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- For plant-eating, non-human animals, see Herbivore.
Vegetarianism is the practice of not consuming meat, with or without the use of other animal derivatives, such as dairy products or eggs. Some vegetarians choose to also refrain from wearing clothing involving the death of animals, such as leather, silk and fur. Veganism, sometimes called "strict vegetarianism", excludes all animal products from diet and attire, whether or not this involves the actual death of an animal (dairy, eggs, honey, wool and down feathers). Vegetarians are found in countries across the world with varied motivations including religious, financial, ethical, environmental, and health concerns.
- 1 Psychological aspects of vegetarianism
- 2 Terminology and varieties of vegetarianism
- 3 Vegetarian cuisine
- 4 Vegetarian Diet
- 5 History
- 6 Motivations and benefits
- 6.1 Religious and spiritual
- 6.2 Health
- 6.3 Ethical
- 6.4 Environmental
- 6.5 Economical
- 6.6 Psychological
- 6.7 Social
- 7 Health effects
- 8 Demographics
- 9 Vegetarian clothing
- 10 Further reading
- 11 References
Psychological aspects of vegetarianism[edit | edit source]
Terminology and varieties of vegetarianism[edit | edit source]
There are many different practices of vegetarianism. The following table lists the diet's name along with the food that the diet permits.
Main varieties[edit | edit source]
Other dietary practices commonly associated with vegetarianism[edit | edit source]
- Fruitarianism is a diet of only fruit, nuts, seeds, and other plant matter that can be gathered without harming the plant.
- Macrobiotic diet is a diet of mostly whole grains and beans, though it allows the consumption of fish.
- Natural hygiene in its classic form recommends a diet principally of raw vegan foods.
- Raw food diet practitioners don't eat food heated above a certain temperature.
- Raw veganism is a diet of fresh fruit, nuts, seeds, grains, legumes (dried beans and peas) and vegetables.
Semi-vegetarian varieties[edit | edit source]
The following similarly named diets are often not considered true vegetarianism:[How to reference and link to summary or text]
- Pesco/pollo vegetarianism (semi-vegetarianism, poultratarianism) — will only eat certain meats depending on the particular diet (pesco-fish, pollo-fowl).
- Flexitarianism — prefer to eat vegetarian food, but make exceptions
- Freeganism — consume things that do not support the production of additional products.
Vegetarian cuisine[edit | edit source]
- Main article: Vegetarian cuisine
In terms of lacto-ovo vegetarianism, this generally means food which excludes ingredients under which an animal must have died, such as meat, meat broth, cheeses that use animal rennet, gelatin (from animal skin and connective tissue), and for the strictest, even 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.
Vegetarian Diet[edit | edit source]
According to the USDA, dietary guidelines for vegetarians "who eat milk products eggs enjoy excellent health, and that 'you can get enough protein from a vegetarian diet as long as the variety and amount of foods consumed are adequate.'"[How to reference and link to summary or text] Protein is made up of amino acids and the only vegetable sources with all nine types of essential amino acids are soybeans and quinoa. There exists a misconception that dietary protein needs to be combined in the same meal. For example, rice and beans, or pita bread and hummus create a source of complete protein. Dairy products and eggs can be part of a healthy lacto-ovo vegetarian diet.
History[edit | edit source]
Vegetarianism may have been common in the Indian subcontinent as early as the 2nd millennium BC.[How to reference and link to summary or text] Hinduism preaches that it is the ideal diet for spiritual progress and Jainism enjoins all its followers to be vegetarian.[How to reference and link to summary or text]
- Vegetarians in Europe used to be called "Pythagoreans", after the philosopher Pythagoras and his followers, who abstained from meat in the 6th century BC. They followed a vegetarian diet for nutritional and ethical reasons.[How to reference and link to summary or text] According to the Roman poet Ovid, Pythagoras said: "As long as Man continues to be the ruthless destroyer of lower living beings he will never know health or peace. For as long as men massacre animals, they will kill each other. Indeed, he who sows the seed of murder and pain cannot reap joy and love." 
- In looking for parallels in Jewish and Christian antiquity for these practices, some vegetarians feel a kinship with Nazirite, Essene, and Ebionite practices.[How to reference and link to summary or text]
- Gnostics were also primarily vegetarians for spiritual reasons.[How to reference and link to summary or text] They believed by eating animals a person would be grounding themselves to this world and their body, which they believed was an evil created by the Demiurge, because they would be consuming divine sparks and thus sinning[How to reference and link to summary or text].
