycation product which represents "a general marker of oxidative stress and long-term damage of proteins in aging, atherosclerosis and diabetes." "Advanced glycation end products (AGEs) may play an important adverse role in process of atherosclerosis, diabetes, aging and chronic renal failure." The researchers theorised that it may be the higher fructose intake of these particular vegetarians (from higher fruit and vegetable intake) that increased their AGEs levels.

Food safety

E. coli
Vegetarianism is believed to reduce E. coli infections, and proponents point to the link between E. coli contaminations in food and industrial scale meat and dairy farms. The most recent E. coli outbreak in North America has once again demonstrated this link because the source of this E. coli was traced back to "a large ranch in the Salinas Valley that has a beef cattle operation" about a half-mile from the spinach fields where spinach became contaminated.

There are several variants of E. coli and they can be found in a healthy human gut, but the deadly strain, H7 was virtually unheard of until the 1980s. It is believed that this strain evolved in the digestive system of grain fed cattle on large industrial farms. On these farms, grain is used as cattle feed because it is nutrient-packed and increases efficiency. A side effect of feeding grain to cattle is that it increases the acidity of their stomach — and it is in this acidic gut that the deadly O157:H7 thrives.

In 2003, an article in the Journal of Dairy Science found that between 30 and 80 percent of cattle carry E. coli O157:H7. In that same journal article, a quick fix was pointed out: Cows that are switched from a grain diet to a forage diet saw, within 5 days, a 1,000 fold decrease in the abundance of strain O157. But until changes like this are made, the source of many E. coli outbreaks will continue to be high-yield (industrial) meat and dairy farms.

More likely, rather than change the way cattle are fed or raised on industrial farms there will instead be pressure to find technological solutions like food irradiation, plans for HACCP, or simply cooking burgers longer. Suggestions like this have led some experts, like Professor of Science and Environmental Journalism at UC Berkeley, Michael Pollan, to suggest that "All of these solutions treat E. coli O157:H7 as an unavoidable fact of life rather than what it is: a fact of industrial agriculture.

E. coli can be still acquired from any excrement-contaminated food or human commensal bacteria. The recent case of spinach and onions with E. coli contamination in the U.S. shows that vegetarian foods are also susceptible to food safety concerns. In 2005, some people who had consumed branded triple-washed, pre-packaged lettuce were infected with E. coli, and in 2007, branded lettuce salad were recalled after they were found to be contaminated by E. coli In fact E. coli outbreaks have also involved unpasteurised apple and orange juice, milk, alfalfa sprouts, and even water.

Other food scares
Various animal food safety scares over recent years have led to increased numbers of people choosing a semi-vegetarian or vegetarian diet. These scares have included Avian influenza in poultry, foot-and-mouth in sheep, PCBs in farmed salmon, mercury in fish, generally high dioxin concentrations in animal products, and artificial growth hormones, antibiotics or BSE, also known as Mad Cow Disease, in cows. According to various organisations, vCJD in humans is strongly linked with exposure to the BSE agent that has been found in beef. Toxins such as lead and mercury can bioaccumulate in animal products in higher concentrations than what is considered safe. Vegetables and fruits have a risk of being contaminated by pesticide residue or by banned chemicals being used to ripen fruits. Recent cases of several widespread outbreaks of salmonella infection, including outbreaks from contaminated peanut butter, frozen pot pies & puffed vegetable snacks also indicate that vegetarian foodstuff is susceptible to contamination.

Medical use

In Western medicine, patients are sometimes advised to adhere to a vegetarian diet. Certain alternative medicines, such as Ayurveda and Siddha, prescribe a vegetarian diet as a normal procedure.

Physiology

The mainstream scientific consensus is that humans are physiologically best suited to an omnivore diet. The Vegetarian Resource Group, among others, has concluded that humans are naturally omnivores based on the human ability to digest meat, as well as plant foods, with the correspondent metabolic tendency to an adaptation that makes them need both animal and vegetable nourishment. Other arguments hold that humans are more anatomically similar to herbivores, with long intestinal tracts and blunt teeth, unlike omnivores and carnivores. Human teeth, including relatively blunt canines, are more similar to those found in animals with herbivore diets than in carnivores and most omnivores. Nutritional experts believe that early hominids evolved into eating meat as a result of huge climatic changes that took place three to four million years ago, when forests and jungles dried up and became open grasslands and opened hunting and scavenging opportunities. According to one research study, the choice of dietary protein of vegetarians and omnivores is reflected in their hair protein.

