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The Indian sub-continent is home to many cuisines which have found their way to other parts of the world. It takes an assortment of spices, herbs, and vegetables to prepare cuisines. One food practice, however, whose origin is traced to India, is vegetarianism. This paper explores the origin, the performance of this practice, the solutions this practice offers to the challenges the Indian culture faces, and how vegetarianism reflects the values of the people.
The Origin of Vegetarianism
Vegetarianism is practiced mostly in the Southern sub-continent of India. Despite this, this practice has permeated into many Indian families across the continent as well as other parts of the world. According to Gandhi (2001, p.64), vegetarianism entails abstinence from meat, fish and certain vegetables. We focus on India where this practice began and is practiced more.
The origin of vegetarianism dates back to the early civilizations of Mahenjodaro and harvapan in 2000 BC in the Indus Valley with the Arya Vedic tradition which was hinged on the belief that everything one eats affects the body and the soul (Arya, 2003, p43). The pushing of the original inhabitants of Mahenjodaro to the Southern parts of India witnessed the advent of Hinduism and with it came the caste system. The caste system, according to Arya (2003, p. 53), stratifies people along with placing social restrictions among people in the Indian sub-continent.
The caste system was, by and large, responsible for the division of people and food habits. Thus, Brahmins, the highest caste consisting of priests, became vegetarians and Kshatriyas, yet another of the caste next to Brahmins consisting of warriors, remained non-vegetarians. The development of Buddhism and Jainism around 600 BC also strengthened this food practice which became widely known as vegetarianism.
Vegetarianism is also rooted in the precincts of “ahimsa” whose founder is Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi (2001, p.89) Summarizes the term “ahimsa” as abstinence from pain or harm of any living creature, which includes human beings, animals and to some extent plants.
Although there are insignificant variations in the way the practice is observed, one thing remains clear: there is abstinence of meat and fish among adherents of vegetarianism. Fox (1999, p84) observes that, on one hand, there are those vegetarians who strictly eat vegetables alone and on the other hand, there are those who include animal products like eggs and milk in their diets. To the latter group, such vegetarians may avoid meat, poultry or fish in their meal but include dairy products and eggs. Alternatively, they may exclude all animal products except dairy products like milk in their meals. In addition to observing the practice in this manner, the Jainas Hindus prohibit cooking vegetables using garlic or onions. They perceive the inclusion of these ingredients as a way of corrupting the purity of vegetables through the strong smell they emit. To them, food should be pure, natural, and well-balanced.
Solutions of vegetarianism
Advocates of vegetarianism view this practice as a way of combating challenges facing people in a more rational, humane and accommodating way. Violence to fellow humans and animals as well as the degradation of the environment in search of human and animal food can be solved if people embrace vegetarianism positively. To these effects, Fox (1999, p.128) contends “Unnecessary suffering of an animal is morally unacceptable, and eating of animals and animal products cannot be regarded as necessary.” Fox further alludes that the health of people depends on their food practices and exclusive adherence to vegetarianism lowers incidents of cancer, heart diseases, diabetes and hypertension among other diseases. Some of the causes of the aforementioned diseases can be traced to fat residues from regular intakes of meat-containing fats which clog arteries. The alternative suggested is cheap, healthy, and easily available and lets one live as well as others: vegetarianism.
Vegetarians attach great value to the lives of human beings, animals and small insects as espoused in ahimsa precincts. Therefore, any injury to these is forbidden. The Indians culture deplores violence of any kind and killing of animals for food, fun, rituals or anything else is a reflection of violence and should be condemned. Women, associate this killing with masculinity something that makes them adhere to vegetarianism more than men. Followers of ahimsa view, the killing of animals for food by human beings as something that makes them look like animals and some use the term beasts to describe killers of animals.
Part of a vegetarian’s commitment also involves desisting from indiscriminate plucking of plants for the very vegetables they subscribe to. Gandhi (2001, p. 29) reminds vegetarians to be aware that animals that depend on plants for their food may die if they are deprived of them. On the contrary, Fox (1999, p. 143) throws in a word of caution to meat-based agriculture which devastates the environment by the virtue of animals consuming more proteins than they produce.
Generally, vegetarianism attaches great value to the lives of all forms of living things. Avoidance of pain, as well as violence to living things, is the guiding principle to vegetarians. Vegetarianism thus makes culture find its expression in the diversity of vegetables available in the vicinity.
- Arya, K., V. (2003) The Book of Vedas: Timeless wisdom from Indian Tradition. Beverly : Fair winds Press.
- Fox, M., A. (1999). Deep Vegetarianism. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
- Gandhi, M., K. (2001). Non-violent, Resistance. New York: Dover publications.