- Buddhist monks of the Mahayana school (100CE) have also historically practiced vegetarianism.
- Many Hindu scriptures advocate vegetarian diet. The secular literature of Tirukural (circa. 100-300 AD) advocates vegetarianism.[How to reference and link to summary or text]
- In 1847, the first Vegetarian Society invented the term "vegetarian" — from the Latin vegetus "lively", and suggestive of the English word "vegetable" — was a person who refuses to consume flesh of any kind. Vegetarianism in the 19th century was associated with many cultural reform movements, such as temperance and anti-vivisection. Many "new women" feminists at the end of the century were vegetarians.[How to reference and link to summary or text]
- Seventh-day Adventists and Rastafarians, denominations founded in the 19th and 20th centuries, are also frequently vegetarian.
- Vegetarian societies (apart from India) were first formed in majority meat-eating European countries both as a means to promote the diet and to gather together vegetarians for mutual support. By 2000, most Western and developing nations had functioning vegetarian societies.[How to reference and link to summary or text] The countries that were first to establish societies are still the ones most likely to have the greatest proportion of vegetarians within their populations.[How to reference and link to summary or text]
- The International Vegetarian Union, a union of all the national societies, was founded in 1908.
- In the Western world, the popularity of vegetarianism steadily grew over the 20th century
Please see the relevant discussion on the talk page.
- Today, Indian vegetarians, primarily lacto vegetarians, are estimated to make up more than 70% of the world's vegetarians. They make up 20 to 30% of the population in India, while occasional meat-eaters make up another 30%.
- Surveys in the U.S. have found that roughly 1% to 2.8% of adults ate neither meat, poultry, nor fish.
Famous vegetarians[edit | edit source]
- See also:
Motivations and benefits[edit | edit source]
People choose vegetarianism for various reasons.
Religious and spiritual[edit | edit source]
- Main article: Vegetarianism and religion
The majority of the world's vegetarians are Hindu. Hinduism and Jainism teach vegetarianism as moral conduct while Christianity and Islam generally do not. Buddhism in general does not prohibit meat eating while Chinese Mahayana Buddhism encourages vegetarianism. Minor denominations that advocate a fully vegetarian diet include the Seventh-day Adventists, the Rastafari movement and the Hare Krishnas.
Some adherents of Eastern religions, such as Mahatma Gandhi, claim that spiritual awareness and experiences are greatly enhanced on a vegetarian diet. In the Western world there are also individuals like James Redfield who, independent from any specific religious beliefs, share the same sentiment. In the West this spirituality motivation is regarded by many as a New Age reason for being vegetarian. These people believe that vegetarianism helps an individual to explore deeper levels of consciousness, find inner peace and establish a connection with the Divine, through such practices as meditation, yoga or whirling.
Hinduism[edit | edit source]
Most major paths of Hinduism hold vegetarianism as the ideal, this is for a variety of reasons based on different beliefs. For many Hindus, it is a textually-advocated belief in ahinsa (nonviolence), to avoid indulgences (as meat was considered an indulgence), and to reduce bad karmic influences. For others (especially within Vaishnavism and the bhakti movements), it is because their chosen deity does not accept offerings of non-vegetarian foods, which the follower then accepts as prasad.
Generally there is the belief, based on scriptures such as Bhagavad Gita that one's food shapes the personality, mood and mind. Meat is said to promote sloth and ignorance and a mental state known as tamas while a vegetarian diet is considered to promote satvic qualities, calm the mind, and be essential for spiritual progress. The Vedic and Puranic scriptures of Hinduism assert that animals have souls and the act of killing animals without due course has considerable karmic repercussions (i.e the killer will suffer the pain of the animal he has killed in this life or the next). The principle of Ahinsa (non-violence) compels one to refrain from injuring any living creature, physically, mentally or emotionally without good reason. Most of the secular motivations for vegetarianism such as ethical considerations and nutrition apply to Hindu motivations as well.
Judaism[edit | edit source]
In the Jewish religion people are allowed to consume meat, with some restrictions. Jewish law, or halakha, forbids the eating of meat and dairy products together. It also restricts which animals can be eaten to mammals with split hooves and that chew their cud, fish with fins and scales, and certain bird species. Animals are also required to be slaughtered in a manner that minimizes their suffering. There are some in the Jewish community that believe it to be a religious obligation to eat meat on the Sabbath and on holidays based on a statement in the Talmud; however, it is generally accepted that it is okay not to eat meat on those days, if one does not enjoy it. Jewish law technically requires everyone to eat meat once a year for the Passover offering, but that only applied when the Temple stood in Jerusalem. Today, some Jews choose not to eat meat simply due to the difficulty of finding kosher meat or poultry in areas far from established Jewish communities. There are also those who do not eat meat because they believe that while Jewish law permits meat, doing so is not ideal. This is based on the story of Genesis, where Noah and his family were allowed to eat meat after the Flood, whereas it had been forbidden previously. Others do not eat meat because Jewish law forbids causing needless pain to animals.
