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Vegetarianism is the practice of following a diet based on plant-based foods including fruits, vegetables, cereal grains, nuts, and seeds, with or without dairy products and eggs. A vegetarian does not eat meat, game, poultry, fish, crustacea, shellfish, or products of animal slaughter such as animal-derived gelatin and rennet. A vegan diet is a form of vegetarian diet which excludes all animal products, including dairy products, eggs, and honey. A lacto-vegetarian diet includes dairy products but excludes eggs, an ovo-vegetarian diet includes eggs but not dairy products, and a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet includes both eggs and dairy products.Vegetarianism may be adopted for ethical, health, environmental, religious, political, cultural, aesthetic, economic, or other reasons.

Vegetarian diets should not be confused with various non-vegetarian diets; "semi-vegetarian" diets may consist largely of vegetarian foods, with the addition of poultry or fish (pescetarian). The common use confusion between such diets and vegetarianism has led vegetarian groups, such as the Vegetarian Society, to note that such fish-, or poultry-based diets are not vegetarian.

Terminology and varieties of vegetarianism

Foods in the main vegetarian diets
Diet name Meat, poultry, fish Eggs Dairy products Honey
Lacto-ovo vegetarianism
Yes Yes Yes
Lacto vegetarianism
No Yes Yes
Ovo vegetarianism
Yes No Yes
No No No

Other dietary practices commonly associated with vegetarianism

Strict vegetarians also avoid products that may use animal ingredients not included in their labels or which use animal products in their manufacturing e.g. cheeses that use animal rennet, gelatin (from animal skin, bones, and connective tissue), 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. Vegetarians who eat eggs sometimes prefer free-range eggs (as opposed to battery farmed eggs).

Semi-vegetarian diets

Semi-vegetarian diets primarily consist of vegetarian foods, but make exceptions for some non-vegetarian foods. These diets may be followed by those who choose to reduce the amount of animal flesh consumed, or sometimes as a way of transitioning to a vegetarian diet, and even for environmental reasons such as reducing methane levels (fish and poultry produce less methane than cows and other livestock). These terms are neologisms based on the word "vegetarian". They may be regarded with contention by some strict vegetarians, as they combine terms for vegetarian and non-vegetarian diets.

Additionally, many individuals describe themselves as simply "vegetarian" while actually practicing a semi-vegetarian diet.
  • Semi-vegetarianism: A diet that excludes certain meats, particularly red meat, but includes others.
  • Flexitarianism: A diet that consists primarily of vegetarian food, but includes occasional exceptions.
  • Pescetarianism: A diet that is mainly vegetarian but also includes fish.


The Vegetarian Society, founded in 1847, claims to have "created the word vegetarian from the Latin 'vegetus' meaning 'lively' (which is how these early vegetarians claimed their diet made them feel) ..." However, the Oxford English Dictionary and other standard dictionaries state that the word was formed from the term "vegetable" and the suffix "-arian".

The Oxford English Dictionary also gives evidence that the word was already in use before the foundation of the Vegetarian Society:
  • 1839 - "If I had had to be my own cook, I should inevitably become a vegetarian." (F. A. Kemble, Jrnl. Residence on Georgian Plantation (1863) 251)
  • 1842 - "To tell a healthy vegetarian that his diet is very uncongenial with the wants of his nature." (Healthian, Apr. 34)

but notes that "The general use of the word appears to have been largely due to the formation of the Vegetarian Society at Ramsgate in 1847."


The earliest records of (lacto) vegetarianism as a concept and practice amongst a significant number of people come from ancient Indiamarker. Vegetarianism was also practiced by the ancient Greek civilisation in Southern Italy and in Greece in the 6th century BCE. In both instances the diet was closely connected with the idea of nonviolence towards animals (called ahimsa in India) and was promoted by religious groups and philosophers.

Following the Christianisation of the Roman Empire in late antiquity, vegetarianism practically disappeared from Europe. Several orders of monks in medieval Europe restricted or banned the consumption of meat for ascetic reasons, but none of them eschewed fish. Saint Genevieve, the Patron Saint of Parismarker, is mentioned as having observed a vegetarian diet - but as an act of physical austerity, rather than out of concern for animals.

Vegetarianism re-emerged somewhat in Europe during the Renaissance. It became a more widespread practice in the 19th and 20th centuries.

In 1847, the first Vegetarian Society was founded in Englandmarker; Germanymarker, the Netherlands and other countries followed. The International Vegetarian Union, a union of the national societies, was founded in 1908. In the Western world, the popularity of vegetarianism grew during the 20th century as a result of nutritional, ethical, and more recently, environmental and economic concerns.

Health benefits and concerns

Vegetarianism is considered a healthy, viable diet. The American Dietetic Association and the Dietitians of Canada have found a properly planned vegetarian diet to satisfy the nutritional needs for all stages of life, and large-scale studies have shown that vegetarians's "mortality for major causes of death was not significantly different between vegetarians and nonvegetarians, but the nonsignificant reduction in mortality from ischemic heart disease among vegetarians" Necessary nutrients, proteins, and amino acids for the body's sustenance can be found in vegetables, grains, nuts, soymilk, eggs and dairy.

Vegetarian diets can aid in keeping body weight under control and substantially reduce risks of heart disease and osteoporosis. Non-lean red meat, in particular, has been found to be directly associated with dramatically increased risk of cancers of the lung, oesophagus, liver, and colon. Other studies have shown that there were no significant differences between vegetarians and nonvegetarians in mortality from cerebrovascular disease, stomach cancer, colorectal cancer,breast cancer, or prostate cancer, although the sample of vegetarians was small and included ex-smokers who had switched their diet within the last five years.

