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My reasons for being a vegetarian

A common argument I hear is, “if you’re vegetarian because you don’t want violence towards animals, then why are you eating plants ? Isn’t that also violence ?” Of course, the best diet would be a fruitarian diet from naturally fallen fruits.

Science has already classified plants as having life – Kingdom Plantae. For a philosophical definition, I refer to a verse from the Hitōpadēśa, «āhāra-nidrā-bhaya-maithunaṃ ca», anything that can do one or more of eating, sleeping, mating and defending is considered to have life. So, we all agree that plants are living (and so do microbes, etc.). Plants can hear, sense, etc

I base my arguments on Ahimsa (not compassion, not on religion). My view on ahiṃsā is to stick to the principle of least violence, not absolute non-violence. Relative non-violence, as little harm as possible for survival.

  1. Most of the plant-based food I eat does not require killing the plant. For example, many vegetables, fruits, milk and grains. Non-vegetarian diet always requires killing of an animal.

  2. Scientifically speaking, plants have a weak-to-none nervous system. Sure, they respond to stimuli but cannot “feel pain”, the sense of pain as understood by humans w.r.t animals. Plants release ethylene under stress but science doesn’t call it pain as we know it. When a plant is killed, the pain involved is much less than that of a highly conscious animal like cow or goat. Plants do not have nociceptors. Relative non-violence.

  3. Pollination and cohabitation: After eating plants, I throw away their seeds which further help in pollinating them. There is mutual benefit to both of us. However, killing an animal does not benefit it whatsoever.

  4. Environmental reasons. There are enough resources on the Internet already. Arguments like you can feed 10 humans with the same amount of plant resource needed for one animal’s meat and so on.

  5. Anatomical argument: lion’s teeth vs. human teeth. Molar teeth are strong in humans (and herbivores like cows, elephants etc.) whereas carnivores have strong canine teeth. Molars are for chewing and grinding, canines are for tearing meat. Same with enzymes in stomach. Meat takes longer to digest compared to plants, etc.

Why not eggs ?

I don’t need them, so I don’t eat them. Also, I don’t consider eggs vegetarian. The English word ‘vegetarian’ doesn’t capture the essence of what I want to describe. The correct Indian term is ‘shakahaara’ (śākāhāra) – food derived exclusively from plants, directly or indirectly.

It’s obvious that fertilized eggs have foetus in them so potentially killing an unborn living being, is a big no-no. Therefore, the arguments below are for why I don’t eat unfertilized eggs as well:

  1. Unfertilized eggs are laid when a hen doesn’t mate with a male, in the same way as women have periods. Would you drink a woman’s menstrual blood as food ?

  2. Hens in poultry farms are made to feed on a non-vegetarian diet (especially fish, bone and blood) but still their eggs are vegetarian ? I don’t want to support indirect animal killing.

    Like I mentioned above, by definition of Śākāhāra, eggs are disqualified as vegetarian. What about milk then ? Milk comes from cows which are themselves vegetarian, always (indirect plant source). But what about vegetarian-fed hens ? Every chicken owner knows that hens are not vegetarian. Chickens evolved as omnivores, forcing a vegetarian diet on them is himsā to me. See also Meat-eating cows and vegetarian chickens.

  3. Eggs are laid by reproductive organs. It’s the same place from where a living being is born. It is meant for giving birth, not a food-producing organ.

  4. Eggs have high cholestrol and high protein, even when infertile, is an indication that it is not meant for human consumption but for raising a foetus – the foetus is expected to feed on the protein while inside the shell. The yellow/white liquid is equivalent to human placenta. Would you eat a placenta ?

    Cholesterol is not found in foods from plants. Cholesterol is found only in foods from animals (including milk). Grains, fruits, vegetables, and vegetable oils do not have cholesterol or only contain insignificant amounts.

    Similarly, eggs have zero percent fiber. Fiber is found only in plant products.

  5. I tend to side with the vegans on this – the amount of violence involved in raising hens (caged in narrow spaces, de-beaked, killing off male chickens etc.) is more than I can forgive. I prefer as minimal violence as possible.

A Jain view.
Are Eggs vegetarian ? by Dr. Manthena Satyanarayana