Jainism[edit | edit source]
- Main article: Jain vegetarianism
- Redirect Template:expand-section
Followers of Jainism hold vegetarianism as the ideal diet in a similar fashion to the Hindu traditions but with a greater emphasis on the principle of all-round non-violence (ahimsa). A strict Jain is not supposed to consume honey or rooted plants such as onions, potatoes, or garlic as well as abstaining from any meat products. It is believed that the people who want to sublimate their spiritual life should abstain from use of forbidden food.
Buddhism[edit | edit source]
- Main article: Vegetarianism in Buddhism
Chinese Mahayana Buddhists oppose meat eating for their followers but not necessarily for those who do not practice Chinese Buddhism. The Mahayana schools of Tibetan and Japanese Buddhism do not consider a vegetarian diet to be essential, nor do Theravadin Buddhists, although Theravadin Buddhists will refuse meat if the animal has been killed specifically for them.
Actual Chinese Buddhist Vegetarian practice considers the consumption of onion, garlic and chives to be the same as consuming meat. This is called,"五荤" (Literally means five "non-vegetarian"). This covers onions, garlic and chives. (Refer http://zh.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E8%91%B7%E8%8F%9C). Devoted buddhists typically in Asia practise this form of vegetarianism. The same classification has been stated in the ancient chinese medical book <<本草纲目>> published in the year 1596AD. The chinese doctor Lee Shi Zhen spent 27 years adding, editing and correcting medical lores with the result that the book eventually contains 1892 types of medicinal plants and 11096 types of medicines(or ways to cure illness). The book is translated to latin by P.MichaelBoym，1612AD～1659AD and rename as "Flora sinensis". Some vegetarian Indians also remove onions and garlic from their diet as they consider the plants to impede spiritual enlightenment.
Christianity[edit | edit source]
- Main article: Christian vegetarianism
While vegetarianism is not common in Christian thought 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 Chapter 1 v 8-16 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, not strictly meat. Specifically, the New Testament of the Bible says that a person's dietary choice is of small consequence and should not be a point of confrontation (Romans 14:19-21). Therefore, some modern Christians consider vegetarianism as a perfectly acceptable personal choice that has many of the same implications as fasting.
A text not included in the Christian Bible known as the Gospel of the Ebionites, emphasises that Jesus advocated vegetarianism, abolished the Jewish meat sacrifice system, and never ate meat. In contemporary Christianity, the Seventh-day Adventist Church promotes vegetarianism among its followers.
Islam[edit | edit source]
- Main article: Islam and vegetarianism
Islam allows some consumption of meat; this meat is known as "halal", and this meat is slaughtered by the Islamic standards, and disallowed meat is haram, which is non permitted meat or meat not slaughtered according to Islam's standards. Islam accepts the ritualistic animal slaughter done by Jews, known as shechita. (Hebrew)" Islam also excludes the consumption of pork (pig meat). Muslim vegetarians are very rare as the consumption of meat is intertwined with religious sacrificing of animals (namely caprids, bovines and camels) in Eid ul-Adha. Moreover, in Islamic jurisprudence, it is wrong to forbid what is not forbidden. When travelling to locations where it is difficult to get halal meat, Muslims eat fish instead or eat only vegetables.
Sikhism[edit | edit source]
Followers of the Sikh religion are divided in their opinion on whether their religion opposes meat consumption for Sikhs. Although many Sikhs eat meat and drink alcohol, orthodox Sikhs (or those who have chosen to be baptized) generally abstain from the consumption of meat and eggs, and certainly alcohol.
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 since both meat and vegetarian food contain life, how can be sinful over the other. The tenth guru, Guru Gobind Singh, prohibited the Sikhs from the consumption of halal or Kutha meat in order to boycott the Mogul Empire. It should be noted that meat and eggs are never served in the Guru Ka Langar (Free Kitchen) that runs at all Gurudwaras (Sikh Temples).
