Jain Food Struggles in America

As the New Year begins, people start making New Year's Resolutions. These resolutions are mostly about getting in shape and eating right. For me, and my fellow Jains in the world, we usually don't have a problem with eating well, we just have a problem with food, in general.

A Jain has many restrictions when it comes to eating. The standard "vegetarian" does not cut it. In addition to not eating meat, Jains cannot eat eggs, gelatin, or even anything that grows underground. That includes potatoes, onions, and garlic! These are typical foods used in every day cooking in most households, but for Jains, it is not allowed in the house.

Most people think it is absurd not to eat anything that grounds underground. They think it's impossible to do. But there is a reasoning behind this ideology. Jainism is a religion founded on non-violence. That non-violence is directed towards everything: people, animals, plants, and even insects. Jains will go out of their way not to injure something, even a plant. The bulb of the plant is seen as a living thing due to its ability to sprout. Therefore, when plants, such as onions and potatoes, are pulled from the ground, the entire plant in being killed since the plant is unable to grow again. However, plants that grow above ground aren't necessarily killed when plucked because the plant itself lives on, even without the vegetable.

Although it has gotten better in past years, America still doesn't understand what it means to be a true Jain. If you go to any restaurant, they have trouble making vegetarian food. Asking them to make Jain food is nearly impossible to them. Seeing the reactions from the waiters when I tell them that I need something that is vegetarian and has no vegetables that grow underground is hilarious. They give a look as if they have no idea what I am taking about. Then they would give me an awkward stare as in "I have no idea how to answer this".

In addition to enhancing their belief of non-violence, Jains are very careful when it comes to those little insects that most people disregard. Believe or not, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has specific guidelines on the amount of bug part in a particular piece of food. Bug parts are usually in foods that are pre-processed and packaged. Surprisingly, humans intake bugs in another way. These are small bugs we cannot even see that mystically land on our foods without us knowing. An average person will eat more than a pound of bug parts every year. Therefore, to try to eliminate the amount of bug intake, Jains try to eat fresh foods straight from the farmer with no additives. Also, Jains don't eat after sun down or before the sun rises. That is because between those times, there is no sunlight. In the old days when there was no electricity, people couldn't see what they were eating. They could be eating small insects, instead of a piece of bread like they thought. Although we have had many technological advances since then, the old Jains ideals still stayed.

After this, most people believe that Jains have no food to eat and that they only live off of fruits and vegetables, the ones that grow above ground. However, Jains have a lot of different foods to eat, and all the spices added make the food taste marvelous. For example, in place of potatoes, Jains use plantains. The have a similar texture and flavor to potatoes so us Jains aren't really missing out on anything! So never hesitate to ask a Jain friend out to eat, they'll always find something one way or another.