Just in Time for Lent…I’m a Jain!

25 Feb

On Thursday I was able to start plotting the concepts behind my March diet: a vegan diet based on Jainism.  How appropriate that the last recipe I posted was Indian.  Jainism is an ancient Indian religion based wholly on nonviolence or ahimsa.  Jains believe that ALL living beings have souls and that the only way to save your own is by protecting others.  Once you understand the dietary restrictions behind Jainism, you will laugh at the dietary “sacrifice” of Christians.  You call eating fish on Fridays sacrifice?  Child’s play!  I had only learned about Jainism within the past year, but its principles intrigued me.  Whereas many of the other religious diets I looked into only required moderate restraint, Jainism delves into an entirely different realm of thought towards eating.

I (technically) grew up a Catholic.  I went to Sunday school, received my first communion in second grade, and confessed my sins to a priest (once – because I’m that innocent ;-)).  As I grew older, I gradually became aware of the ideas surrounding lent.  In my family, I was never expected to shun meat on Fridays or give up any sort of luxury for 40 days.  However, I do remember giving up cookies one year in high school (by choice!) in observance of lent.  This may sound like an easy task, but I worked at Subway.  I received credits toward free food during every shift that I worked.  Slightly undercooked M&M cookies (and cookie dough) were easily accessible and tasted divine to my youthfully unrefined taste buds.  Those cookies are manufactured to be addictive!  But I digress…

Traditionally, all Jains are vegetarians.  Slaughtering animals IS violence and therefore, not consistent with the ahimsa philosophy.  Modern Jains may and probably should be vegan due to concerns with the way dairy products are now produced.  Since pregnant cows are necessary for a constant milk supply, a continual onslaught of baby calves are the result.  Male calves are sent to the veal industry where they will be fattened up and slaughtered at a young age.  Female calves will follow in their mothers’ footsteps, providing milk until “spent” and then will be sent to slaughter.  It is a sad fact in today’s society that you simply cannot separate the milk and meat industry.  They are one in the same.

Strict Jains take these notions even farther by considering the lives of plants and microorganisms.  For example, root vegetables are not consumed.  One reason for this is that by uprooting an entire vegetable, you are essentially killing the plant.  The other concern is harming the life that exists on those roots, disturbed by such an invasive retrieval.  If you think this is intense, keep reading…

Fermented foods are forbidden, because they contain an abundance of microorganisms.  The longer a food ferments, the more life created in the process.  Ancient teachings dictated a specific method of filtering water, so that microorganisms could be returned back to the water.

While all of these practices may sound extreme, I find their purpose most endearing.  What is so wrong with a group of people who are more concerned with saving a potato than killing a soldier in the name of that religion?  What is so crazy about the idea that plants and bacteria are life forms worthy of our respect?  Without plants and microorganisms, we die.  True story.  Without animal products in our diet, some people are able to not only survive but THRIVE.  Just some food for thought.

Many modern Jains eat root vegetables out of social convenience.  However, traditional orthodox Jains do not.  I have decided to follow a semi-strict vegan Jain diet.  I will exclude root vegetables and fermented foods but will not be following any special water filtration process.  This ancient concept isn’t that applicable to today’s plumbing systems anyway.  I also intend to shake things up a bit by experimenting with a 1-week (minimum) raw foods diet and a 1 day fast.  Jains fast often, so I didn’t think I could properly appreciate a Jain diet without at least 1 organized fast during the month.

Off the Menu: (All bold items are those that I currently eat on a regular basis and will be the hardest for me not to eat!)

*Dairy products: all dairy products are forbidden on a vegan diet (milk, cheese, ghee, butter, ice cream…you get the idea).  Vegetarian Jains may eat cheese and yogurt.  However, they must be freshly prepared on the day they are eaten & no animal rennet may be used to produce them.  Animal rennet is sometimes used to produce cheese and is generally derived from the veal factory.  (See what I mean?  You CANNOT separate the two!)  Luckily (I guess?), most non-organic cheese nowadays is made with genetically modified rennet. Yum! (Sarcasm)

*Grains: no grains are explicitly forbidden

*Vegetables: most root vegetables (carrots, turnips, parsnips, potatoes, sweet potatoes, beets, rutabaga, radishes, yams, Jerusalem artichokes, fennel, onions, shallots, leeks, water chestnuts, lotus root, daikon, etc.), mushrooms (some are parasites), cauliflower & broccoli (tiny insects can get stuck on their velvety surfaces and not be removed in spite of careful washing), eggplant (see multi-seeded fruit & vegetable explanation below), hot peppers (chiles, jalapeneos, etc.) in moderation (see description of Rajasic foods in “fun stuff” category below)

