World Vegetarian Day

Anyone with a cursory glance at my blog will know that I am a vegetarian. I was raised as one and continue to remain one. My children are also raised as vegetarians and though I would not comment if they ate meat outside the house and in their own homes, when they have one, I will put my foot down about consuming meat in my home and will not allow anyone to cook or eat non-vegetarian food in my kitchen and home. This is, in large part, due to my religious beliefs and is something I will not budge from. I have no issues with people around me eating any kind of food and have on many occasions, in school, at work or even in social situations been with friends and colleagues who have eaten meat at the same table as me. All I ask of them is not to use their spoons to dig into my dish and if they want to taste what I am eating, to use the serving spoon in my dish to take some into their plates and eat, so my food does not get contaminated. And in any case, this is a healthy sharing practice, I believe.

What we eat impacts the well being of ourselves, animals and the planet. Vegetarianism was frequently referred to as a Pythagorean Diet, named after the ancient Greek philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras who was an early advocate for the diet before the popularisation of the term vegetarian in the mid-1800s. Vegetarianism has been present in India since the 5th century BC, though the concept is also clearly present in Buddhism, which originated between the fifth and sixth centuries, in plant-based staples such as tofu which have been consumed in China for more than 2,000 years, in Indonesian, Japanese and Thai cuisines and also on the African continent before European colonisation. It became more mainstream in the US and UK in the 1960s and gathered additional momentum in the 1970s which led the North American Vegetarian Society to establish October 1 as World Vegetarian Day in 1977 to promote the joy, compassion and life-enhancing possibilities of vegetarianism.

A vegetarian diet focuses on vegetables, seeds, legumes, fruits, nuts and grains and also includes animal products such as eggs, dairy and honey, that are obtained without involving the death of an animal or the consumption of its meat. There are many variations of the vegetarian diet: an ovo-lacto vegetarian diet includes both eggs and dairy products, an ovo-vegetarian diet includes eggs but not dairy products, and a lacto-vegetarian diet includes dairy products but not eggs. As the strictest of vegetarian diets, a vegan diet excludes all animal products, including eggs and dairy and even extends to abstain the use of any animal-derived products.

Maintenance of a vegetarian diet can be challenging. While avoidance of animal products may support health and ethical concerns, dietary supplements may be needed to prevent nutritional deficiency if all such products are shunned, particularly for vitamin B12. Packaged and processed foods may contain minor quantities of animal ingredients. While some vegetarians scrutinise product labels for such ingredients, others do not object to consuming them or are unaware of their presence. Labelling is however mandatory in India to distinguish vegetarian products (green) from non-vegetarian products with vegetarian products having a green dot in them and non-vegetarian products having a brown dot which must be visible.

Vegetarianism may be adopted for various reasons. Many people object to eating meat out of respect for sentient animal life. Such ethical motivations have been codified under various religious beliefs as well as animal rights advocacy. Other motivations for vegetarianism are health-related, political, environmental, cultural, aesthetic, economic, taste-related, or relate to other personal preferences.

The American Dietetic Association has stated that at all stages of life, a properly planned vegetarian diet can be healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may be beneficial in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Vegetarian diets offer lower levels of saturated fat, cholesterol and animal protein, and higher levels of carbohydrates, fibre, magnesium, potassium, folate, vitamins C and E, and phytochemicals. Studies have shown that a vegetarian diet may increase the risk of calcium deficiency and low bone mineral density. A 2021 review found no differences in growth between vegetarian and meat-eating children. Vegetarian diets are under preliminary research for their potential to help people with type 2 diabetes. A study presented at the European Congress on Obesity found that vegetarians appear to have a healthier biomarker profile than meat-eaters.

Vegetarianism reduces the risk of major killers such as heart disease, stroke and cancer while cutting exposure to foodborne pathogens, provides a viable answer to feeding the world’s hungry through more efficient use of grains and other crops, saves animals from suffering in factory-farm conditions and from the pain and terror of slaughter, conserves vital but limited freshwater, fertile topsoil and other precious resources and preserves irreplaceable ecosystems such as rainforests and other wildlife habitats, decreases greenhouse gases that are accelerating global warming and mitigates the ever-expanding environmental pollution of animal agriculture.

Established by the North American Vegetarian Society in 1977 and endorsed by the International Vegetarian Union in 1978, World Vegetarian Day is observed annually around the globe on October 1 to emphasise environmental considerations, animal welfare and rights issues and personal health benefits to encourage people into ditching animal products. It taps into the studies which highlight the proven health benefits of a vegetarian diet. The day is also marked to raise awareness about saving animals‚ lives and helping to preserve the Earth. World Vegetarian Day also initiates the month of October as Vegetarian Awareness Month, which ends on November 1, and is celebrated as World Vegan Day, at the end of that month of celebration. Vegetarian Awareness Month has been known variously as the Reverence for Life month, the Month of Vegetarian Food, and more.

Hinduism does not require a vegetarian diet, but some Hindus avoid eating meat because it minimises hurting other life forms. Vegetarianism is considered satvic, which is purifying the body and mind lifestyle in some Hindu texts. Lacto-vegetarianism is favoured by many Hindus, which includes milk-based foods and all other non-animal derived foods, but it excludes meat and eggs. There are three main reasons for this – the principle of nonviolence or ahimsa applied to animals, the intention to offer only vegetarian food to their preferred deity and then to receive it back as prasad or offerings, and the conviction that non-vegetarian food is detrimental to the mind and for spiritual development. Many Hindus point to scriptural bases, such as the Mahabharata with its maxim that nonviolence is the highest duty and the highest teaching, as advocating a vegetarian diet.

A typical modern urban Hindu Lacto-vegetarian meal is based on a combination of grains such as rice and wheat, legumes, green vegetables, and dairy products. Depending on the geographical region the staples may include millet-based flatbreads and fat derived from slaughtered animals is avoided. Many Hindus, particularly those following the Vaishnav tradition, refrain from eating onions and garlic either totally or during the Chaturmas period which is roughly between July and November in the Gregorian calendar. In Maharashtra, many Hindu families also do not eat any eggplant preparations during this period.

If you are not a vegetarian or are contemplating a change to a more plant-based diet, this is a good opportunity to dip your toes into this diet. Try and see, you may decide you like it after all.