The American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada have stated: "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, fibre, magnesium, potassium, folate, and antioxidants such as vitamins C and E and phytochemicals." Vegetarians tend to have lower body mass index, lower levels of cholesterol, lower blood pressure, and less incidence of heart disease, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, renal disease, osteoporosis, dementias such as Alzheimer’s Disease and other disorders.


Western vegetarian diets are typically high in carotenoids, but relatively low in long-chain n-3 fatty acids and vitamin B12. Vegans can have particularly low intake of vitamin B and calcium if they do not eat enough items such as collard greens, leafy greens, tempeh and tofu (soy). High levels of dietary fibre, folic acid, vitamins C and E, and magnesium, and low consumption of saturated fat are all considered to be beneficial aspects of a vegetarian diet.


Protein intake in vegetarian diets is only slightly lower than in meat diets and can meet daily requirements for any person, including athletes and bodybuilders. Studies at Harvard University as well as other studies conducted in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and various European countries, have confirmed that vegetarian diets provide sufficient protein intake as long as a variety of plant sources are available and consumed. Proteins are composed of amino acids, and a common concern with protein acquired from vegetable sources is an adequate intake of the essential amino acids, which cannot be synthesised by the human body. While dairy and egg products provide complete sources for lacto-ovo vegetarians, the only vegetable sources with significant amounts of all eight types of essential amino acids are lupin, soy, hempseed, chia seed, amaranth, buckwheat, and quinoa. It is not necessary, however, to obtain protein from these sources—the essential amino acids can also be obtained by eating a variety of complementary plant sources that, in combination, provide all eight essential amino acids (e.g. brown rice and beans, or hummus and whole wheat pita, though protein combining in the same meal is not necessary). A varied intake of such sources can be adequate, a 1994 study found.


Vegetarian diets typically contain similar levels of iron to non-vegetarian diets, but this has lower bioavailability than iron from meat sources, and its absorption can sometimes be inhibited by other dietary constituents. Vegetarian foods rich in iron include black beans, cashews, hempseed, kidney beans, lentils, oatmeal, raisins, black-eyed peas, soybeans, many breakfast cereals, sunflower seeds, chickpeas, tomato juice, tempeh, molasses, thyme, and whole-wheat bread. The related vegan diets can often be higher in iron than vegetarian diets, because dairy products are low in iron. Iron stores often tend to be lower in vegetarians than non-vegetarians and iron deficiency is thus more common in vegetarian and vegan women and children (adult males are rarely iron deficient), however, iron deficiency anaemia is rare no matter the diet.

Vitamin B12

Plants are not generally significant sources of Vitamin B12. However, lacto-ovo vegetarians can obtain B12 from dairy products and eggs, and vegans can obtain it from fortified foods and dietary supplements. Since the human body preserves B12 and reuses it without destroying the substance, clinical evidence of B12 deficiency is uncommon. The body can preserve stores of the vitamin for up to 30 years without needing its supplies to be replenished.

The only reliable vegan sources of B12 are foods fortified with B12 (including some soy products and some breakfast cereals) and B12 supplements. The research on vitamin B12 sources has increased in the latest years.

Fatty acids

Fish is a non-vegetarian source of Omega 3 fatty acids. Plant-based, or vegetarian, sources exist such as soy, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, canola oil and especially hempseed, chia seed, flaxseed, and purslane. Purslane contains more Omega 3 than any other known leafy green. Plant foods can provide alpha-linolenic acid but not the long-chain n-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, which are found in low levels in eggs and dairy products. Vegetarians, and particularly vegans, have lower levels of EPA and DHA than meat-eaters. While the health effects of low levels of EPA and DHA are unknown, it is unlikely that supplementation with alpha-linolenic acid will significantly increase levels. Recently, some companies have begun to market vegetarian DHA supplements containing seaweed extracts. Similar supplements providing both DHA and EPA have also begun to appear. Whole seaweeds are not suitable for supplementation because their high iodine content limits the amount that may be safely consumed. However, certain algae such as spirulina are good sources of gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), linoleic acid (LA), stearidonic acid (SDA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and arachidonic acid (AA).


Calcium intake in vegetarians is similar to non-vegetarians. Some impaired bone mineralisation has been found among vegans who do not consume enough leafy greens, which are sources of abundant calcium. However, this is not found in lacto-ovo vegetarians. Some sources of calcium include broccoli, cauliflower, beet greens, bok choy, collard greens, kale, watercress, and soy beans. Watercress, and kale are especially high in calcium. Collard greens are high in calcium, but the calcium is bound to oxalate and therefore it is poorly absorbed.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D levels do not appear to be lower in vegetarians (although studies have shown that much of the general population is deficient). Vitamin D needs can be met via the human body's own generation upon sufficient and sensible UV sun exposure. Products including milk, soy milk and cereal grains may be fortified to provide a good source of Vitamin D and mushrooms provide over 2700 IU per serving (approx. 3 oz or 1/2 cup) of vitamin D2, if exposed to just 5 minutes of UV light after being harvested; for those who do not get adequate sun exposure and/or food sources, Vitamin D supplementation may be necessary.


A 1999 metastudy combined data from five studies from western countries. The metastudy reported mortality ratios, where lower numbers indicated fewer deaths, for fish eaters to be .82, vegetarians to be .84, occasional meat eaters to be .84. Regular meat eaters and vegans shared the highest mortality ratio of 1.00. The study reported the numbers of deaths in each category, and expected error ranges for each ratio, and adjustments made to the data. However, the "lower mortality was due largely to the relatively low prevalence of smoking in these [vegetarian] cohorts". Out of the major causes of death studied, only one difference in mortality rate was attributed to the difference in diet, as the conclusion states: "vegetarians had a 24% lower mortality from ischemic heart disease than nonvegetarians, but no associations of a vegetarian diet with other major causes of death were established."

