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Could you eat like a Jain?

No alcohol, no meat, filtered water…no, it’s not the latest set of dietary recommendations from Gwyneth Paltrow, but Jain vegetarianism, which has one of the most restrictive dietary rulebooks of any religion.

Jainism is one of the ancient religions of India. At its heart is the principle of nonviolence ‘Ahisma’. To keep good Karma Jains try to avoid harming the living beings of the world. Many Jains go to great lengths to follow Ahisma. This can go well beyond the regular vegetarianism of no meat or fish.

Jains don’t eat root vegetables. Harvesting one means killing the whole plant. What’s more, potato bulbs can grow into a new plant so eating one prevents a potential life. It’s the same logic behind why some Jains won’t eat eggs.

Honey is not found on the Jain dining table either, because of the violence to bees involved in collecting it. Likewise alcohol must be left well alone. The fermenting process kills countless microorganisms.

Stricter Jains look out for these tiny lifeforms by only drinking water which has been boiled to stop the microorganisms multiplying. It’s a cost benefit analysis, as not boiling the water would ultimately mean killing more of them as they replicate.

It doesn’t stop there. Some Jains only eat or drink in the daytime. In the dark it’s possible to ingest a creature by accident. This makes being a Jain in the U.K. slightly more difficult. Here the choice is to act as if you're in India where sunset is at 6pm, or you can keep strictly to British daylight hours enduring the tough winters but enjoying the liberal summers.

In Jainism, how much you eat is as important as what you eat. Fasting is a way of achieving the serenity much prized by Jains. Mahavira achieved enlightenment and is said to have fasted for over six months. On the eighth and fourteenth days of the lunar cycle many orthodox Jains won't eat fruit or green vegetables only food from grain.

What do Jains eat then? Perhaps surprisingly, milk and cheese are part of Jain cuisine. Some Jains are vegans but it’s not required by the tenets of Jainism.

“I never eat the same meal twice in a month.” says Dr Ramesh Mehta of the Leicester Jain Centre “There are so many pulses and green vegetables available that a varied diet is perfectly possible”.

Above all to eat like a Jain you should try to think like a Jain. That means adopting their diet not for the sake of your waistline but out of respect for the living beings with whom we share the earth.

If you are curious to try eating like a Jain then take at look at these recipes from the Leicester Jain Centre.