Vegan/Vegetarian

By Hayley White

Reading time: 13 minutes

Being a vegetarian is hard. I say that because I have eaten and enjoyed meat all my life and I never really imagined my life without it. But I’ve now been vegetarian for two years this October and it is still a conscious effort for me to continue this lifestyle. I always have to think about what I eat, especially when eating out or getting takeaways.

The hardest thing about being vegetarian is being surrounded by a society that focuses so heavily on eating meat. At the moment, the world produces over three times the amount of meat than it did fifty years ago, sitting at around 340 million tonnes per year, in 2018. In 2014, the average person consumed around 43 kilograms of meat per year with over 80 billion animals being slaughtered to fuel that hunger in 2018 (Ritchie and Roser, 2019).

It is also no secret that the meat industry has a negatively perceived environmental impact, with livestock and agriculture among the worst polluters in the world. Food production

By Hayley White

Reading time: 13 minutes

Being a vegetarian is hard. I say that because I have eaten and enjoyed meat all my life and I never really imagined my life without it. But I’ve now been vegetarian for two years this October and it is still a conscious effort for me to continue this lifestyle. I always have to think about what I eat, especially when eating out or getting takeaways.

The hardest thing about being vegetarian is being surrounded by a society that focuses so heavily on eating meat. At the moment, the world produces over three times the amount of meat than it did fifty years ago, sitting at around 340 million tonnes per year, in 2018. In 2014, the average person consumed around 43 kilograms of meat per year with over 80 billion animals being slaughtered to fuel that hunger in 2018 (Ritchie and Roser, 2019).

It is also no secret that the meat industry has a negatively perceived environmental impact, with livestock and agriculture among the worst polluters in the world. Food production accounts for a quarter (26%) of global greenhouse gas emissions and about half of the world’s habitable land is used for agriculture. And we’re only talking about meat here – not including the effect that egg and dairy production has on the environment. So, there are a few legitimate reasons why people decide to ‘go vegan’.

I went vegetarian for all the above plus one more: I did not think it was fair that an animal had to die for me to eat. This reasoning applies to a lot of cultures and religions as well.

Ajay Vora

Ajay Vora has been vegetarian his whole life. He comes from a strictly vegetarian Indian family who subscribe to the Jainism culture. Jainism is one of the strictest religions when it comes to food.

“My religion does not allow anything from a plant that can regrow,” says Ajay. His philosophy refers to the avoidance of violence (known as himsa). “Anything that grows under the ground, I have to unearth it and kill the plant to get the fruit. I can’t kill. And anything that gives fruit multiple times throughout its life, I’m taking its children or harming the tree, I cannot eat that, but that’s really strict. For example, chillies are off limits as chilli trees can produce multiple chillies throughout their lifetime. And I just stay away from meat or eggs. I eat anything else.”

Jainism outlaws many foods, and there are extreme limits to what followers of the religion can eat. Ajay tells me that some people restrict their diets so much that they can only eat mung beans, grains of rice, and other food that he does not know the English word for.

He explains that there is a week in September that dictates this restricted diet. Called Paryushana, it is the most holy annual event, and many Jains increase their level of spiritual intensity by fasting and prayer/meditation.

India is home to more religious vegetarians than any other country, with about 30% of India’s 1.2 billion population practising lacto-vegetarianism. Followers of Jainism practise vegetarianism because of their non-violent principles towards life and any living thing, be it plant, animal, or human. This is also extended to lacto-vegetarian or vegan diets. Many people practising Jain do not eat eggs and dairy, depending on the extent of violence against animals during production.

Vegetarianism is also an integral part of Hinduism. Like Jainism, Hinduism follows the same vein of anti-violence towards animals, though it does not go so far as outlawing all living things. In certain Hindu scriptures, such as the Mahabharata, it is said that nonviolence is the highest duty and teaching. The Hindu principle of nonviolence (known as ahimsa) is connected to the negative karmic (himsa) influences that are a result of violence. The aim of ahimsa is to avoid this karma at all costs. These religions believe that killing animals for food arises from craving and desire and it is said to enslave humans to suffering. Hinduism believes that people who kill or eat an animal aid in this suffering and therefore are considered the slayers of the animal.