In "Mortality in British vegetarians", a similar conclusion is drawn: "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."

The Adventist Health Study is an ongoing study of life expectancy in Seventh-day Adventists. This is the only study among others with similar methodology which had favourable indication for vegetarianism. 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.

The Adventist health study is again incorporated into a metastudy titled "Does low meat consumption increase life expectancy in humans?" published in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, which concluded that low meat eating (less than once per week) and other lifestyle choices significantly increase life expectancy, relative to a group with high meat intake. The study concluded that "The findings from one cohort of healthy adults raises the possibility that long-term (≥ 2 decades) adherence to a vegetarian diet can further produce a significant 3.6-y increase in life expectancy." However, 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."

Statistical studies, such as comparing life expectancy with regional areas and local diets in Europe also have found life expectancy considerably greater in southern Francemarker, where a low meat, high plant Mediterranean diet is common, than northern France, where a diet with high meat content is more common.Trichopoulou, et al. 2005 "Modified Mediterranean diet and survival: EPIC-elderly prospective cohort study", British Medical Journal 330:991 (30 April);330/7498/991

News story based on this article: Science Daily, April 25, 2005 "Mediterranean Diet Leads To Longer Life"

A study by the Institute of Preventive and Clinical Medicine, and Institute of Physiological Chemistry looked at a group of 19 vegetarians (lacto-ovo) and used as a comparison a group of 19 omnivorous subjects recruited from the same region. The study found that this group of vegetarians (lacto-ovo) have a significantly higher amount of plasma carboxymethyllysine and advanced glycation endproducts (AGEs) compared to this group of omnivores. Carboxymethyllysine is a glycation product which represents "a general marker of oxidative stress and long-term damage of proteins in aging, atherosclerosis and diabetes." "Advanced glycation end products (AGEs) may play an important adverse role in process of atherosclerosis, diabetes, aging and chronic renal failure."

Food safety

Libby Sande argued in a blog for USA Today that Vegetarianism reduces E. coli infections, and in a piece for The New York Times linked E. coli contamination in food to industrial scale meat and dairy farms. E. coli infections in the US during 2006 were traced to spinach and onions.

Transmission of pathogenic E. coli often occurs via fecal-oral transmission. Common routes of transmission include unhygienic food preparation and farm contamination. Dairy and beef cattle are primary reservoirs of the E. coli strain O157:H7, and they can carry it asymptomatically and shed it in their feces. Food products associated with E. coli outbreaks include raw ground beef, raw seed sprouts or spinach, raw milk, unpasteurized juice, and foods contaminated by infected food workers via fecal-oral route. In 2005, some people who had consumed triple-washed, pre-packaged lettuce were infected with E. coli. In 2007, packaged lettuce salads were recalled after they were found to be contaminated with E. coli. E. coli outbreaks have been traced to unpasteurised apples, orange juice, milk, alfalfa sprouts, and water.

Salmonella outbreaks have been traced to peanut butter, frozen pot pies & puffed vegetable snacks.BSE, also known as mad cow disease, is linked by the World Health Organization to Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease in humans.

There have been reports of fears of foot-and-mouth disease in sheep, PCBs in farmed salmon, mercury in fish, dioxin concentrations in animal products, artificial growth hormones, antibiotics, lead and mercury, pesticide contamination of vegetables and fruits, banned chemicals being used to ripen fruits. In 2005, fears that "bird flu" could be caused by eating chicken were featured in a PETA call for vegetarian diets.

Medical use

In Western medicine, patients are sometimes advised to adhere to a vegetarian diet. Certain alternative medicines, such as Ayurveda and Siddha, prescribe a vegetarian diet as a normal procedure.


The mainstream scientific consensus is that humans are physiologically best suited to an omnivore diet. The Vegetarian Resource Group, among others, has concluded that humans are naturally omnivores based on the human ability to digest meat, as well as plant foods, with the correspondent metabolic tendency to an adaptation that makes them need both animal and vegetable nourishment. Other arguments hold that humans are more anatomically similar to herbivores, with long intestinal tracts and blunt teeth, unlike omnivores and carnivores. Nutritional experts believe that early hominids evolved into eating meat as a result of huge climatic changes that took place three to four million years ago, when forests and jungles dried up and became open grasslands and opened hunting and scavenging opportunities.

Animal-to-human disease transmissions

The consumption of meat can cause a transmission of a number of diseases from animals to humans. The connection between infected animal and human illness is well established in the case of salmonella; an estimated one-third to one-half of all chicken meat marketed in the United States is contaminated with salmonella. Only recently, however, have scientists begun to suspect that there is a similar connection between animal meat and human cancer, birth defects, mutations, and many other diseases in humans. In 1975, one study found 75 percent of supermarket samples of cow's milk, and 75 percent of egg samples to contain the leukemia (cancer) virus. By 1985, nearly 100 percent of the eggs tested, or the hens they came from, had the cancer virus. The rate of disease among chickens is so high that the Department of Labor has ranked the poultry industry as one of the most hazardous occupations - not for the chickens but for those who raise, slaughter and process them. 20 percent of all cows are afflicted with a variety of cancer known as bovine leukemia virus (BLV). Studies have increasingly linked BLV with HTLV-1, the first human retrovirus discovered to cause cancer. Scientists have successfully infected human cells with a bovine immunodeficiency virus (BIV), the equivalent of the AIDS virus in cows. It is supposed that BIV may have a role in the development of a number of malignant or slow viruses in humans.

