Jainism is an Indian religion that has existed since ancient times. At the heart of the Jain religion is the belief that in order to save one's soul, one must protect other souls, a principle known as "ahimsa," or nonviolence. Increasingly, Jain food is served by restaurants, cruise ships and airlines that cater to Jain clientele, according to "The Hindu," a leading newspaper in India.
Since Jains believe strongly in the principle of nonviolence toward all living beings, their diet is vegetarian. Unlike many vegetarians, however, Jains expand their definition of "living beings" to include bacteria and other microorganisms. Additionally, it is not acceptable to merely avoid foods derived from animal sources. The harvesting of some foods harms living beings, and a Jain must not consume these foods. According to Arihant.us, a Jain website, Jains may not eat after sunset as it could "cause the death of minute microorganisms that emerge in the dark." The degree of strictness with which Jains adhere to their diet varies from person to person.
In keeping with their vegetarianism, Jains avoid all animal flesh. Some Jains also avoid eggs and milk. Narendra Sheth, speaking at the Jiva-Daya Seminar, points out that consuming milk violates the principle of nonviolence because of the inhumane way in which dairy cows are treated. The same argument is made by some for eggs, especially those produced under factory farm conditions. Honey is forbidden because Jains believe the harvesting process can be harmful to bees. Onions and garlic may be avoided because they are "hot" foods that could increase sexual desire. Alcohol is not consumed. Potatoes and other root vegetables are not eaten by some because of concerns about killing bacteria that exist in the plants as well as insects during harvesting.
Many Jains believe fasting helps them exercise control over other areas of life and can help people better fulfill their spiritual responsibilities. Fasting can also be viewed as a form of spiritual penance, as can eating less food than normal or eliminating a specific taste, such as salty, bitter or sweet, for a period of time. Jain literature describes spiritually revered people who have existed on very little food for long periods of time, according to Dr. Shugan Jain.
Jain religious beliefs affect not only the types and amounts of food that are permissible but also how they are prepared. Jain monks traditionally have strict rules governing food preparation, and individual households adopt these in varying degrees. The person preparing food is expected to have an awareness of the needs of the people he is serving, should be in a positive state of mind and should have knowledge of food safety. According to Dr. Jain, people who are wearing shoes may not prepare food, nor may pregnant, lactating or menstruating women, children, or people who are ill.