*Fruits: figs (inhabited by wasp species), Jack fruit & other fruits/vegetables that “bleed” upon cutting are sometimes considered unappetizing (I still find tomatoes sexy, so I’ll keep eating those! :)), very orthodox Jains do not eat multi-seeded fruits such as guava (may contain worms – although again, with modern farming practices, probably not).  I won’t be avoiding guava, but I won’t be seeking it out either.

*Meat, poultry, eggs & fish: absolutely no foods from this category

*Legumes/beans: beansprouts are not allowed as they are a “living” food and eating them kills the whole plant, tempeh and miso (fermented soy products)  Damn!  A third month without being able to try tempeh bacon?!

*Spices & herbs: ginger root (dried ginger powder is apparently okay?), garlic, cayenne pepper, chili powder, crushed red pepper flakes, moderate amounts of black pepper (This is going to be really weird for me.  I LOVE black pepper!), sea salt/table salt allowed only in moderate amounts; traditionally, spices needed to be freshly ground and used within a few days.  In modern times, these restrictions are quite unrealistic for the majority, so I will not be restricting my use of any allowed pre-ground spices.

*Condiments: soy sauce, tamari, vinegar (fermented products + alcohol = microorganism murder)

*Food additives/misc: gelatin (often derived from calve hooves), leftovers (since leftovers contain more microorganisms than freshly prepared foods – I am seeking middle ground here by allowing myself to eat leftovers from one day prior but nothing beyond that), cassava (starch sometimes used in gluten free cooking). Eating after sunset – this restriction is based on ancient principles as well.  Eating at night (when food was foraged & prepared by fire) meant that bugs/other creatures were more likely to be harmed during this time.  My understanding is that modern and especially Western Jains often forgo this rule.  I have recently become very disciplined about not eating within 3-4 hours of bedtime and will continue this trend.  However, since I live in the tundra and must work the hours I am assigned, it will be necessary for me to eat some meals when it is dark outside.

*Fun Stuff: sugar, (many Jain recipes that are readily available on the internet contain sugar, but I find this to be a bit of a hypocrisy.  It should be obvious that refined sugar is by no means necessary for survival.  There is absolutely no justification for consuming sugar other than for the sake of pleasure.  Another issue to consider is that sugar is sometimes refined using bone char from animals.  For this reason [and my health], I have decided to continue to avoid refined sugar for the next month), honey (belongs to the bees), alcohol (alcoholic beverages are considered non-vegetarian because of FDA allowed additives that may be derived from animals – is NOTHING safe in this messed up food industry?!);  foods/beverages that are stimulating are called Rajasic and are considered destructive to the mind-body equilibrium – this includes coffee, caffeinated tea, soft drinks, & chocolate (I’ll just keep making Derek eat chocolate in front of me so I can live vicariously through his experience 😦  This is how I survived a chocolate-less Valentine’s Day!)

All of these restrictions are followed to a greater or lesser extent by individual Jains.  Some Christians eat meat on Fridays during lent and some Jews eat pork whenever they feel like it.  Religious eating customs fall along an individual spectrum of dedication.  Please do not disregard Jain beliefs based on personal prejudice.  Of all of the religions that I have ever encountered, Jainism seems to fit my moral beliefs the closest.  To be frank, you shouldn’t need a God to tell you not to be an asshole, and humans are not as cool as they think they are.  Plants, animals, and bacteria make us what we are.  I do not believe we have the “right” to impose upon the lives of any creature for any purpose other than survival.  Overeating is a fun pastime for most Americans (including myself), but it is based on pure gluttony.  Eating things that bring us pleasure but harm ourselves, other living creatures, and the environment has nothing to do with survival.  Alright…I’m getting all riled up and preachy, so let’s wrap this up!

If you’d like more information about veganism and/or Jainism, you should check out this awesome video from a Houston JAINA convention in 2011: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OvqTBCIz–w&feature=related.  Make sure to watch all three parts.  It’s very informative and thought provoking.  If anyone has any thoughts relating to ethics intertwined with religious diets, I’d love to hear it.  Ask questions.  Tell me what you think.  Let’s start a dialogue!











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