Vegetarianism is a diet (and sometimes lifestyle) wherein a person restricts food consumption to primarily or solely not-meat, or sometimes even non-animal, sources. Vegetarianism has been central to a great many fad diets over the years, as well as numerous religious and ethical dietary principles. While not woo in and of itself, vegetarianism has long been considered an eccentricity (or at the least non-normative, as vegetarians are a minority) and is closely associated with a number of forms of quackery. It is becoming increasingly associated with the environmentalist movement.
 Types of vegetarianism
Vegetarian diets can be broken down in several ways, the most common being by allowed foods and reasons for vegetarianism.
- Flexitarian — A primarily vegetable diet with some animal products (usually dairy and fish and/or poultry ("fins and feathers"), but often no red meat,) allowed. Flexitarians may choose to eat meat if they are satisfied with the health and life-quality of the animal killed, or when the meat is particularly delicious. The most common variant is pescatarian referring to eating only fish. This is frequently considered not truly vegetarian.
- Freegan — No meat or other animal products allowed, unless they are given away or saved from being thrown away. The primary motivation here seems to be to not support the meat industry financially. Often part of a broader lifestyle of trying to live "free" by mooching or salvaging wherever possible.
 Vegetarian diets by foods allowed
- Lacto-ovo vegetarian — A primarily vegetable diet with only dairy and eggs allowed (i.e. products that do not require the death of an animal).
- Lacto vegetarian — Dairy is allowed, but not eggs (presumably because eating fertilized eggs would cause the death of an animal).
- Vegetarianism — Eating no animal products.
- Vegan — No animal products consumed or allowed at all, including animal products used in clothing. Typically extends to things like honey as well, since it comes from bees.
- Fruitarian — A subset of veganism allowing only fruit (i.e. that which can be eaten without damaging the plant).
There are other classifications, though these are the most widely recognized.
 Vegetarian diets by reason
- Subsistence — Vegetarian by default for the most part, subsistence vegetarians generally cannot afford or cannot obtain meat. Such diets are common in poverty-stricken areas of the world, and according to some futurists and science fiction writers, may be the normal state of existence for any future off-world human colonists.
- Ethical — Ethical vegetarians do not eat meat due to the desire to not destroy animal life, not damage the environment, not promote use of land for primarily the wealthy, not support factory farming, etc.
- Medical — Either on doctor's orders because they cannot tolerate meat or as part of some sort of alt-med diet.
- Religious — Some religions require partial or total vegetarian diets for some or all of their believers. There is more to be said below.
- Affection — Born of a combination of sympathy for a variety of cute, but tasty, critters, and an overweening desire to be seen as compassionate and caring. Resolve sometimes disintegrates upon the proffering of a kitten sandwich.
- Distaste — Some people just don't like meat.
- Hatred — Some people really, really hate vegetables and want all of them to die.
- Love — Some people just really like vegetables, and only want to eat them. Actually, no one likes vegetables that much.
 Religious vegetarianism
Many religions impose dietary restrictions on some or all of their believers, the most notable forms in the west being Kashrut in Judaism, Halal in Islam, and Lent abstinent restrictions in Catholicism and Eastern Orthodox Christianity. Some more modern Christian sects (Seventh-day Adventism in particular), otherwise divorced from Catholic or Orthodox restrictions, prescribe flexitarian or vegetarian diets for their followers as well. In eastern religions, Hinduism traditionally prescribes different diets for different castes, with the highest castes (as well as many adherents of the Jain faith) required to eat very strict vegetarian diets that often exclude even root vegetables such as onions.
Religious vegetarianism sometimes spills over into medical vegetarianism, with significant representatives including Georges Ohsawa's macrobiotic diet (derived from Buddhism and Taoism) and John Harvey Kellogg's Battle Creek diet (derived from Seventh-Day Adventism and Ellen White's teachings on food).
There is considerable debate over the permissibility of vegetarianism in some religions, particularly Islam (where it is said "that which is permitted cannot be forbidden," implying to some that a vegetarian diet is sinful) and some Christian denominations. While some authorities find it disrespectful of God's bounty, others (particularly strict adherents to kosher or halal diets) consider it the only acceptable way to eat in a situation filled with gentile food of unknown status.