Reasons for following a vegetarian diet

Ethics

Various ethical reasons have been suggested for choosing vegetarianism. It has been argued, for example, that the production, slaughtering, and consumption of meat or animal products is unethical. Reasons for this include a belief in animal rights, an aversion to inflicting pain or harm on other sentient beings, or a belief that the unnecessary killing of other animals is inherently wrong.

It has also been argued that although production and consumption of meat may be acceptable on its own terms, the methods by which animals are reared in the commercial industry are unethical. The book Animal Liberation by Peter Singer has been very influential on the animal rights movement and specifically ethical vegetarianism and veganism. In developed countries, ethical vegetarianism has become popular particularly after the spread of factory farming, a system of livestock farming where animals are kept indoors throughout the greater part of their lives in conditions of very restricted mobility. Pigs, laying hens, broiler chickens, and veal calves are the animals most often kept under these conditions. Factory farming has reduced the sense of husbandry that used to exist in farming and which has led to animals being treated as commodities. Many believe that the treatment that animals undergo in the production of meat and animal products obliges them to never eat meat or use animal products.

Arguments that do not pertain to animal rights exist in many vegetarian philosophies as well. The advance of global warming is one of these key issues in environmental vegetarians. According to a study done by the University of Chicago and reprinted in Time magazine, switching from a meat-eating diet to vegetarianism reduces one carbon footprint by 1.4 times the amount of switching from a Toyota Camry to a Hybrid car. This is because of the vast amount of methane that is put into the air from overbreeding for consumption, methane being a 32% more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Shipment of the grain and the cattle itself also plays a part in this issue, being that it takes 8 pounds of grain to get 1 pound of meat. Many vegetarians feel that eating so high up on the food chain plays too large a part in global starvation to justify meat consumption.

Religion

Hinduism and Jainism teach vegetarianism as moral conduct whilst Christianity and Islam generally do not. Buddhism in general does not prohibit meat eating, while Mahayana Buddhism encourages vegetarianism as beneficial for developing compassion. Other denominations that advocate a fully vegetarian diet include the Seventh-day Adventists, the Rastafari movement and the Hare Krishnas.

Hinduism

Some major paths of Hinduism hold vegetarianism as an ideal. There are three main reasons for this: the principle of nonviolence (ahimsa) applied to animals; the intention to offer only "pure" (vegetarian) food to a deity and then to receive it back as prasad; and the conviction that non-vegetarian food is detrimental for the mind and for spiritual development. Nonviolence is a common concern of all the vegetarian traditions in Hinduism; the other two aspects are relevant for those who follow special spiritual paths.

However, the food habits of Hindus vary according to their community and according to regional traditions. Hindu vegetarians usually eschew eggs but consume milk and dairy products, so they are lacto-vegetarians. Milk and milk products are vital in the traditional food habits of India.

Jainism

Followers of Jainism are most commonly lacto-vegetarians. No products obtained from dead animals are allowed. Jains hold vegetarianism as the ideal diet in a similar fashion to Hindu traditions but with emphasis on their principle of all-round non-violence (ahimsa). This is for them an indispensable condition for spiritual progress. Some particularly dedicated individuals are fruitarians. Honey is forbidden, because its collection is seen as violence against the bees. Some Jains do not consume plant parts that grow underground such as roots and bulbs, because tiny animals may be killed when the plants are pulled up.

Buddhism

In the Pali canon of Theravada Buddhism, the Buddha himself ate meat and he did not prohibit it for his followers. Theravadins make the distinction between the direct taking of life and eating meat which is already killed. Thus, they consider the careers of being a butcher or a hunter unethical and ideally do not promote them by purchasing meat. Although they are clearly forbidden to eat specific types of meat (for reasons unrelated to killing) and are dependent on the laity's offerings for food, Theravada monks can pursue vegetarianism if they wish by leaving uneaten any meat that may have been placed in their alms bowl. If monks know a living animal was killed specifically for them, they must refuse it or else incur an offense. For laypeople, there is no such prohibition on buying meat. Most Buddhists in Asian countries consume meat (see Chinese cuisine).

In Mahayana Buddhism, there are several Sanskrit texts where the Buddha instructs his followers to avoid meat. Mahayana Buddhism advises monks to be strictly vegetarian and is recommended for laypeople, but not required.

Sikhism

Followers of the Sikh religion are divided in their opinion on whether their religion opposes meat consumption for Sikhs. Although many Sikhs do eat meat, some initiated Sikhs or "amritdharis" that belong to Sikh Sects (eg Akhand Kirtani Jatha, Namdhari, Rarionwalay etc)abstain from the consumption of meat and eggs.. Mainstream "amritdhari" Sikh's (i.e. those that follow the Sikh Rehat Maryada, ), are not compelled to be meat free.

