Hinduism is the world’s oldest living religion, with a rich collection of hundreds of spiritual and philosophical traditions followed throughout Asia for more than 5,000 years.
Hindus believe all living beings are sacred because they are parts of God, and should be treated with respect and compassion. This is because the soul can be reincarnated into any form of life.
Most Hindus are vegetarian because of this belief in the sanctity of life. As the Yajur Veda says: “You must not use your God-given body for killing God’s creatures, whether they are human, animal or whatever” (Yajur Veda, 12.32).
Trees, rivers and mountains are believed to have souls, and should be honoured and cared for. For more information on Hindu beliefs and ecology on ARC’s website, click here.
Food as a gift from God
According to Hinduism, food is a gift from God and should be treated with great respect. Devout Hindus offer food to God before eating and are careful about what and how they eat.
Food plays an important role in Hindu worship. According to the Vedic scriptures, all food should be offered as a sacrifice to God before it is eaten, and food offered to God (prasada) is considered to bestow religious merit, purifying body, mind and spirit.
From earth herbs, from herbs food, from food seed, from seed man. Man thus consists of the essence of food
- Taittiriya Upanishad
According to Hinduism, what we eat determines our mental as well as physical state. Eating sattvic (pure) food helps us to become sattvic ourselves. If we eat animal and intoxicating foods, we may develop animal qualities; killing animals for food is also regarded as bad karma with negative consequences for everyone involved, including those eating the food.
Meat can never be obtained without injury to living creatures, and injury to sentient beings is detrimental to [the attainment of] heavenly bliss; let him therefore shun [the use of] meat - Manu Smriti 5.48
For these reasons, many Hindus avoid meat, fish, poultry, eggs, alcohol, caffeine and very spicy or sour foods. Strict practitioners also refrain from onion, garlic, mushrooms and leeks.
Not all Hindus avoid eating meat, but almost all avoid beef. The cow is revered in Hinduism and the very name for the cows is aghnaya which means “not to be killed”. The five products of the cow (pancagavya) – milk, curd, ghee, urine and dung – are used in puja (worship).
Fasting and Feasting
When one’s food is pure, one’s being becomes pure - Chāndogya Upaniṣad 7.26.2
- Hindus fast as a ritual to purify the body and mind, and to enhance concentration during meditation and worship.
- Fasting is common and may be regarded as a sacrifice.
- The Hindu calendar has at least 18 feast days. Dates vary according to the lunar calendar, including Holi, Ramnavamni, Dusshera, Pongal, Janmashtami, and Diwali. Food also plays an important role in the celebration of birthdays and marriages and also in funeral rituals.
- Hindus believe providing food for the poor and needy and to the devout is good karma. Hindu temples often distribute food to people at the end of religious ceremonies.
For more information on Hindus and food, click here.
Hindu food quotes
Food and the eater: that is the extent of the whole world.
- Brhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad, 1.4.6
When he provides food and shelter to human beings, he becomes thereby a world for human beings – Brhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad, 1.4.16
One should not belittle food – the life breath is food… One should prepare a lot of food. The earth is food.
- Taittirīya Upaniṣad 3.7.1 & 3.9.1
Sattva – lucidity…full of joy, something of pure light which seems to be entirely at peace - The Laws of Manu 12.27
Garlic (and) onions… are not to be eaten - The Laws of Manu 5.5
Sattva food increases the duration of life, purifies one’s existence and gives strength, health, happiness and satisfaction… Such foods are wholesome and pleasing to the heart – Bhagavad Gita, As It Is, 17.8
A Hindu food blessing
May the Lord accept this, our offering, and bless our food that it may bring us strength in our body, vigor in our mind, and selfless devotion in our hearts for His service
- Swami Paramananda