 Medical vegetarianism
Vegetarianism is sometimes engaged in for medical reasons, especially in situations where meat is not well-tolerated by the patient, or where the patient is trying to lower his or her cholesterol. Cutting out red meat in particular is known to reduce chances of cardiovascular disease, obesity and bowel cancer. Vegetarianism also, obviously, eliminates the risk of contracting meat-borne illnesses such as mad cow disease.
However, medical vegetarianism is too often the province of quacks. Many alternative medicine practitioners have recommended vegetarian diets for many of their patients; Martin Gardner discussed the matter at some length in chapter 18 of his seminal Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science. A great deal of propaganda goes along with altie vegetarianism; Gardner wrote of some vegetarian activists of the 1950s talking about the phantom threat of "necrones" (a never-defined alleged property of meat), while others have selectively interpreted features of the omnivorously-adapted human digestive system to support the idea that humans are really meant to be plant-eaters.
A subset of medical vegetarianism is raw foodism, the idea that raw foods are healthier for the human body due to the presence of more active enzymes. In practice, these enzymes, having evolved to work in a plant environment, do little or nothing in the human body, and are also destroyed in the digestion process. In addition, raw foodism tends to be ignorant of the fact that cooking and other forms of processing actually destroys significant amounts of toxins (real toxins, not the imaginary ones invented by alties) such as cyanogens in manioc, as well as protease inhibitors and lectins in legumes, along with reducing some complex proteins and polysaccharides to more digestible forms. A sizeable number of raw foodists are also "juicers," consumers of large quantities of fresh vegetable juice. A major guru in this area is Jay Kordich, aka "Jay the Juiceman."
 Ethical vegetarianism
The ethical school of vegetarianism largely comes from two viewpoints, one that raising and eating animals for food is inherently cruel, and another that it is wasteful and taxing on the environment.
 Cruelty and animal rights
The former view is taken by many animal rights groups (most notably PETA) and argues essentially that animals have an inherent right not to be eaten, and therefore humans should not consume animal products except possibly in a dire emergency. Still other vegetarians feel that eating animals is not necessarily wrong, but the ways most animals are raised, treated during their lives, and killed are not acceptable. It then becomes more of a boycott of the meat industry in particular than a boycott of animal consumption in general.
 Ecological impact
The latter, ecologically-centered view is somewhat more complicated and was first codified in the 1970s by Frances Moore Lappé in her book Diet for a Small Planet, which argued that animal husbandry was a drain on the environment, and it made more environmental sense to put the food normally fed to animals on people's tables. A recent article in New Scientist reported that "a kilogram of beef is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions and other pollution than driving for 3 hours while leaving all the lights on back home." CNN reported a University of Chicago study which found that the production of enough meat for one individual produces 1.5 more tons of greenhouse gas emissions a year than caused by vegetarian or vegan sources of food. The study also reported that it takes eight times as much fossil fuel to produce animal protein than its plant equivalent.
Diet for a Small Planet also spent a great deal of effort trying to combat the perception that a vegetarian diet was nutrient and protein deficient, providing recipes and making numerous menus to demonstrate how to get complete proteins from a diet of foods often low in some amino acids. While the recipes were considered rather unpalatable and the emphasis on complete proteins found to be a bit anal-retentive, Diet for a Small Planet has proven to be highly influential as a seminal work on ecological vegetarianism.
Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, the chairman of the "United Nations Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change," encouraged people to have at least one meat-free day a week in order to combat global warming.
 Opposition to vegetarianism
Vegetarianism in the 21st century is largely mainstream in Hindu and Buddhist countries, as well as in much of the Westernized world, but is still looked on as somewhat odd and closely associated in many minds with a politically liberal mindset. Furthermore, many advocates of a vegetarian diet lean towards fundamentalism (nutritional and often political) and often invoke discredited nutritional arguments based on spiritualism, vitalism, and other altie principles, turning off non-vegetarians who perceive such people to be arrogant and overbearing.
Many restaurants do not make any special effort to cater to vegetarian customers, sometimes even using animal-derived products such as chicken stock to cook otherwise-vegetarian dishes.