In the case of meat, the Sikh Gurus have indicated their preference for a simple diet and depending on what one sees as a simple diet could be meat or vegetarian. Passages from the Guru Granth Sahib (the holy book of Sikhs, also known as the Adi Granth) says that fools argue over this issue. Guru Nanak said that any consumption of food involves a drain on the Earth's resources and thus on life. The tenth guru, Guru Gobind Singh, prohibited the Sikhs from the consumption of halal or Kutha (any ritually slaughtered meat) meat because of the Sikh belief that sacrificing an animal in the name of God is mere ritualism (something to be avoided).

Judaism

A number of medieval scholars of Jewish religion (e.g. Joseph Albo) regard vegetarianism as a moral ideal, not because of a concern for the welfare of animals, but because of the fact that the slaughter of animals might cause the individual who performs such acts to develop negative character traits, viz., meanness and cruelty. Therefore, their concern was with regard to possible harmful effects upon human character rather than with animal welfare. Indeed, Rabbi Joseph Albo maintains that renunciation of the consumption of meat for reasons of concern for animal welfare is not only morally erroneous but even repugnant.

One modern-day scholar who is often cited as looking upon vegetarianism with extreme favour is the late Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook. It is indeed the case that in his writings, Rabbi Kook speaks of vegetarianism as an ideal, and points to the fact that Adam did not partake of the flesh of animals. In context, however, Rabbi Kook makes those comments in his portrayal of the eschatological (messianic) era. He regards man's moral state in that period as being akin to that of Adam before his sin and does indeed view renunciation of enjoyment of animal flesh as part of the heightened moral awareness which will be manifest at that time.

Rabbi Kook is emphatic in admonishing that vegetarianism not be adopted as a norm of human conduct prior to the advent of the eschatological era.

According to some Kabbalists, only a mystic, who is able to sense and elevate the reincarnated human souls and "divine sparks", is permitted to consume meat, though eating the flesh of an animal might still cause spiritual damage to the soul. A number of Orthodox Jewish vegetarian groups and activists promote such ideas and believe that the halakhic permission to eat meat is a temporary leniency for those who are not ready yet to accept the vegetarian diet.

Having ties with both ancient Judaism and Christianity members of the ancient Essene religious group practiced strict vegetarianism sharing a similar belief with the Hindus'/Jains' idea of Ahimsa or "harmlessness".

Translation of the Torah's Ten Commandments state "thou shall not murder. Many argue that this can also be taken as meaning not to kill at all, animals nor humans, or at least "that one shall not kill unnecessarily," in the same manner that onerous restrictions on slavery in the bible have been interpreted by modern theologians as to suggest banning the practice.

Christianity

While vegetarianism is not common in western Christian thought, the concept appears periodically. According to the Bible, in the beginning, humans and animals were vegetarian. Immediately after the Flood, God permitted the eating of meat, however some maintain that God permitted the consumption of meat temporarily because all plants had been destroyed as a result of the flood. Some Christians believe that the Bible explains that, in the future, humans and animals will return to vegetarianism.

Some Christian leaders, such as the Reverend Andrew Linzey, have supported the view that Jesus was a vegetarian. Some people believe that the Book of Daniel specifically promotes vegetarianism as beneficial. However, common theology argues that in this instance Daniel is rejecting food that is considered to be unholy by his faith (eating food that had been sacrificed to pagan gods), not strictly meat. The Bible's New Testament says that a person's dietary choice is of small consequence and should not be a point of confrontation (see Romans 14:1–3). Therefore, some modern Christians consider vegetarianism as a perfectly acceptable personal choice that has many of the same implications as fasting.

All Oriental Orthodox, Eastern Orthodox, and Eastern Catholic monastics abstain from meat year-round, and many abstain from dairy and seafood as well. Laity generally abstain from animal products on Wednesdays (due to a traditional belief that it was a Wednesday on which Judas arranged to betray Jesus Christ) and Fridays (because Jesus was crucified on a Friday), as well as during the four major fasting periods of the year: Great Lent, the Apostles' Fast, the Dormition Fast and the Nativity Fast. This is not for environmental or animal welfare reasons, but for spiritual reasons. Fasting is seen as purification and the regaining of innocence. Through obedience to the Orthodox Church and its ascetic practices, the Orthodox Christian seeks to rid himself or herself of the passions, or the disposition to sin.

