There are plenty of good reasons to follow a veg diet—animal welfare, nutrition, and environmental impact are primary motivators. But for some, these reasons are fueled by a higher calling, whether it’s a commitment to an almighty deity, a desire to live righteously, or a moral obligation rooted in compassion for all beings. Though interpretations of spiritual beliefs are highly subjective, many people are turning to vegan and vegetarian lifestyles based on their religious convictions. These five lesser-known spiritual philosophies, whether traditionally veg or not, have led many followers toward a plant-based path.
Perhaps best known for their vivacious public chanting, devotees of Hare Krishna believe that enlightenment is achieved by maintaining a pure way of living—one that reflects the teachings of the Hindu god Krishna, as revealed in sacred texts such as the Bhagavad-gita. Consuming meat is contrary to this belief system, which condemns the killing and exploitation of all living beings. Though traditionally lacto-vegetarian due to Krishna’s frequent depiction as a butter-loving cow herder, some members of the Hare Krishna community are foregoing animal products altogether as more begin to question dairy’s place in a karmic lifestyle.
Vegan hunger relief organization Food for Life Global, whose inception was inspired by Hare Krishna founder Srila Prabhupada, refrains from offering its financial support to food-distribution projects that use dairy, though many FFLG affiliates do. As the organization points out, Hare Krishna devotees are increasingly adopting what is becoming known as a “Krishna-dairian” (also “Prasadarian”) diet, meaning they refuse to support the commercial dairy industry, which slaughters the majority of its cows. Instead, those who opt to consume dairy products do so only if it comes from “non-violent” Hare Krishna-sanctioned farms, which purport to treat their cows with respect and veneration in a loving and nurturing environment.
Like Hare Krishna, Jainism has its roots in India, though it varies significantly from Hare Krishna in its core belief system—Jains don’t believe in a god or gods who must be obeyed and worshiped, but rather a more universal sense of the divine. This ancient religious practice revolves around the notion that all beings in the universe deserve to be treated with respect and compassion, as every living thing on Earth possesses a soul of equal value. As such, following a plant-based diet is instrumental to minimizing harm to the universe and all of its creatures.
Jains sometimes permit the consumption of certain dairy products, but generally only under strict conditions that reflect their spiritual philosophy. Still, many Jains around the world have opted to integrate veganism into their religious practice. American legal scholar Gary Francione, a pioneering figure in abolitionist animal rights theory, has voiced his acceptance of the vegan Jain lifestyle. Likewise, revered Jain gurus such as Gurudev Chitrabhanuji have spoken out about the importance of eliminating all animal products from one’s diet.
Many practicing Jews believe Jewish dietary laws are consistent with ethical veganism, and use Biblical and sacred texts to substantiate their lifestyle choice. Several prominent rabbis have stated that abstaining from eating meat is central to one’s spiritual duty, especially given the rampant cruelty taking place on factory farms around the world. Rabbi David Rosen, formerly the chief rabbi of Ireland, once said, “The current treatment of animals in the livestock trade definitely renders the consumption of meat halakhically unacceptable … In contemporary society, more than ever before, vegetarianism should be an imperative for Jews who seek to live in accordance with Judaism’s most sublime teachings.”
At the Shamayim V’Aretz Institute, spiritual leaders and devotees take Rabbi David Rosen’s philosophy one step further, advocating for an all-encompassing cruelty-free lifestyle. The Institute, co-founded by vegan actress Mayim Bialik, serves as a resource center for those interested in melding their faith with their compassionate ideals. Part of the organization’s mission is to dispel the myth that veganism is somehow incompatible with Jewish ideals and cultural traditions. Furthermore, as the Institute points out, pairing veganism and Judaism is nothing new—many top vegan restaurants, including New York City’s Blossom and Los Angeles’ Real Food Daily, are certified kosher.
Followers of modern Rastafarianism believe that humanity and divinity are ultimately linked, with spiritual salvation occurring on Earth rather than on a heavenly plane. Along with these principles, Rastafarians view life and nature as sacred entities that require preservation and protection. This environmentalist inclination is reflected in the philosophy’s respect for animals, which partially serves as the motivation many Rastafarians have to forgo eating animals or animal products.
Furthermore, Rastafarians generally follow what is known as an Ital diet—a holistic and pure diet of whole, plant-based foods. The word “Ital” fuses the words “vital” and “I,” creating a term that references at once the energizing force of nature’s bounty, and the importance of maintaining optimum health. Though not everyone who follows an Ital diet is vegan, there are several all-vegan restaurants around the country offering top-notch Ital cuisine, particularly in New York, which has a vibrant Jamaican population. Brooklyn’s Ital Shak is just one locale where diners can enjoy inexpensive stews, veggie-packed patties, and faux meat masterpieces.
Seventh Day Adventist
The Seventh-Day Adventist faith is a branch of Christianity that emphasizes healthy living, and encourages vegetarianism. Co-founder of the religion Ellen White believes that god originally intended humankind to subsist on plants for sustenance. “God gave our first parents the food He designed that the race should eat. It was contrary to His plan to have the life of any creature taken. There was to be no death in Eden. The fruit of the trees in the garden was the food man’s wants required,” she wrote.
Many sources argue veganism as a preference over vegetarianism in the Seventh-Day Adventist philosophy. As the link between health and a well-rounded plant-based diet becomes more pronounced in the mainstream, Seventh-Day Adventists are pioneering efforts to bring vegan foods to their constituents, as well as to the world at large. Last year, the Portland, OR Adventist Medical Center opened LivingWell Bistro, a vegan eatery that serves wholesome organic meals. With dishes such as Chia Caesar Salad, raw pasta, and hearty quinoa bowls, this food is a far cry from traditional hospital fare.
Whether your religion is central to your identity, or you’re more practical than pious, every vegan and vegetarian can learn something from the teachings of the spiritually inclined, whose faith-fueled devotion to animal welfare is of value to compassionate creatures of all species and creeds.