Hindu Dietary Consideration
Vegetarian or Not?
Hinduism is one of the world’s most widely-practiced religions, and thus has diverse practices including diet. One of the main differences is vegetarian versus non-vegetarian: some Hindus eat meat, many do not. Indeed, the Vedas – the oldest scriptures of Hinduism – appear to have conflicting verses on this topic, with some prohibiting meat consumption, and others allowing it.
India: #1 Vegetarian Nation
India is the birthplace of Hinduism, and home to the largest Hindu population. It’s the most vegetarian country in the world: about 40% of its population does not eat meat. Some 31% of Indians are vegetarian – including no eggs – while another 9% are ovo-vegetarian and eat eggs.
Many Hindus prefer a vegetarian or lacto-vegetarian lifestyle, with milk-based foods such as milk, butter and cheese. A typical Hindu lacto-vegetarian meal includes grains such as rice and wheat, legumes, green vegetables and dairy products. Some diets also include millet-based flatbreads.
Vegetarian diets are considered compassionate, respectful of life, and in sync with nature. Hinduism recommends ahimsa: non-violence against all life including animals. Many Hindus point to scriptures, such as the ancient Indian maxim that “nonviolence is the highest duty and the highest teaching,” as advocating a vegetarian diet.
Meat in Moderation
Avoid Beef, Pork
At the same time, many Hindus choose a diet including eggs, fish or certain other meat. Non-vegetarian Hindus prefer meats from poultry, fish, seafood, goat and lamb. Chicken is one of the most popular meats consumed by Hindus.
Hindus who eat meat generally avoid beef and pork. Under Hindu belief, cows are revered as a motherly giving animal, and akin to family. Pork is prohibited because it’s considered unclean.
Overall, India consumes the least amount of meat per person, of any major country. Non-vegetarian Hindus have meat-free meals on most days. And many meat-eating Hindus abstain from meat on key holidays such Dussera, Janmastami, Diwali, etc.
For meat production, Hindus favor jhatka style of quick slaughter, which minimizes animal trauma and suffering.
Hindus might pray or perform a brief ritual before a meal. It’s recommended that Hindus fold their hands, bow to their meal, and say a prayer of thanks.
Eat in Moderation
Moderation is an important part of the Hindu diet, and called Mitahara. The Bhagavad Gita includes verses on diet and moderation, stating one must neither eat too much nor too little. It recommends a Hindu “eat only when one feels hungry” and “neither overeat nor eat to completely fill the capacity of one’s stomach.”