The proximity of animals in industrial-scale animal farming leads to an increased rate of disease transmission. Transition of animal influenza viruses to humans has been documented, but illness from such cases is rare compared to that caused by the now common human-adapted older influenza viruses, transferred from animals to humans in the more distant past. The first documented case was in 1959, and in 1998, 18 new human cases of H5N1 influenza were diagnosed, in which six people died. In 1997 more cases of H5N1 avian influenza were found in chickens in Hong Kong.

Whether tuberculosis originated in cattle and was then transferred to humans, or diverged from a common ancestor infecting a different species, is currently unclear. The strongest evidence for a domestic-animal origin exists for measles and pertussis, although the data do not exclude a non-domestic origin.

According to the 'Hunter Theory', the "simplest and most plausible explanation for the cross-species transmission" the AIDS virus was transmitted from a chimpanzee to a human when a bushmeat hunter was bitten or cut while hunting or butchering an animal.

Historian Norman Cantor, in In the Wake of the Plague: The Black Death and the World It made (2001), suggests the Black Death might have been a combination of pandemics including a form of anthrax, a cattle murrain. He cites many forms of evidence including the fact that meat from infected cattle was known to have been sold in many rural English areas prior to the onset of the plague.

Eating disorders

The American Dietetic Association indicates that vegetarian diets may be more common among adolescents with eating disorders but that the evidence suggests that the adoption of a vegetarian diet does not lead to eating disorders, rather that "vegetarian diets may be selected to camouflage an existing eating disorder." Other studies and statements by dietitians and counselors support this conclusion.

Additional reasons for a vegetarian diet

Childhood IQ and diet choice

A study published in the British Medical Journal in 2007 compared children's IQ at age 10 with their having a vegetarian diet at age 30.The report did not provide information on whether or not the children were already vegetarian at the time when their IQ measurement was taken.It also noted that there was no difference in IQ among those vegetarians who ate only plants, and those who also ate chicken and fish.The BBC summarised part of the results of the study, stating "Men who were vegetarian had an IQ score of 106, compared with 101 for non-vegetarians; while female vegetarians averaged 104, compared with 99 for non-vegetarians."The report concluded that “Higher scores for IQ in childhood are associated with an increased likelihood of being a vegetarian as an adult.”Lead researcher Catharine Gale noted that this link may not be causal, but “may be merely an example of many other lifestyle preferences that might be expected to vary with intelligence.”


Various ethical reasons have been suggested for choosing vegetarianism.


Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism teach vegetarianism as moral conduct. Buddhism in general does not prohibit meat eating, while Mahayana Buddhism encourages vegetarianism as beneficial for developing compassion. Other denominations that advocate a fully vegetarian diet include the Seventh-day Adventists, the Rastafari movement and the Hare Krishnas.Sikhism does not equate spirituality with diet and does not specify a vegetarian or meat diet.


Indian Vegetable Salad containing Lemon, Tomato, Radish, Beetroot, Cucumber and Green Chillies

Most major paths of Hinduism hold vegetarianism as an ideal. There are three main reasons for this: the principle of nonviolence (ahimsa) applied to animals; the intention to offer only "pure" (vegetarian) food to a deity and then to receive it back as prasad; and the conviction that non-vegetarian food is detrimental for the mind and for spiritual development.

However, the food habits of Hindus vary according to their community and according to regional traditions. Hindu vegetarians usually eschew eggs but consume milk and dairy products, so they are lacto-vegetarians.


Followers of Jainism believe that everything from animals to inanimate objects have life in different degree and they goes great length to minimising harm to it. Most lay Jain are lacto-vegetarians but more devote Jain do not eat root vegetables because this will involve killing of plant. Instead they focus on eating beans and fruits, whose cultivation do not involve killing of plant. No products obtained from dead animals are allowed. Jains hold self termination from starvation as the ideal state and some dedicated monk do perform this act of self annihilation. This is for them an indispensable condition for spiritual progress. Some particularly dedicated individuals are fruitarians. Honey is forbidden, because its collection is seen as violence against the bees. Some Jains do not consume plant parts that grow underground such as roots and bulbs, because tiny animals may be killed when the plants are pulled up.


A vegetarian dinner at a Japanese Buddhist temple

Theravadins in general eat meat. If Buddhist monks "see, hear or know" a living animal was killed specifically for them to eat, they must refuse it or else incur an offense. However, this does not include eating meat which was given in alm or commercially purchased. In Theravada cannon, Buddha did not make any comment discouraging them to eat meat (except specific types, such as human, elephant, horse, dog, snake, lion, tiger, leopard, bear, and hyena flesh) but he specifically refuse to institute vegetarianism in his monastic code when a suggestion has been made.

In Mahayana Buddhism, there are several Sanskrit texts where the Buddha instructs his followers to avoid meat. However, each branch of Mahayana Buddhism select what sutra to follow and some branch of Mahayana Buddhism including majority of Tibetan and Japanese Buddhism do eat meat while most of Chinese Buddhism do not eat meat.


Followers of Sikhism do not have a preference for meat or vegetarian consumption. There are two views on initiated or "Amritdhari Sikhs" and meat consumption. "Amritdhari" Sikhs (i.e. those that follow the Sikh Rehat Maryada (the Official Sikh Code of Conduct) can eat meat (provided it is not Kutha meat)."Amritdharis" that belong to some Sikh sects (eg Akhand Kirtani Jatha, Damdami Taksal, Namdhari, Rarionwalay, etc.) are vehemently against the consumption of meat and eggs.