Health[edit | edit source]
Many people who choose a vegetarian diet do so because they believe it will benefit their health. Some of the reasons cited for a vegetarian diet include that it has a better nutritional balance, is better suited for the human body, and/or avoids contact with harmful bacteria, hormones, and chemicals.
Nutritional[edit | edit source]
- Main article: Vegetarian nutrition
The American Dietetic Association, the largest organization of nutrition professionals, states on its website "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."
As an example, American vegetarians tend to have lower body mass indices, lower levels of cholesterol, lower blood pressure, and less incidence of heart disease, hypertension, some forms of cancer, type 2 diabetes, renal disease, osteoporosis, dementias such as Alzheimer’s Disease and other disorders that may be diet-related. The health of a cohort of 27,000 vegetarians is currently being followed at a UK centre of the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC), the largest study of the long-term effects of vegetarian diet.
Food safety[edit | edit source]
E. coli[edit | edit source]
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 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, O157:H7 was virtually unheard of until the 1980's. 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 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 USA 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. In fact E. coli outbreaks have also involved unpasteurized apple and orange juice, milk, alfalfa sprouts, and even water.
Other food scares[edit | edit source]
Various animal food safety scares over recent years have led people towards semi-vegetarianism or vegetarianism. These scares have included Avian flu in poultry, foot-and-mouth in sheep, PCBs in farmed salmon, generally high dioxin concentrations in animal products, and artifical growth hormones, antibiotics or BSE in cows. According to various organisations, vCJD in humans is strongly linked with exposure to the BSE agent which has been found in beef.
Medical[edit | edit source]
Sometimes patients of alternative medicine are advised to adhere to a vegetarian diet as prescribed by the practitioners of such unconventional medical treatments. These patients are either asked to continue such a diet either for the course of the treatment or for longer durations. Ayurveda and Siddha medicine are examples of medical treatments that prescribe such a vegetarian diet. In such cases, the patient either follows vegetarianism for the defined period or sometimes continues long after the treatment is over.
Physiological[edit | edit source]
Some, such as Albert Einstein, regard an evolution to a vegetarian diet as part of our human evolution, with each new generation moving slowly away from feeling a necessity of eating meat. The existence of parasites such as Taenia saginata and Taenia solium, which rely on humans as their unique end host and can only be transmitted through eating meat indicates that human beings and their ancestors have consumed meat through important lengths of their evolution (i.e. millions of years). Others study statistical information, such as comparing life expectancy with regional areas and local diets. Examples include looking within countries themselves. For instance, life expectancy is considerably greater in southern France where a semi-vegetarian Mediterranean diet is common (fresh fruit, vegetables, olive oil, goats cheese and fish), than northern France where an omnivore diet is more common (also including pork, beef, butter, cows cheese and cream) . It must be noted that national life expectancy is affected by many factors, which include access to adequate healthcare and medicine. This makes it difficult to conclusively prove any correlation between regional diets and life expectancy.
Some vegetarian beliefs (such as Hare Krishna) suggest that human beings have evolved to consume vegetable matter rather than meat. The reasons they cite are mainly associated with the differences between predators and plant-eating animals. Predators (such as dogs, cats, or raptors) usually have sharp teeth or claws to tear fresh meat, while plant-eating animals (such as horse and deer) have no sharp teeth or claws to tear meat. Humans occupy a middle ground between the two; they have no claws and mostly blunt teeth (molars) but also a pair of sharp canine teeth designed for tearing, which some feel is proof of a naturally omnivorous diet (chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans are primarily herbivores and have sharp canines, though these are at least partly for defensive purposes, while primates with different canines are not strictly herbivorous and will occasionally kill and eat other animals)[How to reference and link to summary or text]. Additionally, plant eating animals, like cows and horses, drink water with their lips, unlike lions, dogs, and cats who drink water with their tongues. Since humans drink water with their lips, some consider this evidence that humans are vegetarians by nature.[How to reference and link to summary or text]
The intestines of predators are relatively short compared with those of plant-eating animals. Since meat is more easily digested than plant matter, the elaborate digestive system found in plant eaters is unnecessary. Herbivores need a much longer intestine to allow sufficient time for the digestion of vegetable fibers.
According to The Straight Dope, humans have evolved to be omnivores. Human intestinal length is, taken as a ratio, half way between carnivores (such as cats and dogs) and herbivores (such as cows and horses).