The Seventh-day Adventist Church is a Christian denomination that recommends the vegetarian diet as a holistic lifestyle choice within its teachings. A number of the founders of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, including Joseph Bates and Ellen White adopted the vegetarian diet during the nineteenth century, and Ellen White reportedly received visions regarding the health benefits of the vegetarian diet. More recently, members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in California have been involved in research into longevity due to their healthy lifestyle, which includes maintaining a vegetarian diet. This research has been included within a National Geographic article.

Islam

Islam allows the consumption of meat, if the meat is "halal", however, the option of vegetarianism is also available. This is a personal decision only, supported by a general religious philosophy stressing kind treatment of animals. Vegetarianism has been practiced by some influential Muslims including the Indian theologian, female mystic and poet Râbi‘ah al-‘Adawîyah of Basrah, who died in the year 801, and the Sri Lankan sufi master Bawa Muhaiyaddeen who established The Bawa Muhaiyaddeen Fellowship of North America in Philadelphia.

Muslims have the freedom of choice to be vegetarian for medical reasons or if they do not personally like the taste of meat. However, the choice to eat vegetarian can be controversial. According to Hâfiz Nazr Ahmad, although the number of Muslim vegetarians today is increasing, individual adherents tend to keep quiet about it.

In January 1996, The International Vegetarian Union announced the formation of the Muslim Vegetarian/Vegan Society. They noted that the Quran states that "There is not an animal on earth, nor a bird that flies on its wings - but they are communities like you." (The Quran, 6:38)

Many Muslims who normally eat meat will select vegetarian options when dining in non-halal restaurants. This way they can be certain to observe dietary restrictions.

Neopaganism

Many who practice a faith that falls under the Neopagan umbrella also practice vegetarianism. Since Neopaganism generally emphasises the sanctity of Earth and Nature, a vegetarian diet is sometimes adopted out of concern for the environment and/or animal welfare.

Environmental

Environmental vegetarianism is based on the belief that the production of meat and animal products for mass consumption, especially through factory farming, is environmentally unsustainable or otherwise harmful. Recent research strongly supports these concerns. According to a 2006 United Nations initiative, the livestock industry is one of the largest contributors to environmental degradation worldwide, and modern practices of raising animals for food contributes on a "massive scale" to air and water pollution, land degradation, climate change, and loss of biodiversity. The initiative concluded that "the livestock sector emerges as one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global.

In addition, animal agriculture has been pointed out as one of the largest sources of greenhouse gases – responsible for 18 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions as measured in CO2 equivalents. By comparison, all of the world's transportation (including all cars, trucks, buses, trains, ships, and 2. Animal farming produces 65 percent of human-related nitrous oxide and 37 percent of all human-induced methane. The habitat for wildlife provided by large industrial monoculture farms is very poor, and modern industrial agriculture has been considered a threat to biodiversity compared with farming practices such as organic farming, permaculture, arable, pastoral, and rainfed agriculture.

Animals fed on grain, and those that 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 percent of its agricultural land. Additionally, animals raised for food in the U.S. consume 90 percent of the soy crop, 80 percent of the corn crop, and a total of 70 percent of its grain.

When tracking food animal production from the feed trough to consumption, the inefficiencies of meat, milk and egg production range from 4:1 up to 54:1 energy input to protein output ratio. This firstly because the feed first needs to be grown before it is eaten by the cattle, and secondly because warm-blooded vertebrates need to use a lot of calories just to stay warm (unlike plants or insects). An index which can be used as a measure is the efficiency of conversion of ingested food to body substance, which indicates, for example, that only 10% is converted to body substance by beef cattle, versus 19–31% by silkworms and 44% by German cockroaches. Ecology professor David Pimentel has claimed, "If all the grain currently fed to livestock in the United States were consumed directly by people, the number of people who could be fed would be nearly 800 million, To produce animal based food seems to be, according to these studies, typically much less efficient than the harvesting of grains, vegetables, legumes, seeds and fruits. However, this would not apply to animals that are grazed rather than fed, especially those grazed on land that could not be used for other purposes. Nor would it apply to cultivation of insects for food (called entomophagy), which is more environmentally sustainable than eating food coming from cattle farming. Meat produced in a laboratory (called in vitro meat) may be also more environmentally sustainable than regularly produced meat.

