The Concept of Vegetarian Food and some historical events

October, 2020 by Rishwa Doshi
Food is the most important part of human existence. A human being without clothes or shelter can still survive if he gets nutritious food. Our human history tells us that man has been completely in awe of food and has been regularly motivated throughout ages to seek it. Food has acted as a catalyst for societal transformation, societal organization, competition, development, conflict,and expansion.
Cooking or cookery is the art, science and craft of using heat to prepare food for consumption. Cooking techniques and ingredients vary widely across the world, from grilling food over an open fire, to using electric stoves, to baking in various types of ovens, reflecting unique environmental, economic and cultural traditions and trends. This is the modern era which we are talking about. But the humans have come a long way to reach this point and make this journey. Moving from caves to fertile lands near water our civilizations have flourished. Adoption of staple crops, trading things in exchange for food (Barter system- food being used as a medium of the transaction before money circulated) was the idea of these genetic engineers who shaped our future civilizations. A family life setup came into existence resulting in the subsequent emergence of social structure and complex societies.
Phylogenetic analysis suggests that humans may have invented cooking as far back as 1.8 to 2.3 million years ago.
Homoerectus 5,00,000 years ago…control of fire.
According to Jainism the first Tirthankara Shri Rishabhdev Bhagwan introduced Asi, Masi and Krushi culture among the people. (How to make weapons, do business and farming respectively) He set some rules for the people to follow, making people civilised. The concept of seva, shilp and vanijya took birth. The civilised human now progressed.
Initially, only raw food was consumed. The use of fire later shifted the food habits to raw and cooked food both to be consumed by humans. Both vegetarian and non-vegetarian food was consumed for millions of years. Kings being Kshatriyas adopted the culture of hunting and eating meat. Others like Brahmins and Vaishyas followed vegetarianism to some extent.
Food also formed the basis of the earliest forms of religions and religious practices. The earliest Pagan and Hindu Gods (Forces of Nature) were worshipped and looked upon them as living beings to whom they gave human or animal offerings. The Fire God Agni was regarded as an intermediary between Gods and men, for he consumes the sacrificial offerings and carries them to Gods in the form of smoke. Most religious practices and events were also centered on the timings of sowing or harvesting. In later religious practices the first harvest was dedicated to the divine. The Jains extend the concept of Ahimsa not only to humans but to all animals, plants, micro-organisms, and all beings having a life. Each and every life is sacred and should be valued. According to Jainism, ‘Abhay dān’: protection of life, is that each human should adhere to. The belief that animals were created for yajna (sacrifice) and hence it was not considered a slaughter, was denounced by Jains. Ācāryas condemned this practice by stating that it is a misconception to hold that Gods are pleased at sacrifices of living beings and there is no wrong in committing hiṃsā for the sake of religion.
During the time of Neminath Bhagwan the idea of eating food without harming other living creatures blossomed among the Jain community i.e. the idea of vegetarianism (the term was not known then) was spread across the Jain community. In spite of being a Kshatriya, Neminath Bhagwan realized that on the joyous occasion of his marriage innocent animals would be sacrificed to be served as food for the wedding guests. The karuna flowing in his heart could not bear the cries of these helpless animals and he decided to call off his wedding and follow the life of an acetic This is a very striking example of live and let live.
Neminath Bhagwan Wedding Procession
Later, in history, we can see different people and cultures and communities around the world following food habits according to their perspectives. Ancient Greek and Roman philosophers including Pythagoras and Porfirio followed a meatless diet as a refusal of animal sacrifices to the Gods and out of respect for living beings. Later luminaries such as Leonardo Da Vinci believed that a diet without meat was a healthy one. To quote Andrea Corsali directly in a letter written to Guiliano de Medici (who were Leonardo’s patron) describing vegetarians he had encountered in India Certain infidels called guzzarati are so gentle that they do not feed on anything which has blood nor will they allow anyone to hurt any living thing like our Leonardo da Vinci.
Kumarpal Maharaja: Kumarpal Maharaja became the king of Gujarat at a ripe age of 50. He was a staunch follower of Ahimsa. Inspired by his guru kalikaal sarvagna Shri Hemchandra Acharyaji, he believed that violence to living organisms is the worst of all sins. He proclaimed that people at large are violent and are at one another’s throat. He ordained that no one should profit from violence. Those who practice violence should give it up and they will be fed at the king’s kitchen for three years if they have no means of subsistence. He prohibited any form of violence committed for the sake of religion or livelihood. He instructed his officials to give severe punishment to those who indulged in violence. With the guidance of his guru Hemchandra Acharyaji, Kumarpal Raja who is said to be the ruler of 18 countries stopped the killing of innocent animals. His compassion for all living beings led him to close down many slaughterhouses and inspired even the kings of neighbouring countries to practice non-violence. Slowly eating nonveg food was no longer a part of the people’s culture and it made its way gradually out of people’s households.
Back home, Gandhiji who used to consume nonveg food thinking it would help him stay strong, later realized that with vegetarian food, the immunity levels also stayed the same. Furthermore, Gandhiji’s fight against the British conflated vegetarianism with his philosophy of non-violence (ahimsa) to mobilize people in the nationalist movement. Peoples faith in a country like India like Hindus, Buddhists and Jains believe in practice of non-violence and follow a vegetarian diet. Jains are overly compassionate towards the smallest of insects; they sweep them out of the way so as not to tread on them.
This leads us to a very famous story in History about King Akbar and Heervijay Suriswarji Maharaj Saheb. Akbar wanted to meet Suriswarji after Champa shravika who fasted for six months only on water told Akbar that such a feat was possible only because of the blessings of her religious saint-like guru Heervijaysuriswarji Maharaj Saheb. For the interest of the Jain religion, HSM decided to pay Akbar a visit. To honour HSM arrival, Akbar had laid very costly carpets in the royal palace, but Suriji refused to walk on them. He explained Akbar that Jain saints were forbidden to walk on land covered with cloth that might kill the ants and other insects moving under the cloth. Akbar ordered the carpets to be removed just to surprisingly find many insects and ants underneath. Akbar being impressed asked Heervijaysuriswarji maharajsaheb for anything he wished. Suriji said that he would not accept anything but if Akbar was keen to offer anything then he should order to set free the birds and animals kept in cages, prohibit large scale fishing in the huge pond named Dabar, and should also issue a mandate to stop the violence of any kind by anybody during the holy festival of Paryushan.
Photo of Akbar Baadshah and Heervijaysuriswarji Maharajsaheb
Jains have given immense importance to Amaripravarthana. They have focussed their entire life to be compassionate towards the tiniest of living beings. The preaching’s of Lord Mahavira hold true even today and it makes complete sense as the science of today agrees with Bhagwan Mahavir’s teachings. It is a known fact that Jains do not even eat underground (root) vegetables. Such Vegetables are filled with infinite ekindria, beindria jeevs in them. Plants have life, even each single leaf of a tree is a single life as foretold by Lord Mahavir, which was later proved by our very own scientist J. C. Bose. Even a single drop of water contains more than 36000+ jeevs which is written in the Agams (Holy scriptures of Jains) was proved by scientists some centuries ago. These cannot be seen with our naked eyes. Data shows that many countries follow vegetarianism to a great extent including India 20-40%, closely followed by Mexico 19-20%, Brazil and Switzerland 14%, and Israel and Taiwan13%. There are totally 375 million vegetarians worldwide. All the reasons for a green lifestyle. Some amazing personalities currently following this lifestyle includes are very own Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modiji, sports enthusiasts Virendra Sehwag, chess champion Vishwanathan Anand and business tycoon Mukesh Ambani History has seen a long list of kings like Ashoka, Chanakya, Tenali Raman, scientists like C. V. Raman and Vikram Sarabhai, politicians like M.K.Gandhi, Sardar Patel, S. Radhakrishna and our very own space scientist and former president Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam following this Vegetarian way of life.
There are certain myths regarding body immunity, damage to the ecosystem with reference to land availability if the world turns vegetarian and the IQ level of people following this diet. These myths have been regularly busted with the facts from time to time.
  1. There is no nutritional need for humans to at any animal products. All of our dietary needs, even as infants and children are best supplied by an animal-free diet.
  2. A vegetarian diet would reduce premature deaths. We would see a global mortality reduction of 6-10% thanks to a lessening of coronary heart disease, diabetes, stroke and some cancers. A Vegetarian, diet would result in a 33% decrease in greenhouse gas emissions and vegan diets with a 53% decrease in emissions.
  3. Published by PETA, a study by Southampton University scientists showed that individuals who were vegetarian by the age of 30 recorded an average of 5 IQ points higher than meat eaters.

