Yadvah from India asks:
“Many people would argue that we do not eat meat because we believe in the ‘ahimsa’ (non-violence) principle, i.e we should not kill any living things. Then why do we eat plants, they too are living things and we kill them when we uproot them, don’t we?
I know Lord Krishna has said in the Geeta that He will accept plants and
fruits and water offered to him, but is there any scripturally related
scientific reason as to why we may ‘kill’ (eat) plants? Is it something to do with the different elements they’re made up of versus the five elements that animals and human beings are made up of? I would appreciate if you could kindly share your thoughts on this sir.”
“Well, I don’t think the answer has got anything to do with the elements that plants and animals share in common. Rather, you answered your own question in quoting from the Gita verse. I can add that out of plants, fruits and water, of course, water and fruits are pain free. Although if you want to get picky, there are millions of microscopic creatures killed when we drink water and even breathe air.
But since you mention vegies, I would like to make a distinction: in the non-violent, pain-free category would be the eggplants, tomatoes, chilies, broccoli, zucchini, pumpkin, green beans, fresh peas etc etc etc – the list is vast – where the plant is not killed by plucking the vegetables. These vegetables are botanically the fruits of these plants, and these plants continue to live after we pluck their offspring. Just like I have a kumquat tree growing in my garden, and the tree happily (well I guess it’s happy) allows me to pick the fruits, then gives more next year. Same with my lemon tree, my strawberries, my chilies, and all my herbs.
That just leaves things that are killed actually, like potatoes, grains, carrots, greens that are pulled out by the roots, killing the plant and releasing the soul that resides there. And, I might add, if we wanted to get botanically correct, potato plants, and most other root vegetables, and many if not all grain- and legume- plants actually die off before we take the harvest. And of course tree nuts are a yearly gracious gift of trees that live for decades.
So my perspective is this: There is a Sanskrit aphorism which states “Jivo Jivasya Jivanam”, which means that by nature’s arrangement one living being is food for another.
If we wish to tread more lightly on Mother Earth, and in doing so also create as little karmic debt as possible, we should kill as little as possible, and if we have to kill, then only kill those creatures that have the least developed nervous systems, and that hence feel very little pain, like the vegetables. And to be excused even for that killing, one should offer all his food to God first, before eating and by doing so he will be relieved of even the residual offense in killing the vegetables.