As tomorrow, October 1st is World Vegetarian Day, Food Friday today is devoted to vegetarianism! A vegetarian is a person who does not eat meat or fish (and sometimes other animal products), especially for moral, religious, or health reasons. A vegan is someone who does not eat or use animals or animal products at all. This is generally because of moral reasons and many vegans are active animal liberationists. A vegan diet includes all grains, beans, legumes, vegetables and fruits and the nearly infinite number of foods made by combining them. Many vegan versions of familiar foods are available, so you can eat vegan hot dogs, ice cream, cheese and vegan mayonnaise. Soy bean protein can nowadays mimic all sorts of animal meats and products, as well as masquerade as milk and cheese.
Many religions around the world are very proscriptive about diet and several religions prescribe strictly vegetarian diets. Hinduism’s teachers and scriptures often expressly encourage a vegetarian diet, though not all Hindus are vegetarian. Hindus almost universally avoid beef since they consider the cow (Krishna’s favorite animal) sacred. Vegetarianism is expected practice among Jains (1% of Indians), who hold that it is wrong to kill or harm any living being. Buddha was a Hindu who accepted many of Hinduism’s core doctrines, such as karma and he explicitly taught vegetarianism as a component of his general instruction to be mindful and compassionate. Practicing Buddhists are vegetarians.
The Chinese religion of Taoism holds nature as sacred, and this view also favours vegetarianism. Taoism teaches that yin and yang are the two fundamental energies in the world, and Taoists have always “taken the accomplishments of yin [the non-violent, non-aggressive approach] and rescue of creatures as their priority.” For example, the famous Taoist Master Li Han-Kung explicitly prohibited “those who consume meat” from his holy mountain.
The Torah (Hebrew Scriptures) describes vegetarianism as an ideal. In the Garden of Eden, Adam, Eve, and all creatures were instructed to eat plant foods. (Genesis 1:29-30) The prophet Isaiah had a utopian vision in which everyone will once again be vegetarian: “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb … the lion shall eat straw like the ox … They shall not hurt or destroy in all My holy mountain” (Isaiah 11:6-9). Although the Torah states that, after the Flood, God gave humans permission to eat meat (Genesis 9:3), God also restricted humankind’s exploitation of animals. The Jewish people are especially obligated to keep kosher dietary laws and detailed laws requiring humane treatment of animals. Most (but not all) kosher laws deal with meat.
Islam shares many religious and dietary laws with Judaism (Quran 2:172) and therefore Muslims share with Jews the teachings against cruelty to animals. Islam also teaches that people should only eat healthy foods. Many studies have shown that the products of modern factory farms, high in fat and laden with hormones and antibiotics, harm one’s health.
Christianity as it first developed had many dietary laws and if one looks at the Eastern churches, for example the Greek Orthodox faith, there are elaborate rules about fasting and what can be eaten when. This provides for a mainly vegetarian diet, perfectly suited for the Mediterranean countries. It is interesting, however, that there are certain feast days in the church calendar when fasting is prohibited! The Catholic faith used to be more proscriptive in the past, but generally even devout Catholics nowadays rarely fast.
There are four major fasts during the Greek Orthodox Church year:
- The Great Lent, which begins on a Monday, seven weeks before Easter. This Monday, called Kathari Theftera (Καθαρή Δευτέρα, pronounced kah-thah-REE thehf-TEH-rah), translates to Clean Monday. Fasting restrictions are eased on weekends (not abandoned), and Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday (the weekend before Easter), restrictions to meat and dairy foods still apply, therefore fish is usually consumed.
- Fast of the Apostles, which lasts from one to six weeks, begins on a Monday, eight days after Pentecost, and ends on June 28th, the day before the feast day of Saints Peter and Paul.
- Fast of the Dormition of the Theotokos (Mary, Mother of God), from August 1st to 14th.
- Christmas Fast, from November 15th to December 24th.
- Individual Fast Days: January 5th - eve of the Theophany (Epiphany), August 29th - the Beheading of St. John the Baptist, September 14th - the feast of the Elevation of the Holy Cross, and all Wednesdays and Fridays.
Days When Fasting is NOT Permitted: Between Christmas and Theophany, the 10th week before Easter, the week after Easter, and the week after Pentecost.
It is not surprising that many traditional Greek meals are vegetarian or vegan. Here is a recipe for vegan stuffed vine leaves, a popular spring dish from Crete. It is made when the vines begin to sprout leaves and when one can collect the young tender leaves to stuff.
Vegan Stuffed Vine Leaves
500 grams tender young vine leaves (each about 10 cm in diameter)
1 medium sized white zucchini
1 medium sized eggplant (peeled)
2 large ripe tomatoes
2 medium sized onions
1.5 cups calrose rice (i.e. not long grain)
1 heaped tbsp tomato paste
1 bunch fresh parsley
1 bunch of fresh dill
Salt and pepper to taste
Olive oil to thoroughly coat ingredients (see below)
Juice of two lemons
• Wash the rice and soak it in a bowl of water for about 15 minutes.
• Blanch the vine leaves in hot water and put in a colander to drain.
• In a colander inside a bowl grate the onions, tomatoes, zucchini and eggplant (reserving the fluid draining).
• Chop finely the washed and cleaned parsley and dill and add to the vegetables.
• Add the salt, pepper, tomato paste and the drained rice, mixing all well.
• Add enough olive oil to coat all the components, but not to excess, mixing well all the while.
• Take each leaf and cut the stem off, laying it on the palm of your hand, the shiny side down.
• Fill the leaf with a spoonful of the stuffing and wrap the leaf neatly around the stuffing to make a small parcel like a little rectangular box.
• Place in a heavy saucepan (25-30 cm diameter), tightly packing the vine leaf parcels in a circular fashion, layer upon layer, half-filling the pan.
• Continue until all the stuffing is used up.
• Pour the fluids from the grated vegetables in the pan and add about 2-3 tablespoonfuls of olive oil as well.
• There should be some vine leaves left over. Lay these on top of the pan, covering the vine parcels well.
• Place a shallow, heavy china plate on top of the vine leaves, to press them down while they are cooking.
• Simmer for about 1 hour and 15 minutes or until they are cooked ( you can take out one out and taste). 10 minutes before the end of the cooking we add the lemon juice.
• These can be eaten hot or cold.
For the non-vegans amongst you, some Greek-style yoghurt can be served on the side so that each diner can add to taste on top of the stuffed vine leaves. I also like to add some extra lemon juice on these on my plate.