Buddhism is also considered a mostly vegetarian religion, but historically, vegetarianism faced a lot of debate. The first precept of the five rules of training, prohibits Buddhists from killing animals and humans, but does not necessarily extend to whether they should be vegetarian. The first monks and nuns were forbidden from growing, storing, cooking, and preparing their own food. They relied on the generosity of others because they were not allowed to receive money for food. Because of this, they were also not allowed to make special dietary requests. According to a Buddhist scripture, when the monk Devadatta asked the Buddha to stop eating meat, the Buddha refused and said monks must accept whatever people gave them, including meat, as long as they had no concept of the animal being killed for their food.

As for the modern Buddhist world, the choice to be vegetarian varies wherever you go. In China and Vietnam, monks generally do not eat meat. Likewise, a few Japanese and Korean schools. All Buddhists are allowed to be vegetarian if they wish to do so, and rough guesses place about half of all Buddhists to be so.

It is not mainstream to be vegetarian if you are Jewish but some still follow the practice. Influences include the Jewish principles or laws like Bal tashkhit that prohibit waste. Tza’ar ba’alei hayyim is a command to not cause pain to any living creatures. Because of these principles, many Jewish vegetarians are concerned about animal welfare in the meat industry, and environmental ethics. Some Jewish vegetarians claim that God intended people to be vegan. 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.”

In Christianity, vegetarianism and sometimes veganism is practised as a part of fasting during the Great Lent. Veganism during this time is pretty common in Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches. Other Christian churches such as Seventh-day Adventists take a literal interpretation from biblical prophesies and push vegetarianism as a preferred lifestyle.

There are varying degrees of vegetarianism in all religions and cultures around the world. And for others, vegetarianism stems from a completely separate place of ethics and morals.

Despite vegetarianism being a strict part of Jainism, Ajay and his family are vegetarians for moral reasons, too. He says that his mother and father have given him permission to eat meat, but he says that he does not feel comfortable doing so. After moving to New Zealand in 2017, Ajay says he could not find any vegetarian food. “It was pretty hard when I first came here to find and eat vegetarian stuff because, at that time, I didn’t even know where to find Indian groceries, all the spices I needed, all the vegetables and everything,” he says.

As more and more people become vegetarian, it will become easier for people like Ajay and myself to find good vegetarian food. Apart from a few specialised places that deal with only vegan or vegetarian foods, there aren’t many fast food places that offer vegetarian alternatives – and even then, it is not something Ajay can eat. Asian cuisine, however, is extremely inclusive of vegetarian diets, especially Thai, Indian, and Chinese food where tofu is widely used. “My religion and the values my parents have taught me throughout my life heavily affects the personality I have now, where I can’t harm any living beings or can’t harm anyone. Just the fact that I have to kill an animal and then eat it to fill my stomach doesn’t sit right with me,” he tells me, and I echo those sentiments. As someone who is becoming more and more environmentally aware and seeing value in all animal life, I also find it increasingly difficult to even imagine eating meat ever again.

“I’ve never eaten meat; I don’t know how it tastes, I’ve never felt the texture so at this point I really don’t care,” Ajay says to me. “Being vegetarian just comes naturally, you know? Like I never had that second thought where I want to eat meat, that thought has never crossed my mind.”

 

Recipe

For those who wish to dip their toes into the vegetarian lifestyle, below is a favourite recipe of mine that I only recently started making in the last year or so.

Because I quit eating meat ‘cold-turkey’ – no pun intended! – I sometimes crave the savoury flavours that many think only a meat-based meal can cure but I’ve recently found that mixing vegetarian stock into my food gives that rich flavour that veggies alone sometimes cannot replicate. I usually eat this stew on its own, but rice would be the perfect addition to help fill in any gaps!

 

Hayley’s Vegetarian Winter Stew

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons oil
1 small carrot, died
1 stalk celery, chopped
2 small potatoes, chopped
kumara, chopped
¼ leek, chopped
½ Onion, diced
5 button mushrooms, chopped
¼ capsicum, diced
1 tomato, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 cups vegetable stock
2 teaspoons mixed herbs
Salt and pepper to taste

Method:

  • In a medium-sized pot, heat oil over medium heat. Once oil starts to shimmer, add mushrooms and cook until the juices are released
  • Add onion, celery, carrot, capsicum and cook for 4-5 minutes, or until the onions are translucent
  • Add mixed herbs and garlic, cook for another 2 minutes until the herbs are fragrant
  • Add potatoes, kumara, tomato, and vegetable stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to around medium-low and let simmer for around 30 minutes, or until the stew has reduced and thickened
  • Salt and pepper to taste and serve!

 

Source: Meat and dairy production, Our World in Data

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