In the case of meat, the Sikh Gurus have indicated their preference for a simple diet, which could include meat or be vegetarian. Passages from the Guru Granth Sahib (the holy book of Sikhs, also known as the Adi Granth) say that fools argue over this issue. Guru Nanak said that over consumption of food (Lobh, Greed) involves a drain on the Earth's resources and thus on life. The tenth guru, Guru Gobind Singh, prohibited the Sikhs from the consumption of halal or kosher (Kutha, any ritually slaughtered meat) meat because of the Sikh belief that sacrificing an animal in the name of God is mere ritualism (something to be avoided).

On the views that eating vegetation would be eating flesh, first Sikh Guru Nanak states:

On Vegetation, the Guru described it as living and experiencing pain:

Page 143 of the Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji

Page 143 Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji


A number of medieval scholars of Jewish religion (e.g. Joseph Albo) regard vegetarianism as a moral ideal, not just because of a concern for the welfare of animals, but because the slaughter of animals might cause the individual who performs such acts to develop negative character traits. Therefore, their concern was with regard to possible harmful effects upon human character rather than with animal welfare. Indeed, Rabbi Joseph Albo maintains that renunciation of the consumption of meat for reasons of concern for animal welfare is not only morally erroneous but even repugnant.

One modern-day scholar who is often cited as in favour of vegetarianism is the late Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, the Chief Rabbi of Pre-State Israel. It is indeed the case that in his writings, Rabbi Kook speaks of vegetarianism as an ideal, and points to the fact that Adam did not partake of the flesh of animals. In context, however, Rabbi Kook makes those comments in his portrayal of the eschatological (messianic) era.

According to some Kabbalists, only a mystic, who is able to sense and elevate the reincarnated human souls and "divine sparks", is permitted to consume meat, though eating the flesh of an animal might still cause spiritual damage to the soul. A number of Orthodox Jewish vegetarian groups and activists promote such ideas and believe that the halakhic permission to eat meat is a temporary leniency for those who are not ready yet to accept the vegetarian diet.

Having ties with both ancient Judaism and Christianity, members of the ancient Essene religious group practiced strict vegetarianism sharing a similar belief with the Hindus'/Jains' idea of Ahimsa or "harmlessness".

Translation of the Torah's Ten Commandments state "thou shalt not murder." Many argue that this can also be taken as meaning not to kill at all, animals nor humans, or at least "that one shall not kill unnecessarily," in the same manner that onerous restrictions on slavery in the Bible have been interpreted by modern theologians as to suggest banning the practice.

While it is neither required nor prohibited for Jews to eat meat, the choice must be made in regard to the ethics and ideals of Judaism

Classical Greek Philosophy and Religion

Ancient/Classical Greek Philosophy has a long tradition of vegetarianism. Orpheus was a vegetarian, and his followers were expected to be. Pythagoras was reportedly Orphic (and studied at Mt. Carmel, where some historians say there was a vegetarian community) a vegan, and his followers were expected to be. Socrates was reportedly Pythagorean, and in his dialogue of what people in a Republic, or at least Philosopher-rulers, should eat, recorded by Plato, he only described vegetarian food (he specifically said that if meat-eating was allowed, then society would require more doctors.)


Jesus ordered to catch and prepared meal with fish and he famously fed 5000 people with five loaves of bread and two fish.Several Apostles that lived by most of the Nazarite oath (as Jesus did somewhat) were vegetarian. While vegetarianism is not a common practice (except by traditional monastics, and by other Orthodox at least during 'fast' times ) in current Christian culture, the concept and practice have scriptural and historical support. According to the Bible, in the beginning, humans and animals were vegetarian.(Genesis 1:29–30) Immediately after the Flood, God permitted the eating of meat. (Genesis 9:3)

There is also a strong association between the Quaker tradition within Christianity and vegetarianism dating back at least to the 18th century. The association grew in prominence during the 19th century, coupled with growing Quaker concerns in connection with alcohol consumption, vivisection and social purity. The association between the Quaker tradition and vegetarianism, however, becomes most significant with the founding of the Friends' Vegetarian Society in 1902 "to spread a kindlier way of living amongst the Society of Friends."


Islam allows the consumption of meat, if the meat is "halal". Many Muslims who normally eat meat will select vegetarian options when dining in non-halal restaurants. However, it is not permissible to declare that something halâl is harâm. Therefore, the choice to live vegetarian is entirely a matter of personal preference rather than ethical choice.

Vegetarianism has been practiced by some influential Muslims including the Iraqi theologian, female mystic and poet Râbi‘ah al-‘Adawîyah of Basrah, who died in the year 801, and the Sri Lankan sufi master Bawa Muhaiyaddeen who established The Bawa Muhaiyaddeen Fellowship of North America in Philadelphia.

Muslims have the freedom of choice to be vegetarian for medical reasons or if they do not personally like the taste of meat. However, the choice to become vegetarian can be controversial. Although the number of Muslim vegetarians today is increasing, individual adherents tend to keep quiet about it.

In January 1996, The International Vegetarian Union announced the formation of the Muslim Vegetarian/Vegan Society.


Within the Afro-Caribbean community, a minority are Rastafarian and follow the dietary regulations with varying degrees of strictness. The most orthodox eat only Ital or natural foods, in which the matching of herbs or spices with vegetables is the result of long and skillfully laid down tradition originating from the African ancestry and cultural heritage of Rastafari. Most Rastafarians are vegetarian. Utensils made from natural material such as stone or earthenware are preferred.


