Whole Food Plant-Based Eating in Different Religious Traditions

With all deference to our friends in the Paleo movement, there's little doubt that eating a whole food, plant-based diet goes back a long ways. I've been reading up on this lately, and I'm amazed at how many people throughout history who we have respected and admired were in fact vegetarian. And that means whole foods, plant-based. There were no processed foods until recently, so they had to be whole food eaters. And being vegetarian makes them plant-based, even if they weren't 100% such.

Over the next few blog posts, I'd like to explore some of the historical contexts for whole food, plant-based eating. In today's posting, I'll point out how religion has played a major role in vegetarianism. I'll start with Christianity and Judaism, which is kind of interesting because I think a lot of people who are Christian or Jewish are not aware of the vegetarian roots.

It starts early on with the Biblical message in Genesis 1:29 where God says, "I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food." This is fairly clear evidence that at that time in our history, plants were seen as being our main source of food. And that's well before the invention of agriculture.

Even more interesting, I think, is the passage in the Book of Daniel where Daniel says in Daniel 1:11, "Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who eat the royal food." That comparison was to happen after ten days. And here's what happened as recorded in Daniel 1:15, "At the end of ten days they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food. So the guard took away their choice food and the wine they were to drink and gave them vegetables instead."

Whether we're believers in the Bible as God's word or not, it's fairly clear that in these historical writings, the virtues of eating whole, plant-based foods is well recognized by those writing these texts. And that remains true in other historical contexts as well as in other religions. For example, Hinduism has taught us for thousands of years before Christ the virtues of being vegetarian (or again, whole food, plant-based). The ancient Chinese religion of Taoism opposes harming other life forms, i.e., animals and therefore is a vegetarian religion as well. Buddha encouraged eating spinach, and because he forbade harming animals, followers of Buddha have also become vegetarian. In the Indian religion of Jainism, being a vegetarian is mandatory.

I'll go more into the history of vegetarianism and whole plant-based foods in future blog postings. But for now, I wanted to briefly point out how it has formed the basis of major religions around the world.