Culture and Cuisine: Traditions of Plant-Based Diets Around the World
Written by Sadi Mosko
Eating less meat might seem like a new trend, but it is actually an old practice. Various cultures across the globe have followed plant-based diets for centuries.
India has one of the most well-known plant-based societies. Although not all of India’s 1.3 billion people eat meatless, a significant portion have limited meat intake. According to the FAO, at least 40% of Indians are vegetarians, with much of the rest of the country following more lenient plant-based diets. This dietary tendency has religious origins. Indian culture is heavily influenced by belief systems such as Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism that all teach values focused on reducing meat consumption (see David Barash's essay in The Reducetarian Solution for specifics).
Religion has played a role in establishing reducetarian diets in numerous places. Ethiopia has a large Orthodox Christian population, meaning that many Ethiopians partake in over 180 vegan or vegetarian fasts each year. This includes fasts every Wednesday and Friday as well as during Lent and Advent. As a result, Ethiopian cuisine offers meatless options such as spongy injera bread, lentils, beans, and vegetables.
Known historically as the Fertile Crescent (and the place where agriculture began), the Middle East has many meatless dishes as well. Although many Middle Easterners eat meat, their diets include an array of meatless options from pita bread and tabouleh to eggplant and chickpeas. Countries with especially low meat intake include Lebanon, Turkey, and Israel. In fact, plant-based diets are becoming so popular in Israel that the military even changed soldiers’ meal plans to include vegan options.
Multiple groups around the world follow reducetarian diets because of norms and availability. However, global meat consumption remains high within the developed world as countries become richer and globalization increases. Therefore, it remains important to consider connections between food and local traditions as we work to improve the ethics and sustainability of our food systems.