This piece also appeared in the Fall 2009 issue.
By Guramrit Khalsa
“Aunt Voula, Ian is a vegetarian. He doesn’t eat meat,” Toula says. “He don’t eat no meat? What do you mean he don’t eat meat?” Aunt Voula exclaims. This classic scene from the movie, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” portrays the common question asked of vegetarians accompanied by confused expressions followed by massive inquisitions.
Surprisingly enough, vegetarianism is growing as a popular eating trend. Many restaurants, even fast food joints, now offer vegetarian friendly options. From Taco Bell to Burger King, vegetarianism is becoming wildly accepted.
For many Asian Americans, being a vegetarian is not something new. It is much more than just an eating habit; vegetarianism is a lifestyle that has been practiced for hundreds, almost thousands, of years.
But what is it exactly that draws people to the vegetarian lifestyle? For some, religion plays a crucial role in their decision.
Many major Asian religions practice some form of vegetarianism as an important part of religious ritual. Buddhists, Sikhs, Hindus, Muslims and Jains believe in the value of animal lives.
Renowned Hindu Mahatma Gandhi once said, “To my mind, the life of a lamb is no less precious than that of a human being. I should be unwilling to take the life of a lamb for the sake of the human body.”
Along the same train of thought, Buddhists believe killing animals is an act of aggression. An article published by the Better Health Channel of Australia states that because the concept of karma, “Buddhism proposes that violence or pain inflicted on others will rebound on you, hence the need for a vegetarian lifestyle.”
Helen Liang, a senior at Syracuse University, says that she learned about vegetarianism as a child. “A lot of my mom’s side are Buddhists and most of them are vegetarian,” she says.
“My grandmother practices Buddhism,” says Liang. Most of her mother’s side of the family upholds the vegetarian lifestyle.
Similar to Buddhist beliefs, Hindus believe in the holiness of certain animals, especially the cow. Not all Hindus are 100 percent vegetarian though. They restrict their meat intake by only eating certain types. Muslims are similar, preferring not to consume pork because of their belief that the pig is an unclean animal. In Islam, people tend to avoid meat that is not Halal, meaning lawful or permitted.
SU sophomore Jessica Sikes is currently taking a religion course. In this class, the professor just recently covered Jainism. “We were learning about Jains in class,” she says. “Jains don’t eat anything that casts a shadow.” She does admit this is possibly an over-exaggeration. Jains believe that living beings are sacred and refuse to eat anything that once lived.
Besides religion, other people are drawn to vegetarianism because of its health and environmental benefits. Paul McCartney, famous singer from the Beatles, says, “if anyone wants to save the planet, all they have to do is just stop eating meat. That’s the single most important thing you can do. It’s staggering when you think about it. Vegetarianism takes care of so many things in one shot: ecology, famine, cruelty.”
For many Asians and Asian Americans, being vegetarian is also associated with longevity. According to a study conducted by the Institute of Experimental and Clinical Medicine, “people consuming a vegetarian diet have better health and live longer than non-vegetarians.” Being vegetarian can supposedly add 13 years to your life!
In a poll conducted by the Vegetarian Resource Group, nearly 8.1 percent of Asians in the United States are vegetarian.
Going veggie assists in producing more energy. Step aside caffeinated beverages. There is a new way to achieve the energy you crave.
Whatever the reason may be, vegetarianism has been prominent in the Asian and Asian American culture. Alexei Sayle, an English standup comedian could not have portrayed vegetarianism in a more suitable context when he said, “I will not eat anything that walks, runs, skips, hops or crawls. God knows that I’ve crawled on occasion, and I’m glad that no one ate me.”
“That is such a hard question, but if I could choose one food, I think it would be chicken. It just tastes so good.”
— Amed Lopez, Junior
“I could not live without chocolate. It’s ‘cuz it’s yummy and I’m addicted to sugar.”
— Taylor Chamberlain, Sophomore
“I would say peanut butter because it’s so damn good.”
— Mike May, Sophomore
“Pita chips and hummus! I eat it like everyday!”
— Anneli Lambeth, Freshman
“Peanut butter. I do eat a lot of peanut butter. But I also cannot live without bread, especially bagels. You really can’t top bread. But really I just love to eat.”
— Emily Warne, Junior
“That’s tough. I”ve recently become addicted to wasabi peas. I go on specific trips to Wegmans for them.”
— Marc Heintzman, Junior