Environmental vegetarianism is based on the belief that the production of meat and animal products for mass consumption, especially through factory farming, is environmentally unsustainable. According to a 2006 United Nations initiative, the livestock industry is one of the largest contributors to environmental degradation worldwide, and modern practices of raising animals for food contributes on a "massive scale" to air and water pollution, land degradation, climate change, and loss of biodiversity. The initiative concluded that "the livestock sector emerges as one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global."

In July 2009 Nikemarker and Timberland stopped buying leather from deforested Amazon Rainforest a few weeks after Greenpeace report demonstrated the destruction caused by Amazon cattle ranchers. According to Arnold Newman every hamburger sold results in destruction of 6.25m2 of rain forest.

In addition, animal agriculture is a large source of greenhouse gases and is responsible for 18 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions as measured in CO2 equivalents. By comparison, all of the world's transportation (including all cars, trucks, buses, trains, ships, and planes) emits 13.5 percent of the CO2. Animal farming produces 65 percent of human-related nitrous oxide and 37 percent of all human-induced methane. Methane has about 21 times more Global Warming Potential (GWP) than carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide has 296 times the GWP of CO2.

Animals fed on grain, and those that rely on grazing, need far more water than grain crops. According to the USDAmarker, growing the crops necessary to feed farmed animals requires nearly half of the United States' water supply and 80 percent of its agricultural land. Additionally, animals raised for food in the U.S. consume 90 percent of the soy crop, 80 percent of the corn crop, and a total of 70 percent of its grain.

When tracking food animal production from the feed trough to consumption, the inefficiencies of meat, milk and egg production range from 4:1 up to 54:1 energy input to protein output ratio. This firstly because the feed first needs to be grown before it is eaten by the cattle, and secondly because warm-blooded vertebrates need to use a lot of calories just to stay warm (unlike plants or insects). An index which can be used as a measure is the efficiency of conversion of ingested food to body substance, which indicates, for example, that only 10% is converted to body substance by beef cattle, versus 19–31% by silkworms and 44% by German cockroaches.Ecology professor David Pimentel has claimed, "If all the grain currently fed to livestock in the United States were consumed directly by people, the number of people who could be fed would be nearly 800 million." To produce animal based food seems to be, according to these studies, typically much less efficient than the harvesting of grains, vegetables, legumes, seeds and fruits. However, this would not apply to animals that are grazed rather than fed, especially those grazed on land that could not be used for other purposes. Nor would it apply to cultivation of insects for food, which may be more environmentally sustainable than eating food coming from cattle farming. Meat produced in a laboratory (called in vitro meat) may be also more environmentally sustainable than regularly produced meat.

According to the theory of trophic dynamics, it requires 10 times as many crops to feed animals being bred for meat production as it would to feed the same number of people on a vegetarian diet. Currently, 70 percent of all the wheat, corn, and other grain produced is fed to farmed animals. This has led many proponents of vegetarianism to believe that it is ecologically irresponsible to consume meat. Rearing a relatively small number grazing animals is often beneficial, as observed by the Food Climate Research Network at Surrey University, which reports, "A little bit of livestock production is probably a good thing for the environment".

In May 2009, Ghentmarker was reported to be "the first [city] in the world to go vegetarian at least once a week" for environmental reasons, when local authorities decided to implement a "weekly meatless day". Civil servants would eat vegetarian meals one day per week, in recognition of the United Nations' report. Posters were put up by local authorities to encourage the population to take part on vegetarian days, and "veggie street maps" were printed to highlight vegetarian restaurants. In September 2009, schools in Ghent are due to have a weekly veggiedag ("vegetarian day") too.

Labour conditions

Some groups, such as PETA, promote vegetarianism as a way to offset poor treatment and working conditions of workers in the contemporary meat industry. These groups cite studies showing the psychological damage caused by working in the meat industry, especially in factory and industrialised settings, and argue that the meat industry violates its labourers' human rights by assigning difficult and distressing tasks without adequate counselling, training and debriefing. However, the working conditions of agricultural workers as a whole, particularly non-permanent workers, remain poor and well below conditions prevailing in other economic sectors. Accidents, including pesticide poisoning, among farmers and plantation workers contribute to increased health risks, including increased mortality. In fact, according to the International Labour Organization, agriculture is one of the three most dangerous jobs in the world.


Similar to environmental vegetarianism is the concept of economic vegetarianism. An economic vegetarian is someone who practices 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 their health care burden while improving public health; declining livestock herds will take pressure off 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."


The "Appeal to nature" logical fallacy invites one to believe that something is good or right because it is natural.

A metaphor has been presented by Douglas Dunn: 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 were presented with the same choices, its natural impulse would be the opposite. Omnivorous and comparatively human-like species such as chimpanzees' offspring may not instinctively kill a prey animal, such as a Senegal Bushbaby, when presented with one and a piece of fruit either. In a similar assertion, vegetarian Scott Adams wrote humorously: "I point out that a live cow makes a lion salivate, whereas a human just wants to say 'moo' and see if the cow responds."

This same non-predatory inter-species interaction can be seen in adult chimpanzees, which have been seen toying with other animals without regarding them as prey and even occasionally socialising with other species.


Taiwanese Buddhist cuisine
People may choose vegetarianism because they were raised in a vegetarian household or because of a vegetarian partner, family member, or friend.

Limited vegetarianism has appeal for some young people in Western societies. A 2007 University of Michigan Medical School experiment on the diffusion of memes included an attempt to encourage limited vegetarianism.



