Vegetarianism is defined as the avoidance of food which is obtained by killing animals. Over the years vegetarianism has gained a growing number of followers. In my own native country of The Netherlands the percentage of vegetarians has increased from 1.9% of the total population in 1999 to 4.5% in 2005. What can be so attractive about the vegetarian diet?
Vegetarianism goes back a long way. History’s first famous vegetarian was the Greek statesman, mathematician and philosopher Pythagoras (569-475 BC). He abolished the sacrificing of animals under his rule and was a fervent advocate of meat abstinence throughout his life. He is considered the founder of vegetarianism in Europe and even until the 19th century vegetarians were still called ‘pythagoreans’. Pythagoras was a vegetarian on moral grounds primarily. He was deeply convinced that the killing of animals for personal consumption was an act of dire barbarism, leading to man’s moral and spiritual decline.
"As long as man continues to be the ruthless destroyer of lower 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". Pythagoras
In India Ghandi echoed Pythagoras’ beliefs in his passionate claim that “the greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated. ” Recently this utterance became the inspiration behind a new political party for animal rights in The Netherlands, who at the recent elections in November 2006 earned a surprising two seats in Parliament.
People become vegetarians for different reasons. Some choose the vegetarian way of life based on health related motives, others become vegetarians out of silent protest against the suffering and mistreatment of animals in slaughterhouses, while still others shun meat for spiritual reasons. The Buddhist’s vegetarian diet is a logical consequence of the Buddha’s doctrine of *ahimsa* or non-violence towards all sentient beings. Eating meat is seen as being part of the killing process and thus leads one away from the path to enlightenment. Fruits and vegetables are believed to stimulate mental and physical purity, while meat is said to cloud the mind and hinder one’s meditation. Spiritual philosopher Sri Chinmoy explains, “When we eat meat and fish, the aggressive, animal consciousness enters into us. Our nerves become agitated; they become restless and aggressive, and this can interfere with our meditation. ”
Adversaries of vegetarianism often claim that a vegetarian diet misses out on essential nutrients, especially protein. However, this claim has never been backed by scientific evidence and is merely a widespread myth, as all essential nutrients are readily available from vegetarian sources, such as fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy, nuts and seeds.
More recently a contrary view has won wider public appeal, which argues that not shunning but eating meat poses considerable health risks. This view has been scientifically proven, as meat eaters tend to consume unwholesome fat and an excess of protein, which increases the risk of cardiovascular disease. To quote dr. William Castelli, Director of the Framingham Heart Study, “Vegetarians have the best diet. They have the lowest rates of coronary disease. . . Some people scoff at vegetarians, but they have a fraction of our heart attack rate and they have only 40 percent of our cancer rate. " Elaborate studies in England and Germany have also shown this 40 percent ratio.
Finally, the vegetarian diet could prove to be a solution to the world’s food problem. Roughly half of the world’s corn crops are fed to cattle while every day an average of 40,000 children die of starvation. The same food that is now given to animals for meat production could put an end to world hunger. The environment would also benefit from the change in diet. Cattle farming uses up far more land, crops and energy than does agriculture. Large parts of the South-American rainforests are cleared to grow crops for cattle-fodder. The earth further suffers from the emission of nitrogen caused by animal manure, causing acid rain and the pollution of our drinking water.
The world’s greatest mathematician, himself a devout vegetarian, sums it up beautifully:
“Nothing will benefit human health and increase the chances for survival of life on earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet" Albert Einstein
*Sources: www.vegetariers. nl (website of the Dutch Vegetarian Association)
http://www.pcrm.org/health/veginfo/vegetarian_foods.html (website of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine)
Abhinabha Tangerman is happily vegetarian for nearly 10 years of his life. He runs marathons and studies meditation with spiritual teacher Sri Chinmoy. http://www.srichinmoycentre.org