Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Go, greenie, go!

Vegetarianism is the practice of a diet that excludes meat, fish and poultry. There are several variants of the diet, some of which also exclude eggs and/or some products produced from animal labour such as dairy products and honey.

A vegetarian diet is distinguished from an omnivorous diet by its content of dry beans and lentils. These take the place of meat and fish as the major source of protein.

For the Chinese who are vegetarian, some find it difficult to avoid consuming meat, fish, etc. As such, they have come up with innovative ways to make mock duck, mock fish, etc using soya products or gluten. Some of these creations even look like the real thing!

Good vegetarian food is quite expensive in Singapore. The vegetarian food that you can find at the hawker centres and food courts tend to contain a lot of gluten. The vegetarian food sold at vegetarian restaurants tend to use more vegetables and soya products in the cooking and hence, the food is more pricey.

The reasons for choosing vegetarianism may be related to morality, religion, culture, ethics, aesthetics, environment, society, economy, politics, taste or health. A generic term for both vegetarianism and veganism, as well as for similar diets, is "plant-based diets". Properly planned vegetarian diets have been found to satisfy the nutritional needs for all stages of life and some studies have shown vegetarianism to lower risks of cancer, heart disease and other diseases.

It is believed that a diet full of fresh fruits and vegetables, grains and soy is our best bet for living a longer, healthier and more enjoyable life. At the same time, we are doing the planet a favour by helping to preserve natural resources and cutting down on pollution generated by animal agriculture. Furthermore, we may appreciate our meals even more knowing that no animals suffered along the way.

Some vegetarians do not eat garlic and hence, if they were to stir-fry some vegetables, they will omit the garlic. I asked a vegetarian friend why she does not eat garlic. She explained that vegetarians are not supposed to eat any food that can cause the heart to beat faster, the emotions to rise, etc. According to her, vegetarians are supposed to lead a simple and carefree life and as such, food such as garlic should not be consumed.

Some people have turned vegetarian for reasons other than religion or diet. For them, it is very cruel to eat animals or animal by-products. Many people (vegetarian and non-vegetarian) have stopped eating shark's fin soup because of the way the shark's fins are obtained. The fin of the sharks are pulled out and the shark is thrown back into the sea. Without its fins, the shark is vulnerable and ends up being attacked by other sea creatures and it eventually dies.

Some studies have shown that the consumption of a diet of whole grains, legumes, vegetables, nuts, and fruits, with the avoidance of meat and high-fat animal products, along with a regular exercise program is associated with lower blood cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, less obesity and consequently less heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer and mortality.

In Singapore, there are two types of vegetarian food that are quite common:-
(a) Chinese vegetarian food
(b) Indian vegetarian food

Chinese vegetarian food tends to involve a lot of soya products. Gluten is also often used to make mock chicken, mock fish, mock duck, etc. I do not like the taste of mock food that has been made using gluten. The food is usually chewy and I wonder how much nutritional value it has.

Indian vegetarian food, on the other hand, largely comprises vegetable dishes. One of my favourite Indian vegetarian food is that of the masala thosai (see photograph below).

Most vegetarians consume dairy products, and many eat eggs. However, there are some vegetarians who say that true vegetarianism means not consuming dairy products and eggs. As such, they will not eat a dish like the one you see in the photograph below (that is, bittergourd fried with eggs). The vegan diet is a form of vegetarianism which excludes all animal products from the diet, such as meat, poultry, fish, dairy products, eggs, and honey. Those who practice veganism for ethical reasons exclude animal products from their diet as part of a larger practice of abstaining from the use of animals for any purpose (eg. leather, fur, etc.), often out of support for animal rights.

It is, of course, not easy to make the switch to become a vegetarian. What one can do, for a start, is to cut down on one's meat consumption and eat more vegetables and fish. As one becomes used to not eating meat, there may come a day when one may give up eating meat totally. As red meat is more unhealthy than white meat, perhaps one could start by cutting down on red meat. If, however, you are unable to make the total switch to vegetarianism but along the way, you have managed to cut down on your meat consumption, do not worry. Vegetarianism is not for everyone. If you are at least able to cut down on your meat consumption, you would have done some good for your own health and at the same time, you would have reduced the suffering of animals. If there is no demand, there will be no supply.

(1) wikipedia
(2) vegetarian times
(3) vegetarian-nutrition.info

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