Who Are Vegetarians?

Religious + Cultural Vegetarianism

While some people make the choice to become vegetarian due to ethical or other reasons, many others are vegetarian or semi-vegetarian in keeping with their religion, culture, or standard of living. Here are some groups of people who are vegetarian or semi-vegetarian due to their religious beliefs or where they live.

I. Hinduism teaches that vegetarianism is on the path to holiness, for all of the reasons in my Why be a vegetarianism article as well as others. In keeping with the law of non-injury, Hindus cannot kill animals. Eating animals and thus participating in the cycle of inflicting injury and killing is also considered bad karma and will leave one open to experience that same suffering in the future. Hindus believe that in order to live in higher consciousness, in peace and happiness and love for all creatures, one cannot eat any animals. In particular, Hindus will never eat beef, because the cow is sacred; indeed, the Hindi word for cow is aghnaya, which means "not to be killed."

II. Jainism requires vegetarianism due to the principle of non-violence. In fact, this principle is so strict that Jainists will not even swat flies or mosquitoes.

III. Buddhism encourages vegetarianism in keeping with the ideals of love, compassion, and non-violence. The first rule of Buddhism is do not kill, which includes both people and animals.

IV. In Islam, pigs and other carnivorous animals are considered dirty, thus meat from these animals is forbidden.

V. Seventh-Day Adventists are "encouraged" to be vegetarian.

VI. Jews believe that before the coming of the Messiah, man must demonstrate the utmost regard for all animals – as first seen in Eden. Therefore, vegetarianism is a Judaic ideal, and keeping kosher is a compromise between this ideal and the reality of life on Earth. The rules for Kashrut (keeping kosher) are very complex; I have tried to summarize them here without losing sight of the main point. The following are forbidden: animals and products from animals which do not both chew their cud and have a split hoof (including pigs, rabbits, hares, horses, dogs, and cats), any fish and seafood which do not have detachable scales and fins (including shellfish and crustaceans), and the cooking or serving of meat or poultry together with milk products. This latter is considered equivalent to cooking/eating an animal in its mother’s milk.

VII. Yoga practitioners tend to be vegetarian for two reasons: the observance of ahisma (non-harm or non-violence) and the belief that a vegetarian diet is healthier.

VIII. Throughout much of Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asian, meat is a rarity, often making vegetarianism a necessity rather than a choice.