Vegetarianism, Veganism, Jainism — What to Eat, What Not to Eat


Dr Ravi P Bhatia – TRANSCEND Media Service

4 Feb 2019 – What people should eat has become an important issue not only for dieticians, but also for environmentalists and even some religious faiths such as Jainism. The former category promotes a balanced, middle way of food eating that boosts health, nutrition and has fewer risks of such common diseases such as heart attack, cancer or diabetes. They suggest that people should eat a mixture of vegetables, meats and fruits.

The environmentalists are worried about how to feed a world population of eight billion without further degradation and harm to our planet. They are emphasising the fact that meat eating is destroying our Earth. They argue that meat eating is more harmful to the environment since animals eat plants and leaves and are then butchered to produce meat, thus further depleting the Earth’s green cover.

They are pleading for a diet essentially, not exclusively, of vegetables, fruits and plants with some amount of meat and fish in coastal regions and seas where occurrence of varieties of fish is plentiful. They say that a few eggs per week may also be added to this diet so as to meet the hunger pangs of meat-eaters while ensuring the sustainability of the Earth.

On the other hand, a newer form of restriction on the food that should be eaten is emerging mainly from western countries. This is veganism that prohibits not only meat eating but also consuming dairy products such as milk, yogurt, cheese, butter and even ice cream.

Why this restriction? Vegans point out that milk is produced from cows and buffaloes that are cramped together in crowded sheds, are cruelly treated and are not allowed even to adequately feed their calves. This is being done for economic reasons so that cattle farmers may be able to maximise their profits. Vegans further justify their prohibition of dairy products by stating that the cruelty suffered by cows is transmitted to the milk they produce; if people stop eating milk products, the cruelty suffered by cows will be substantially reduced.

In India, a new trend termed cow vigilantism is emerging in some northern States of Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Bihar. It is alleged that cows are being killed largely by Muslim farmers to produce and sell beef. It may be mentioned that the Supreme Court of India has prohibited the production, sale and consumption of beef in some, not all States of India.

The reason for this order is that for most Hindus, cow is just not an animal but is treated like a Mother — gao mata. Cows are considered sacred for several reasons that one need not elaborate in this short essay. Thus beef cannot be consumed. The people who suspect that some farmers are killing cows despite the court’s orders are called cow vigilantes and often inflict violence on these farmers who are now abandoning their cows since they are afraid of being lynched. As a result, the small amounts of income they derived by selling milk, butter or curd has stopped, adding poverty to their fears. The remedy is worse than the disease both for the cows and their farmers.

Most Buddhists and Jains in India are vegetarians and do not eat meat, fish or eggs. The reason is simple — they faithfully believe in ahimsa (nonviolence). Many Jains who strictly believe in ahimsa go two steps further. One, they generally do not eat food — any type of food after sunset. Second, they do not eat any food that ripens below the soil. Vegetables such as potatoes, onions, and carrots etc. that ripen below the soil are therefore a no-no.

Then what do they eat? These Jain faithfuls say ‘we can eat many other vegetables — beans, cauliflower, brinjal, tomatoes etc. apart from a large variety of fruits that grow on trees.’ They justify the restriction on their firm belief in the concept of nonviolence.

As there are varieties of cuisines world over, similarly there are various arguments offered by dieticians and scientists of what to eat and what not to. One item that we thought was harmless and added flavour to our tea and coffee and cakes, was sugar. Now sugar is also being prescribed for causing diabetes and shortening our life spans.

Modern life itself is complex. Let us not add to this complexity by the many restrictions being placed on the food we eat.


Dr Ravi P Bhatia is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace Development Environment, an educationist, Gandhian scholar and peace researcher. Retired professor, Delhi University. His new book, A Garland of Ideas—Gandhian, Religious, Educational, Environmental was published recently in Delhi.


This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 4 Feb 2019.

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