I have been a vegetarian since birth if I can say and so are thousands of people who were born in Brahmin community like me. In Hinduism, we are divided into different groups originally based on profession. Brahmins were typically the educated ones and were expected to teach others and were also priests. As the society evolved, Brahmins took up wider professions like minister, banker, business etc. Some say that in the Vedic period Brahmins were allowed to eat the meat of sacrificed animals. Then with the spread of Buddhism and Jainism, in order to slow down the conversions to these religions, Ahimsa or non-violence was being spread as the key message of Hinduism as well. Following this, several Hindus, especially Brahmins became vegetarian and this was not a particularly difficult change because they were only allowed to have sacrificial meat anyway and not other meat so it was not a big part of their life. This is also not to say all Brahmins are vegetarian as some remained meat/fish eaters. As far as I am concerned, I mean no harm to animals and am a vegetarian. Now, why am I talking about Hinduism, Brahmins and vegetarian? Reason is that to me it is a bit of a surprise to see people being warned about the ‘pitfalls’ of becoming vegetarian while that has been the way of life for me and for my ancestors with no second thoughts. Also a quick look at where I come from may help you understand why I am surprised. If you have ever been to India, especially southern India, you will find more vegetarian restaurants than non-vegetarian and typically the non-vegetarian ones will say so explicitly on their name board. On the contrary I am yet to come across a vegetarian restaurant in the western world where I live.
Having spent some time in a western country, I do understand that meat is an important part of the diet and hard to let go off. So, for some, it is probably a big deal. Often people are warned against a vegetarian diet mainly because it is said to lack in protein. Proteins contain chains of amino acids which are converted into different kind of amino acid during digestion and absorption. Some amino acids can be secreted by the body but some are required from food. Plant foods are said to lack in at least one of these essential amino acids. However, it does not mean one cannot get enough protein being a vegetarian. It simply is a question of combining food – like combining grains with lentils and vegetables. It was interesting to read that some findings show that an excess protein intake can potentially lead to osteoporosis and kidney problems (remember your kidney has to work harder to absorb the amino acids). A well balanced vegetarian diet, in that way is said to give just enough protein. Even if you are not able to balance in a single meal, you can always achieve your balance in a day. For example, let us say you could not get enough protein in your lunch, you can always snack on some lentils and achieve the balance. In a vegetarian diet one obviously does not get the fat from the meat and also because most plants are fibrous, vegetarian diets are said to be more helpful to maintain a healthy weight.
Now if the issue of not getting enough protein is out of your way, what else could stop one from being vegetarian? Could it be ‘limited’ choice because most restaurants offer macaroni cheese and salad as vegetarian on their menu, or could it be fear of not treating the palate because vegetarian in bland? If it is either or both, I can assure you, it is a myth. While I cannot put more items on restaurant menus as I do not have control over them, I certainly can assure you that your menu list at home can be made really long. As far as taste and flavour goes, who said spices do not work on vegetables, grains and fruits? There is no limit to the kind of dishes you can prepare with even just a few ingredients.
By making healthy choices, you can very well be a vegetarian and enjoy eating. If you need any help or inspiration to create nice vegetarian dishes, do stop by my blog