Over the year’s food has become a weakness for humans. Globalization has increased the availability of different kinds of foods and flavours throughout the world. Different food and wine festivals and chef competitions have totally indulged people to invest plenty of time only in cooking and dining. The easy accessibility of restaurants serving food that belongs to various states like Punjabi, Rajasthani, Gujarati, South Indian and countries like Italian, Thai, Japanese, Chinese have convinced people to try and develop taste for these kinds of foods. Jain religion on the contrary urges its followers to leave the taste of tongue(have control over your rasendriyas) and practise unodari vrat (eat a little less than totally filling up yourself) but they have compromised over their eating habits. It’s okay for the youth of today living in the hostels and studying abroad in universities to eat whatever is available at the campus on weekdays and going out on weekends to try different types of food. Chain Restaurants serve the same type of food to you anywhere in the world. This type of typical behaviour shows how humans have become slaves to the food culture and food is no longer seen as a means of survival but as the only reason to live is to eat. Readymade food to be heated in a microwave and consumed immediately possess grave dangers to human health but today’s generation living a fast-paced life seems to ignore this health hazard. Urban cultures in India have adopted the weekend eating out habit from the west and the millennials today think it’s a way of life.
The above article is written with the help of references and inputs from the following:

  1. History of food…Wikipedia
  2. Articles and Images from History and Chronicles-Akbar turns Vegetarian.
  3. www.peta.or-Sept 10, 2020.
  6. Jainsite -Stories on Jainism.

It is an open article allowing the readers to jump in with their views and queries for a broad perspective with regards to food history.

About Author

Rishwa Doshi

I am a commerce graduate from the Mumbai University and a web designer. I have done a couple
of courses on World Literature and Western Europe Civilization. I am a voracious reader and my love for
doing in-depth research on any topic has helped me to write this article with all honesty and passion.

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Khu mehta
Khu mehta
3 years ago

This article is quite enriching.Everybody should read.