Nutrition for Life - 2019


Practicing Non Violence

By Parul Kharod

This October 2 will be celebrated as the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. The whole world knows Gandhi as the proponent of ahimsa or non-violence.

Gandhi was born in 1869 into a devout Hindu family where vegetarianism was part of their lives. When he decided to travel to England to study law, his mother would only allow him to go if he took a solemn vow to abstain from meat and alcohol while he was away from home. Gandhi took this vow very seriously and endured many difficulties about food until he discovered that there were vegetarian restaurants in London. In the first of the restaurants that he entered, he bought a copy of Henry Salt's Plea for Vegetarianism. Reading this was a turning point. Until now he had avoided meat because of his promise to his mother; now Salt's book convinced him of the moral case. “From the time of reading this book, I can claim to have become a vegetarian by choice," he said.

Gandhi believed in living a cruelty-free life and practiced this philosophy of ahimsa in every aspect of his life, including his dietary choices. In his autobiography, My Experiments with Truth, he devoted an entire chapter titled, “Experiments in Dietetics." In this chapter he described in detail his own views on vegetarianism. A collection of quotes from Gandhi's writings and speeches (1921-1958) regarding diet can be found in the book The Moral Basis of Vegetarianism. When asked why he advocated for eating a vegetarian diet, he responded, “I have philosophical reasons to advocate vegetarianism. I believe that the animals have spirits and souls also."

October – Vegetarian Awareness Month

The first day of October is marked as World Vegetarian Day initiating the month as Vegetarian Awareness Month which ends with World Vegan Day on November 1. It was established as an annual celebration to promote compassion towards all living beings. It was originated by the N. American Vegetarian Society in 1977 and endorsed by the International Vegetarian Union in 1978. Every year the celebration continues to help raise awareness about how plant-based diets benefit everything.

October 1-7 is also celebrated across the world as International Vegetarian Week. Interestingly, it is believed that the word “Vegetarian" was coined in 1842 by the founders of the British Vegetarian Society, of which Mahatma Gandhi was an active member during his student days in London.

Although it may seem like the plant-based movement has grown in recent years, the idea is not new. The International Vegetarian Union (IVU) was founded in 1908, which included vegetarian societies around the world. By 1914 there was a Vegetarian Society in almost every country of Europe and many more around the world. The IVU has been conducting conferences since 1908. This year's IVU World VegFest was recently held on August 23-25, 2019 in Berlin, Germany.

Current Views on Plant-Based Diets

The United Nations and the Food and Agriculture Organization have urged a shift towards a more plant based diet for climate and environmental sustainability. For details, refer to the Saathee article from July 2019 titled, “Planetary Health."

There are several organizations that are currently promoting plant-based diets for health reasons. The Physicians' Committee for Responsible Medicine, The American College of Lifestyle Medicine, Plant-based Prevention of Disease, Nutrition Facts.org, Forks Over Knives, The Food Pharmacy, Whole Foods Plant Based.org, Meatless Monday, are among a growing list of organizations that are showing proof with scientific research that plant-based diets can help combat majority of the chronic diseases.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has a Position Paper which states that appropriately planned vegetarian and vegan diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. These diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, adolescence, older adulthood, and for athletes. Plant-based diets are more environmentally sustainable than diets rich in animal products because they use fewer natural resources and are associated with much less environmental damage. The Vegetarian Dietetic Practice Group of the Academy has dietitians who are trained experts on this subject.

Summary: There is irrefutable evidence that plant-based diets can not only prevent but treat chronic diseases and help save in health care costs. The World Health Organization and other global entities have already stated that unless we limit meat consumption, and devote the land and water resources to agriculture, we will not be able to feed the world population in the next fifty years. Research shows that plant-based diets can prevent and reverse disease, reduce global hunger, and improve the health of the planet. Take a pledge of kindness towards all living beings.

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Parul Kharod, MS, RD, LDN is a registered dietitian and licensed nutritionist and works as a Clinical Dietitian with Outpatient Nutrition Services at WakeMed Hospital in Cary and Raleigh. She can be reached at parulkharod@gmail.com