According to the theory of trophic dynamics, it requires 10 times as many crops to feed animals being bred for meat production as it would to feed the same number of people on a vegetarian diet. Currently, 70 percent of all the wheat, corn, and other grain produced is fed to farmed animals. This has led many proponents of vegetarianism to believe that it is ecologically irresponsible to consume meat. Rearing a relatively small number grazing animals is often beneficial, as observed by the Food Climate Research Network at Surrey University, which reports, "A little bit of livestock production is probably a good thing for the environment". In 2008, Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, stated:

"The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has estimated that direct emissions from meat production account for about 18% of the world's total greenhouse gas emissions. So I want to highlight the fact that among options for mitigating climate change, changing diets is something one should consider."

Labour conditions

Some groups promote vegetarianism as a way to offset poor treatment and working conditions of workers in the contemporary meat industry. These groups cite studies showing the psychological damage caused by working in the meat industry, especially in factory and industrialised settings, and argue that the meat industry violates its labourers' human rights by delegating difficult and distressing tasks without adequate counselling, training and debriefing. However, the working conditions of agricultural workers, particularly non-permanent ones, remain poor and well below conditions prevailing in other economic sectors. Accidents, including pesticide poisoning, among the farmers and plantation workers contribute to increased health risks, including mortality. In fact, according to the International Labour Organization, agriculture is one of the three most dangerous jobs in the world.

Economical

Similar to environmental vegetarianism is the concept of 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 their health care burden while improving public health; declining livestock herds will take pressure off 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. Economic vegetarians also may include people from third world countries who follow a de facto vegetarian diet due to the high price of meat.

Psychological

Some vegetarians choose to be so in part because they find meat and meat products aesthetically unappetising. The Whole Earth Vegetarian Catalogue's '49 good reasons for being a vegetarian' says that one reason for being a vegetarian is that "Decaying animal parts, whether in a freezer case or served in restaurants, can never be as aesthetically pleasing to the senses as the same foods made from wholesome vegetable sources. Only habit can allow one not to perceive this: a change in diet makes this self evident."

The metaphor by 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 were presented with the same choices, its natural impulse would be the opposite.

Though this may be considered a flawed comparison, as cats are carnivores and not omnivores, it has been noted that comparatively omnivorous human-like species such as chimpanzees' offspring may not instinctively kill such hunted prey as Senegal Bushbabies when presented with one and banana or other fruit either, despite hunting and eating them. The comparison may also suffer from the "Appeal to nature" logical fallacy.

In a similar assertion, Scott Adams, who is also a vegetarian, once wrote humorously: "I point out that a live cow makes a lion salivate, whereas a human just wants to say 'moo' and see if the cow responds.

In the therapy of some health disorders and/or food intolerances vegetarian diets are considered a necessary element.

Cultural

People may choose vegetarianism because they were raised in a vegetarian household or because of a vegetarian partner, family member, or friend. A predominantly and traditionally vegetarian society also facilitates the continuance of such a tradition.

Limited vegetarianism appears to be an appealing alternative for young people in Western societies. In 2007 an experiment, originating at the University of Michigan Medical School, intending to study how memes spread led to an included attempt to encourage limited vegetarianism. It has been the meme itself that has brought life to the concept of "Vegetarian Wednesday." The idea is that those choosing to adopt this limited vegetarian diet would consume their normal daily food except for Wednesday of each week when they would maintain a vegetarian diet.

Demographics

Gender

A 1992 market research study conducted by the Yankelovich research organisation claimed that "of the 12.4 million people who call themselves vegetarian, 68 percent are female while only 32 percent are male.

Some studies show that vegetarian women are much more likely to have female babies. A study of 6,000 pregnant women in 1998 "found that while the national average in Britain is 106 boys born to every 100 girls, for vegetarian mothers the ratio was just 85 boys to 100 girls." This research was dismissed by Catherine Collins, of the British Dietetic Association, as a "statistical fluke".

There is some speculation that diets high in soy, due to high isoflavone content, can have a feminising effect on humans due to the phytoestrogens contained. Proponents of this theory claim that diets high in isoflavones promote earlier onset of female puberty and delayed male puberty. However, a 2001 study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania found no significant differences in the later onset of puberty between infants raised on soy-based formula and cow milk formula.

Country-specific information

Vegetarianism is viewed in different ways around the world. In some areas there is cultural and even legal support, but in others the diet is poorly understood or even frowned upon. In many countries food labelling is in place that makes it easier for vegetarians to identify foods compatible with their diets.

In India, not only is there food labelling, but many restaurants are marketed and signed as being either "Vegetarian" or "Non-Vegetarian". People who are vegetarian in India are usually Lacto-vegetarians, and therefore, to cater for this market, the majority of vegetarian restaurants in India do serve dairy products while eschewing egg products. Most Western vegetarian restaurants, in comparison, do serve eggs and egg-based products.

See also

References

External links

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