Perhaps once considered a strange lifestyle in our culture, vegetarianism is now quite common in our society. Though each person’s decision to adopt a vegetarian diet is usually based on a combination of reasons uniquely his or hers, there are three primary concerns that vegetarians may have considered. These are improved health, ethical and environmental concerns, and spiritual convictions.
THE THREE PRIMARY CONCERNS ARE AS FOLLOWS:
- IMPROVED HEALTH
- As awareness of the role of saturated fats and cholesterol in obesity, heart disease, and cancer has grown, many people have adopted a vegetarian diet as a type of preventive medicine. Others say that there is more to be concerned about than just fat and cholesterol, that, in fact, human beings are simply not designed to property digest and thrive on meat. This view is based on the observation that the teeth and digestive tract in the human body are more like those of non-meat eating animals than that of carnivores. Some question the safety of meat as a food, at least in the way that it is currently produced and marketed. Aside from the recent real problems of animal plagues that can infect humans also (such as “Mad Cow” Disease), there is a growing concern over the widespread use of antibiotics and hormones in the production of meat, and how human health may be affected by ingestion of drug-saturated meat.
- ETHICAL AND ENVIRONMENTAL
I have come to a realization that if all the land currently used for animal grazing were put into grain, legume, and vegetable production, there would be no hunger and starvation in the world, as there would be ample supply to feed every man, woman and child a nutritious diet. Other concerns include: the rapid destruction of particular environments, such as the rainforest, in order to support the beef industry; mistreatment of factory-farmed animals; over-fishing of rivers and oceans, and the destruction of other species in the process (for example, dolphins that get caught in tuna fishing nets).
- SPIRITUAL CONVICTIONS
- A number of spiritual teachings, including those of yoga etc and other aboriginal peoples, believe that all living beings are expressions of God. Therefore, all animals are equally precious embodiments of Spirit, and should be respected as such. The practice of killing animals for food is thus abhorrent to adherents of these religions and to be avoided except as necessary to sustain life (for example, in environments where there are few plant foods available).
WHAT DO VEGETARIANS EAT?
As the name suggests, vegetarians do eat vegetables. But that is certainly not all we eat! I recall one particularly disappointing experience with what seems to be a common Ghanaian concept of a vegetarian meal.
Two years ago, I visited my Godfather and we decided to have lunch at a highly regarded restaurant in Tema. We made our reservations, specifically requesting a vegetarian entree. I was really looking forward to the experience, because the restaurant had a reputation for exceptionally delicious food. To my dismay, our lunch consisted of ordinary potatoes chips with ketchup, and plain boiled vegetables. Bland and unappetizing, it was essentially a meal from which the chicken had been removed, but nothing at all interesting had been added!
A vegetarian diet can actually provide us with much more variety in tastes and textures than the typical meat-based fare. While the average Ghanaian home-cooked meal generally consists of a piece of meat (or fish, perhaps), a starch (such as potatoes, rice, pasta or bread), and a cooked vegetable and/or salad, a vegetarian repast may be composed of a number of dishes combining legumes, grains, vegetables, nuts, fruits and seasonings.
And, not all vegetarians eat alike. Because of varying concerns about the quality and means of obtaining non-flesh animal products, there are several levels or types of vegetarians. Starting from the most restrictive and working our way down, the types of vegetarianism are as follows:
- VEGAN: Vegans do not consume any animal products or by-products. So vegans of course do not consume red or white meat, fish or fowl. They also do not consume eggs and dairy. Vegans do not use honey or beeswax, gelatin and any other animal by-product ingredients or products. Vegans typically do not use animal products such as silk, leather and wool, as well.
- LACTO VEGETARIAN: Lacto-vegetarians do not eat red or white meat, fish, fowl or eggs. However, lacto-vegetarians do consume dairy products such as cheese, milk and yogurt.
- OVO VEGETARIAN: Ovo-vegetarians do not eat red or white meat, fish, fowl or dairy products. However, ovo-vegetarians do consume egg products.
- LACTO-OVO VEGETARIAN: Lacto-ovo vegetarians do not consume red meat, white meat, fish or fowl. However, lacto-ovo vegetarians do consume dairy products and egg products. This is the most common type of vegetarian.
- POLLOTARIAN: Much like the pescatarian, this “semi-vegetarian” diet restricts meat consumption to poultry and fowl only. Pollotarians do not consume red meat or fish and seafood
- PESCATARIAN (PESCETARIAN):While technically not a type of vegetarian, these Individuals do restrict their meat consumption to fish and seafood only. Pescatarians do not consume red meat, white meat or fowl. This is considered a “semi-vegetarian” or “flexitarian” diet.
- FLEXITARIAN – A plant-based diet with the occasional meat item on the menu. These folks do their best to limit meat intake as much as possible and they have an almost entirely plant-based diet. This is not technically considered a “vegetarian” diet, but we commend the effort!
Which of these vegetarianism are you? And what are you doing to save the world?
Written by: Bernice Makafui Buaba / Vegan Chef