For some strange reason, some people who eat meat take it upon themselves to argue that vegetarians should eat meat, too. Typically, these people will try to argue that a vegetarian diet is somehow nutritionally lacking; while that certainly can be the case for a naive or overly strict vegetarian diet, a certain amount of nutritional due diligence can eliminate that problem with very little trouble.
 Vegetarianism around the world
Depending on the definition of vegetarianism and the nature of the survey, it seems that between 7 and 12 percent of the UK population follow some sort of vegetarian diet.
Vegetarianism (often for religious reasons, especially for the upper Hindu castes in India and many Buddhists) is mainstream in much of Asia, particularly in Hindu and Buddhist countries. India is one of several countries with strict product labeling laws allowing shoppers to easily find vegetarian products on store shelves, and many Buddhist monks live by a very strict vegetarian diet (the macrobiotic diet is based loosely on Japanese vegetarian cuisine, which has roots in Buddhism). Jainists eat a strict vegetarian diet based on the belief that virtually all harm to living things is unacceptable; whether this extends to fruitarianism depends on the individual believer.
Muslims around the world are divided on the permissibility of vegetarian diets; while many feel that a vegetarian diet is inherently halal, others feel that if God did not forbid eating something in the Qur'an, humanity may not forbid it either, and that vegetarianism is therefore an insult to God.
The United States Armed Forces Recipe Service includes a selection of recipes to cater to vegetarian soldiers.
 "Pure" vegetarianism not possible
As there are insects and insect fragments, or rodent hairs in most vegetables, fruits and grains, no vegetarian can entirely avoid consuming animal products. For example, these are the levels of various animal products permitted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, an acknowledgment that a certain level of this stuff is unavoidable:
|Allspice, ground:||Average of 30 or more insect fragments per 10 grams|
|Bay (laurel) leaves:||Average of 5% or more pieces by weight are insect-infested|
|Broccoli, frozen:||Average of 60 or more aphids and/or thrips and/or mites per 100 grams|
|Ground capsicum:||Average of more than 50 insect fragments per 25 grams, average of more than 6 rodent hairs per 25 grams|
|Chocolate:||Any 1 subsample of 100 grams contains 90 or more insect fragments (or average of 60 across 6 samples)|
|Cornmeal:||Average of 1 or more whole insects (or equivalent) per 50 grams|
|Raisins, golden:||10 or more whole or equivalent insects and 35 Drosophila eggs per 8 oz|
|Wheat:||Average of 9 mg or more rodent excreta pellets and/or pellet fragments per kilogram|
Of course, this argument only applies if the vegetarian in question classifies "insects" or "rat poop and hairs" as "animals." Many restrict their definition to "vertebrates," or "tetrapods," or "animals with a face." It is highly unlikely that most vegetarians would lose much sleep over this. Vegans might be a different matter though, depending on their stance regarding eating insects — but at least they can rest easy that the rats are eating well. As there are flakes of human skin floating around in the air that you breathe in, no non-cannibal can entirely avoid consuming humans. This doesn't seem to be a concern to anyone.
 See also
- ↑ Matt Bittman. Rethinking the Meat-Guzzler . New York Times. 2008 January 27.
- ↑ Particularly not this guy.
- ↑ Wikipedia on the health risks of red meat. (It may be Wikipedia, but all research is cited).
- ↑ Daniele Fanelli. Meat is murder on the environment. New Scientist, issue 2613. 2007 July 18.
- ↑ Rachel Oliver. All About: Food and fossil fuels. EcoSolutions. CNN. 2008 March 17.
- ↑ Mohit Joshi. One meat free day can help tackle climate change: Pachauri. TopNews.in. 2008 September 7.
- ↑ Much-cited examples of overbearing and/or condescending advocacy include Lappé, PETA, PBS personality Christina Pirello, and cookbook author Laurel Robertson, the latter two of whom love the woo.
- ↑ Some of us only do this because it's fun and they get so worked up.
- ↑ Information Sheet. The Vegetarian Society. 2008 February 13.
- ↑ Defect Levels Handbook. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. 2011 November 9.
- ↑ See Wikipedia on charismatic megafauna.