Ethical[edit | edit source]
- Main article: Ethics of vegetarianism
Many vegetarians consider the production, subsequent slaughtering and consumption of meat or animal products as unethical. Reasons for believing this are varied, and may include a belief in animal rights, or an aversion to inflicting pain or harm on other living creatures. The book "Animal Liberation" by Peter Singer has been very influental on the animal rights movement and specifically ethical vegetarianism. This corresponds to the belief among vegetarians that other animals' lives should not have to end in order for theirs to continue. In developed countries, ethical vegetarianism has become popular particularly after the spread of factory farming, which 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 which animals undergo in the production of meat and animal products obliges them to never eat meat or use animal products. This could perhaps be summed up in the phrase "Not in my name".
Some vegetarians believe that consciously taking someone else's belonging without consent is stealing and wrong. Since prey do not consent to its life being taken away, so it would be immoral to consciously kill an animal and eat its flesh.
Even in the West, numerous social justice leaders, such as Cesar Chavez, have adopted a vegan/vegetarian diet in order to communicate an agenda of social harmony and fellowship. [How to reference and link to summary or text]
Environmental[edit | edit source]
- Main article: Environmental vegetarianism
Environmental vegetarianism is the belief that the production of meat and animal products at current and likely future levels is environmentally unsustainable. Industrialization has lead to intensive farming practices and diets high in animal protein, primarily in developed nations and mainly the United States. According to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) "Most of the world's population today subsists on vegetarian or near-vegetarian diets for reasons that are economic, philosophical, religious, cultural, or ecological." Thus, the main protest of environmental vegetarians is primarily of intensive farming in developed nations.
According to the United Nations Population Fund "Each U.S. citizen consumes an average of 260 lb. of meat per year, the world's highest rate. That is about 1.5 times the industrial world average, three times the East Asian average, and 40 times the average in Bangladesh."
All modern, intensive farming practices consume large amounts of fossil fuel and water resources and lead to emissions of harmful gases and chemicals. The habitat for wildlife provided by large industrial monoculture farms is very poor, and modern industrial agriculture is 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% of its agricultural land. Additionally, animals raised for food in the U.S. consume 90% of the soy crop, 80% of the corn crop, and a total of 70% of its grain. In tracking food animal production from the feed trough to the dinner table, the inefficiencies of meat, milk and egg production range from 4:1 energy input to protein output ratio up to 54:1. The result is that producing animal based food is typically much less efficient than the harvesting of grains, vegetables, legumes, seeds and fruits. This criticism could not be applied to animals that are grazed rather than fed, especially those grazed on land that could not be used for other purposes. However, this type of grazing is becoming less common worldwide, being substituted with intense farming, and in some cases leads to topsoil loss.
Economical[edit | edit source]
Similar to environmental vegetarianism is the concept of economic vegetarianism. An economic vegetarian is someone who practises 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 the health care burden while improving public health; declining livestock herds will take pressure off of 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 can also include the poor people might not be averse to eating meat, but regularly eat vegetarian food, out of economic compulsions, since meat can often be a luxury. This is especially true in countries like India where a vegetarian diet is far cheaper and more economical than a diet that includes meat.
Psychological[edit | edit source]
Many vegetarians choose to be so in part because they find meat and meat products aesthetically unappetizing. Proponents assert that human beings are not instinctively attracted to eating live or dead meat in nature. For example, the carcass of a cow lying in a forest would attract a real carnivore like a wolf or leopard, but would disgust most human beings. 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 was presented with the same choices, its natural impulse would be the opposite. In a similar assertion, Scott Adams once humorously wrote that a human, presented with a live cow, would more likely try to moo at it than attempt to eat its backside.
Moreover, research on the psychology of meat consumption suggests that consumers of meat may need to use defense mechanisms such as psychological numbing to distance themselves from the notion that they are eating animals.
Social[edit | edit source]
Some people are vegetarian because they were raised in a vegetarian household. Others may have become vegetarians because of a vegetarian partner, family member, or friend. Some people live in a predominantly vegetarian society (such as India), and so adopt this practice to be social, to avoid ostracism, or for the difficulty of buying meat in such a society.
Health effects[edit | edit source]
The health benefits and/or detriments of vegetarianism are continually debated. It is clear that many people can live healthy lives as vegetarians (vegetarian Olympic athletes are often cited) but there are also some studies that show potential ill effects of vegetarianism.
Longevity[edit | edit source]
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 which was then followed by regular meat eaters (1.0) and vegans (1.0). 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."
Among these meta studies, the Adventist Health Study is an ongoing study of life expectancy in Seventh-day Adventists following different behaviour patterns. 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, this study of 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, again made the similar 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."