A 1992 market research study conducted by the Yankelovich research organisation claimed that "of the 12.4 million people [in the US] who call themselves vegetarian, 68 percent are female while only 32 percent are male."

At least one study indicates that vegetarian women are 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." Catherine Collins of the British Dietetic Association has dismissed this as a "statistical fluke".

There is speculation that diets high in soy, due to high isoflavone content, can have a feminising effect on human infants due to their action as phytoestrogens. Proponents of this theory claim that diets high in isoflavones promote earlier onset of female puberty and delayed male puberty. However, a 2001 study conducted by the University of Pennsylvaniamarker found no significant differences in the later onset of puberty between infants raised on soy-based formula and cow milk formula.

Country-specific information

Vegetarianism is viewed in different ways around the world. 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 labelling is in place that 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 vegetarian restaurants in India do serve dairy products while eschewing egg products. Most Western vegetarian restaurants, in comparison, do serve eggs and egg-based products.

See also


  1. Briggs, Asa (1989) The Longman Encyclopedia, Longman, p. 1109
  2. Merriam-Webster defines "Pescetarian" as one whose diet includes fish but no meat.
  3. defines "vegetarian" (noun) as "A person who on principle abstains from animal food; esp. one who avoids meat but will consume dairy produce and eggs and sometimes also fish (cf. VEGAN noun)."
  4. OED vol. 19, second edition (1989), p. 476; Webster’s Third New International Dictionary p. 2537; The Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology, Oxford 1966, p. 972; The Barnhart Dictionary of Etymology (1988), p. 1196; Colin Spencer, The Heretic's Feast. A History of Vegetarianism, London 1993, p. 252.
  5. Spencer p. 33–68.
  6. Indian emperor Ashoka has asserted protection to fauna , from his edicts we could understand, i.e. "Twenty-six years after my coronation various animals were declared to be protected -- parrots, mainas, //aruna//, ruddy geese, wild ducks, //nandimukhas, gelatas//, bats, queen ants, terrapins, boneless fish, //vedareyaka//, //gangapuputaka//, //sankiya// fish, tortoises, porcupines, squirrels, deer, bulls, //okapinda//, wild asses, wild pigeons, domestic pigeons and all four-footed creatures that are neither useful nor edible. Those nanny goats, ewes and sows which are with young or giving milk to their young are protected, and so are young ones less than six months old. Cocks are not to be caponized, husks hiding living beings are not to be burnt and forests are not to be burnt either without reason or to kill creatures. One animal is not to be fed to another." —Edict of Ashokaon Fifth Pillar Religious Vegetarianism From Hesiod to the Dalai Lama, ed. Kerry S. Walters and Lisa Portmess, Albany 2001, p. 13–46.
  7. Passmore, John: The Treatment of Animals, in: Journal of the History of Ideas 36 (1975) p. 196–201.
  8. Lutterbach, Hubertus: Der Fleischverzicht im Christentum, in: Saeculum 50/II (1999) p. 202.
  9. Spencer p. 180–200.
  10. Spencer p. 252–253, 261–262.
  11. Soymilk at
  12. (BBC story on paper [1])
  13. ALGAE from STANDARD TABLES OF FOOD COMPOSITION IN JAPAN Fifth Revised and Enlarged Edition 2005
  14. Vegans (pure vegetarians) and vitamin B_12 deficiency
  15. Babadzhanov, A.S., et al. "Chemical Composition of Spirulina Platensis Cultivated in Uzbekistan." Chemistry of Natural Compounds. 40, 3, 2004.
  16. Tokusoglu, O., Unal, M.K. "Biomass Nutrient Profiles of Three Microalgae: Spirulina platensis, Chlorella vulgaris, and Isochrisis galbana." Journal of Food Science. 68, 4, 2003.
  17. Key, Timothy J, et al., "Mortality in British vegetarians: review and preliminary results from EPIC-Oxford" American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 78, No. 3, 533S-538S, September 2003
  18. Does low meat consumption increase life expectancy in humans?—Singh et al. 78 (3): 526—American Journal of Clinical Nutrition Abstract
  19. Taco Bell removes green onions after outbreak Dec. 6, 2006 MSNBC
  20. Dole Lettuce Recalled in U.S., Canada By Lisa Leff Associated Press
  21. Apple Cider & E. coli Food Safety Update Retrieved July 26, 2007
  22. Raw Sprouts pose Salmonella and E. coli 0157 risk, says FDA Medical Reporter Retrieved July 26, 2007
  23. WHO 2002 "Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease" , Fact sheet N°180
  25. Tiwari, Maya. 1995. Ayurveda: A Life of Balance. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press. "Ayurveda recommends small portions of organic meat for the Vata type. The rules of hunting and killing the animal, practiced by the native peoples, were very specific and detailed. Since we are no longer observing these, I do not recommend the use of any animal meat as food, not even for the Vata types."
  26. Milton, Katharine, "A hypothesis to explain the role of meat-eating in human evolution",Evolutionary Anthropology: Issues, News, and Reviews Volume 8, Issue 1, 1999, Pages: 11–21
