In Buddhism, food is important because it sustains life and can also support enlightenment. With the right food, our body becomes well nourished for meditation and enlightenment.
On the other hand, it can also cause suffering. Wrong food and imbalance diet cause illnesses.
Buddhist does not pray to God to give thanks to food on the table, instead they can have a mind of appreciative gratitude to the countless beings who made it possible for us to have food on the table. From the farmer to the supermarket cashier. It’s up to your imagination. This is to cultivate appreciative goodwill in our mind.
Before eating and during meal, we can contemplate our food as simply medicine to sustain life. Therefore we should not over indulge nor be averse to it. This is to be mindful that our body is fragile and impermanent.
Alternatively, we can also recite the heart sutra to remind ourselves the empty nature of our sense of taste. This is to be mindful that our senses and its stimulants are empty in nature and not be fooled by them.
Or we can imagine offering the food to Buddha just like householder were to offer him alms. (Cultivating thoughts of respect and charity.)
Buddha did not forbid his disciple from meat consumption but did advise us not to harm another being. (So activities such as fishing and slaughtering is shunned) If we witness the slaughter or know that the animal was specifically slaughtered for our consumption, or suspect that the meat on the table was specifically slaughtered for us, then we should avoid eating them. “Specifically” means we are the direct cause of their death. For example if you eat in a seafood restaurant with live seafood in the thank and they are cooked to order, that situation falls under the definition of specifically. Some Buddhist reasoned that they are not a direct and specific cause of death for meat in the supermarket. Therefore they feel that it is alright to consume them.
This naturally evolved to a stage whereby some Buddhist prefer a vegetarian diet. In ancient China, one of the ancient Buddhist emperor actually decreed that monks and nuns be strictly vegetarian. That is why it had become a tradition for the Chinese monastery to be vegetarian. When Chinese Buddhism spread to Japan and Korea, this culture also followed.
Diet is a personal choice in Buddhism and it is up to the individual to decide their diet.
Vegetarian meal can be tasty. Over time vegetarian had refined their culinary skill into an art. In Japan, it is called Shyojin-ryoli (精進料理), which means cuisine of devotional diligence.
Chinese Buddhists who are vegetarian may also avoid onions, garlic, chives, green onions and leeks. This is because they believe these vegetable cause an irritable mind which is bad for meditation. So if you are hosting a Chinese vegetarian to dinner, you might want to remember asking if there’s any vegetable they don’t eat.
Buddhist dieting and fasting
The Buddha had engaged in extreme fasting during his quest for enlightenment. He subsequently abandoned that practice as being extreme and not conducive for enlightenment. Therefore Buddhism is against extreme dieting.
On the other hand excessive eating is also bad.
If we wish to engage in some form of dieting or fasting, perhaps we can copy the lifestyle of Buddha. That is to limit food intake to one meal a day (before noon) This practice is still being observed by the Theravada monastic order. Some lay Buddhist practice this form of fasting once or twice a month. (usually on full moon days)
Again, we should only engage in fasting if our health permits.
I was once over weight and had successfully loose weight by fasting in this manner. remember to do so only if health permits.
Some Buddhist practices the offering of a small morsel of their food (a teaspoon portion) to animals after their meal. It is a simple practice where they leave a small quantity of food in the garden to feed the ants or birds etc. This is also considered a form of charity.
Naturally, hygiene is important and we do not dump food outside our home to cause problems to our neighbours.
Practice with lots of common sense and civic consciousness. We do not want to encourage pest too.