Health concerns[edit | edit source]
It is already long established in science that a number of lifestyle choices such as smoking, exercise and alcohol influence health and longevity. However, scientific studies so far fail to show that the decision to forgo meat contributes independently to people's life expectancy. (See above section)
Another claim repeatedly made by vegetarian advocacy groups is that vegetarians suffer less from heart problems. Studies which include the above, consistently confirm that vegetarians suffer less mortality from ischemic heart disease. Since there is no evidence that a vegetarian diet causes longer overall life expectancy, one cannot equate decreased mortality rate from ischemic heart disease to overall decrease in mortality or overall health. Moreover, occasional meat eaters also achieve statistically similar mortality rates indicating that this does not relate to the decision to exclude meat completely. Vegetarian and vegan advocacy groups frequently promote vegetarian diets as optimally healthy while claiming that a diet that includes animal products is inherently unhealthy. Critics argue that these groups are engaging in scientific misrepresentation rather than focussing on scientifically proven health factors, such as moderate exercise, moderate alcohol intake, not smoking and sufficient intake of fruits and green vegetables.
One study found that a vegetarian diet in expectant mothers, perhaps due to higher phytoestrogen intake from soybeans, may be linked to a slightly higher rate of genital defects, although stating "The role of maternal nutrition has received little investigation". However, one of the original authors of the research, Professor Golding said in an interview, “I would suggest strongly that no action is taken until our findings have been confirmed in other studies. Meanwhile I believe that it is important that mothers ensure that there is variety in their diet whether they are vegetarian or not.”
Nutritional deficiencies[edit | edit source]
- Main article: Vegetarian nutrition
Some vegetable protein sources lack in one or more essential amino acids. While everyone should eat a variety of foods to ensure a balanced nutrition, the body's requirement for essential amino acids now appears to be less important than researchers once believed.[How to reference and link to summary or text] Vegetarians taken broadly do not suffer malnutrition, and so must receive at least most of the protein and amino acids important to humans from eating a variety of incomplete complementary plant proteins.[How to reference and link to summary or text] If ideal nutrition is possible, intake of such foods must be larger since the protein percentages in these foods are comparatively lower than in a similar serving of meat. Attaining sufficient protein intake is rarely a problem in developed countries, and vegetarianism advocates have alleged that possible lower protein intake of vegetarians may cause some of the health benefits below.
A vegetarian diet does not include fish - a major source of Omega 3, though some plant-based sources of it exist such as soy, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, canola oil and, especially, hempseed and flaxseed.
Some suggest that vegetarians have higher rates of deficiencies in those nutrients which are found in high concentrations in meat. However, studies endorsed by the ADA found that this was not the case for either iron or calcium. Vitamin B12 and Vitamin D from vegetarian sources other than dairy products and eggs are not readily absorbed by the body and a vegan diet usually needs supplements.  Nonetheless, these nutrients are now commonly supplemented in milks and cereals in the western world, and are not necessarily a problem in a vegetarian diet.
Demographics[edit | edit source]
Vegetarianism and gender[edit | edit source]
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."
Country specific information[edit | edit source]
- Main article: Vegetarianism in specific countries
Around the world vegetarianism is viewed in different lights. 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 labeling is in place which 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 restaurants in India that say they are vegetarian do not serve food made from eggs, while most Western vegetarian restaurants do.
In other countries with less of a vegetarian culture, a request for a vegetarian meal may result in one being served fish or a vegetable soup made with meat stock.
Vegetarian clothing[edit | edit source]
Some vegetarians will choose not to wear leather. Because leather footwear and other accessories are expected in some workplaces, there are many specialist suppliers that sell belts, shoes, safety boots, jackets and briefcases that share the appearance of leather but are in fact made of synthetic materials generically known as Vegan leather. High fashion designer Stella McCartney is famed for her refusal to use leather, fur or other animal products in her range of clothes and accessories and is thus popular with wealthier vegetarians.
Further reading[edit | edit source]
- Tristram, Stuary (2006). Bloodless Revolution: A Cultural History of Vegetarianism from 1600 to Modern Times W W Norton & Co Ltd. ISBN 0-393-05220-6
- Tristram, Stuary (2006). The Bloodless Revolution: Radical Vegetarians and the Discovery of India HarperCollins. ISBN 0-00-712892-4 Reviewed
- Spencer, Colin (1993) The Heretic's Feast: History of Vegetarianism Fourth Estate. ISBN 1-85702-078-2
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