For many Hindus, vegetarianism is more than a way of life, it is a tradition. Vegetarianism can also be realized as a daily ‘sadhana,’ or spiritual practice, for a vegetarian lifestyle becomes a practice of ‘ahimsa’ or non-violence in thought, speech and action.
Vegetarianism Not a Must for Hindus
Though vegetarianism is associated with Hinduism, it is not true that even a majority of Hindus are vegetarian, nor is it a condition of Hinduism to be a vegetarian. In fact, it is stated in the “Manusmriti” (5:56), “There is no sin in eating meat… but abstention brings great rewards.” So, one cannot state, “I am a vegetarian because I am a Hindu.” Stating this may also imply that all Hindus are vegetarian, which is not true.
In this case, why are some Hindus vegetarian and some are not? It is believed that before India was invaded by outsiders (Vedic era) the majority of Indians were not meat eaters. Influences of outsiders (i.e., Aryans and Muslim invaders) came to change that. It was also common practice for the ‘Kshatriya’ caste (warriors) to eat meat as it gave more strength and set the mind up ‘more’ for fighting. This may seem odd, after all how can eating meat make one feel ‘more’ predisposed to violence (i.e., anger, aggression, fighting moods, etc.). This stems from the philosophy of ‘himsa’ or violence.
Is Meat-Eating Violence? By partaking in eating meat, especially in the old days before prepackaged, supermarket foods, and fast food, one had to think of where to find the animal, how to kill it, how to prepare it for consumption, and then how to cook, eat and preserve it. Hence, the whole process of eating animals was ‘himsa,’ because one had to think of all this, possibly speak of it (planning the killing, etc.) and act on it by killing, preparing and eating the animal. In Indian history, we have the seminal example King Ashoka (circa 273-232 BC), who - from being a ruthless warrior - not only became a Buddhist, but also promoted ahisma and vegetarianism in his later life.
When we eat the flesh of a dead animal, we not only partake in ‘himsa’ in our own spirit, but we can also become affected by the spirit of the dead animal. In order to have been eaten the animal had to die. In dying, it felt pain, it struggled, cried, tried to continue living as long as possible. Since it was slaughtered, it died in fright, pain, mental and emotional anguish and struggle. Then it has to be skinned, gutted, processed and packaged to end up on a plate, decorated and consumed in human pleasure. In human pleasure, one does not think of the pain of the once living animals on the plate. Hence partaking in eating meat, one is not just ingesting and digesting protein and nutrients, but the feelings of violence which erupted in the animal from its unnatural death.
The “Mahabharata” states: "The purchaser of flesh performs himsa by his wealth; he who eats flesh does so by enjoying its taste; the killer does himsa by actually tying and killing the animal. Thus, there are three forms of killing. He who brings flesh or sends for it, he who cuts of the limbs of an animal, and he who purchases, sells, or cooks flesh and eats it-all of these are to be considered meat-eaters." (“Mahabharata,” 115:40)
Similarly, vegetarianism and ahimsa can be realized through the old adage “treat others as you would like to be treated.” Swami Dayananda, in his “The Value of Values” connects this to ahimsa and vegetarianism by stating that we should not think of ‘somebody’ being our dinner if we do not want to be ‘somebody’ else’s dinner.’
Further, the “Mahabharata” (18.113.8) says: “One should never do that to another which one regards as injurious to one's own self. This, in brief, is the rule of dharma. Yielding to desire and acting differently, one becomes guilty of adharma.”
Types of Food
The types of food we eat influence our mind and body. Three types of foods can be mentioned.
Sattvic Food Sattvic
foods keeps the body in a peaceful state, calms mind, enable our mind
to function at full potential. Fresh fruit, fruit juices, vegetables,
cereals, whole-grains, legumes,/lentils, milk,,nuts and seeds are
Rajasic Food Rajas foods are very
hot, bitter, sour, dry or salty. These foods are stimulating and
destructive to mind-body equilibrium, making the mind restless and
uncontrollable. Very hot spices, herbs, coffee, tea, fish, eggs, salt
and chocolate falls under this category.
Tamasic Food Tamasic
foods are destructive to the mind and body, making a person angry and
greed. They destroy the body’s resistance to disease. Meat, alcohol,
tobacco, fermented foods, overripe foods are tamasic foods.
Non-vegetarian foods in Vegetarian meals
Some of the vegetarian foods and vegetarian meals that contain non-vegetarian foods are listed below:
Biscuits/Cookies May contain animal fats. Look for vegetable fat Bread Look for vegetable based emulsifiers (E471, E472). Some bakers grease the tins with animal fat. Breakfast Cereals May fortified with vitamin D3. Broth/Stock May contain animal fat. Cheese Most cheeses are produced using animal rennet. Look for non-animal based vegetarian cheese. Chewing Gum May contain glycerine that may have been produced from animal fats. Chocolate May contain whey and emulsifiers. Emulsifiers Look for vegetarian emulsifiers. French Fries May be fried in animal fat. Gelatin Mostly derived from animals (beef). Vegetarian gelatin include Agar Agar, Carrageen and sea-weeds. Glycerine/Glycerol May be produced from animal fats. Ice Cream May contain eggs and gelatin that may have been produced from animal fats.. Jello/Jelly Most contain gelatin that may have been produced from animal fats.. Margarine May contain animal fats, vitamin D3, whey, gelatin, etc. Pasta May contain eggs. Pastry May contain animal fat and/or egg. Pill Capsules Mostly made from gelatin. Potato Chips May contain whey for flavoring. Soups Vegetable soups may be processed on the same equipment that process meats. Whey Whey is a byproduct of the cheese which is made by animal rennet. Worcester Sauce Usually contains anchovies. Yogurt, Frozen yogurt May contain gelatin.
you order a vegetarian pizza or a vegetarian sub at Subway, be prepared
to accept a few pieces of non-vegetarian foods. The authors of this web
site have noted several times at Subway that most of the times they
don't change the gloves for making a vegetarian Sub (unless you ask
them). Once it so happened that on a vegetarian Sub, they put a ham and
when we told them that it was a vegetarian Sub, they simply removed the
ham and offered us that Sub!!
Similarly, when you order a
vegetarian pizza, we are more than certain that they don't change the
gloves all the times; and the meat topping trays are placed side by
side to the vegetarian topping trays, so some of the meat pieces may
pass on to your vegetarian pizza or because the same gloves that
handled the meat toppings are used for vegetable toppings, your pizza
cannot be 100% vegetarian. And off course, the cheese used in pizza is
produced using animal rennet. The authors of this web site discovered a
meat piece (about 1.5 cm size) in their vegetarian pizza from Pizza
You are sure to get pure vegetarian foods and vegetarian meals if you go to a vegetarian restaurant.