  27. Sometimes a virus contains both avian adapted genes and human adapted genes. Both the H2N2 and H3N2 pandemic strains contained avian flu virus RNA segments. "While the pandemic human influenza viruses of 1957 (H2N2) and 1968 (H3N2) clearly arose through reassortment between human and avian viruses, the influenza virus causing the 'Spanish flu' in 1918 appears to be entirely derived from an avian source (Belshe 2005)." (from Chapter Two: Avian Influenza by Timm C. Harder and Ortrud Werner, an excellent free on-line Book called Influenza Report 2006 which is a medical textbook that provides a comprehensive overview of epidemic and pandemic influenza.)
  28. Pearce-Duvet_2006
  29. Junior encyclopaedia of Sikhism 1985 By H. S. Singha Page 124 ISBN 10: 070692844X / 0-7069-2844-X
  30. Tähtinen, Unto: Ahimsa. Non-Violence in Indian Tradition, London 1976, p. 107–109.
  31. Mahabharata 12.257 (note that Mahabharata 12.257 is 12.265 according to another count); Bhagavad Gita 9.26; Bhagavata Purana 7.15.7.
  32. "Vegetarianism Good For The Self And Good For The Environment" at The Jain Study Circle
  33. "Spiritual Traditions and Vegetarianism" at the Vegetarian Society of Colorado website.
  34. Matthews, Warren: World Religions, 4th edition, Belmont: Thomson/Wadsworth 2004, p. 180. ISBN 0-534-52762-0
  35. "Jainism" at
  36. Mahavagga Pali - Bhesajjakkhandhaka - Vinaya Pitaka
  37. "Misconceptions About Eating Meat - Comments of Sikh Scholars," at The Sikhism Home Page
  38. Sikhs and Sikhism by I.J. Singh, Manohar, Delhi ISBN 9788173040580 Throughout Sikh history, there have been movements or subsects of Sikhism which have espoused vegetarianism. I think there is no basis for such dogma or practice in Sikhism. Certainly Sikhs do not think that a vegetarian's achievements in spirituality are easier or higher. It is surprising to see that vegetarianism is such an important facet of Hindu practice in light of the fact that animal sacrifice was a significant and much valued Hindu Vedic ritual for ages. Guru Nanak in his writings clearly rejected both sides of the arguments - on the virtues of vegetarianism or meat eating - as banal and so much nonsense, nor did he accept the idea that a cow was somehow more sacred than a horse or a chicken. He also refused to be drawn into a contention on the differences between flesh and greens, for instance. History tells us that to impart this message, Nanak cooked meat at an important Hindu festival in Kurukshetra. Having cooked it he certainly did not waste it, but probably served it to his followers and ate himself. History is quite clear that Guru Hargobind and Guru Gobind Singh were accomplished and avid hunters. The game was cooked and put to good use, to throw it away would have been an awful waste.
  39. Guru Granth Sahib, An Analytical Study by Surindar Singh Kohli, Singh Bros. Amritsar ISBN :8172050607 The ideas of devotion and service in Vaishnavism have been accepted by Adi Granth, but the insistence of Vaishnavas on vegetarian diet has been rejected.
  40. A History of the Sikh People by Dr. Gopal Singh, World Sikh University Press, Delhi ISBN 9788170231394 However, it is strange that now-a-days in the Community-Kitchen attached to the Sikh temples, and called the Guru's Kitchen (or, Guru-ka-langar) meat-dishes are not served at all. May be, it is on account of its being, perhaps, expensive, or not easy to keep for long. Or, perhaps the Vaishnava tradition is too strong to be shaken off.
  41. Vegetarianism and Meat-Eating in 8 Religions April/May/June, 2007 Hinduism Today
  42. Philosophy of Sikhism by Gyani Sher Singh (Ph.D), Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee. Amritsar As a true Vaisnavite Kabir remained a strict vegetarian. Kabir far from defying Brahmanical tradition as to the eating of meat, would not permit so much, as the plucking of a flower (G.G.S. pg 479), whereas Nanak deemed all such scruples to be superstitions, Kabir held the doctrine of Ahinsa or the non-destruction of life, which extended even to that of flowers. The Sikh Gurus, on the contrary, allowed and even encouraged, the use of animal flesh as food. Nanak has exposed this Ahinsa superstition in Asa Ki War (G.G.S. pg 472) and Malar Ke War (G.G.S. pg. 1288)
  43. "Langar," at
  44. Jewish philosophy of vegetarianism article by Philip L. Pick
  45. John 21 (New International Version) [2]
  46. Matthew 14:13-21 (New International Version)[3]
  47. Muslims can’t be vegetarian? Retrieved 5/16/2008
  48. Vegetarian quotations from Bawa Muhaiyaddeen Retrieved 5/16/2008
  49. Muslims can’t be vegetarian? Retrieved 5/16/2008
  50. Osborne, L (1980), The Rasta Cookbook, 3rd Ed. Mac Donald, London.
  51. Kirby, Alex for BBC NEWS 2004 Hungry world 'must eat less meat'
  52. Vesterby, Marlow and Krupa, Kenneth S. 2001 Major Uses of Land in the United States, 1997 Statistical Bulletin No. (SB973) September 2001
  53. Cornell Science News, Aug. 7, 1997
  54. Ed Ayres, "Will We Still Eat Meat?" Time, 8 Nov. 1999
  55. Eco-Eating: Eating as if the Earth Matters (it does!)
  56. Why eating less meat could cut global warming Guardian
  57. "Belgian city plans 'veggie' days", Chris Mason, BBC, May 12, 2009
  58. —Positive Safety Culture The key to a safer meat industry
  59. Working conditions in agriculture International Labour Organization
  60. Working conditions in agriculture Berne Declaration
  61. World Development Report 2008: Agriculture for Development, Published by World Bank Publications pg 207
  62. Worldwatch Institute, News July 2, 1998, United States Leads World Meat Stampede
  63. Dunn, Douglas. 1999 "Eating Without Killing: Vegetarian Health without animal cruelty"

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