Vegetarianism can manifest through many different lifestyles and underlying goals. However, mostly, when we say vegetarianism, we think of living a life where one focuses on consuming natural food, eating only plants and products made of plants. Nevertheless, there are many subtypes of vegetarianism and various ethical standpoints are backed up by followers of this lifestyle, depending on the variation of vegetarianism they support and the reasons behind their choices.
Vegetarianism can focus solely on consuming fruits and vegetables. However, some subclasses of vegetarianism may involve eggs and dairy products too, while others may strictly forbid these, being of animal origin. Additionally, some branches of this lifestyle teaching may include fish or poultry into their nutrition, while others may label this act as unethical, due to the fact that animal slaughter was behind the meat.
The most hardcore of all vegetarians are vegans, since they promote nutrition which excludes all animal-based products, including honey.
Therefore, ethic plays a great part in almost every part of vegetarianism. Health, religion, politics, environmental causes, aestheticism, economy, music and many other forms of culture, all affect vegetarianism and may serve as its foundations.
All in all, the very word vegetarian is derived from the Latin word vegetus, signifying lively or vigorous, according to the Vegetarian Society. Nevertheless, the Oxford English Dictionary begs to differ, claiming that the main root behind the name of this lifestyle is “vegetable”.
History of Vegetarianism
As far as vegetarianism is concerned, the earliest roots of this teaching and lifestyle stem from the 6th century BC. Namely, signs of vegetarian life were found in ancient India and Greece, presumably being connected with attitudes against harm towards animals. It is assumed that ancient philosophers and intellectuals promoted this kind of lifestyle in those times.
In ancient India, an emperor named Ashoka ordered that all animals need to be protected, including parrots, mainas, aruna, ruddy geese, wild ducks, gelatas, bats, queen ants, squirrels and numerous others. The list was long and included all animals, including the four-legged domestic ones. Additionally, this emperor forbid burning of forests or slaying animals in order to feed other animals.
As for a more recent history, upon the Christianization of Europe came the cessation of vegetarianism, while in medieval times, there were monks who abstained from consuming all animals apart from fish.
Later, vegetarianism returned during Renaissance, spreading further during the 19th and the 20th century. Finally, in 1847 the UK hosted the first vegetarian society, along with Germany, the Netherlands and may other countries.
Since 1908, a union of vegetarians was formed on an international level. Yet, in the US, vegetarianism became a more and more popular trend just recently, during the previous century.
Despite the evolution of vegetarian lifestyle, people have always wondered whether this kind of lifestyle is healthier than the one which involves consuming meat and whether the absence of animal protein and nutrients can even be dangerous for a human individual.
Health Benefits and Concerns
Once science got interested in vegetarianism, first pieces of scientific data regarding this way of life emerged.
Today, American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada, all claim that a well-planned and conducted vegetarian diet can reduce chances of ischemic heart disease by 30% in men and 10% in women.
It is known that all the necessary nutrients for maintaining proper health can be found in non-animal sources such as fruits, vegetables, grains, soymilk. However, those who include eggs and dairy products in their vegetarian nutrition certainly get more nutrients than those who do not.
In general, vegetarian diets deliver less saturated fat to the body. Thus, most vegetarians have a lower body mass index and are generally healthier and less prone to developing chronic health conditions such as diabetes type 2, dementia etc. Such diets, on the other hand, introduce more carbohydrates, magnesium, folate, fiber, vitamins and antioxidants, among other things.
Some types of meat are known to be connected with cancer, especially non-lean red meat. A study called “Mortality in British Vegetarians” resulted in amazing data in favor of those who skip meat and animal-based products. Namely, vegetarians were found to have low mortality in comparison to other members of the population.
The Seventh-Day Adventists also carried out a study, taking into consideration that the majority of members of this group are prone to vegetarianism. They concluded that vegetarians, by following this lifestyle for at least 10 years, prolong their lives by up to 2 years. In fact, Adventists in California, on average, lived for 83.3 years, as far as men are concerned and 85.7 years in case of women, according to this research.
All in all, when maintaining a proper and healthy vegetarian lifestyle, focusing on finding all the necessary nutrients from non-animal resources, one is bound to live a healthy, happy and long life, not breaking a single moral code related to his/her way of life. Nevertheless, people who are vegetarians and do not concentrate of finding crucial, natural nutrients for their body, risk suffering from illnesses and malnutrition.