By Jamuna Rangachari
The purpose of a diet is keep oneself nourished and healthy. Once we realize this, one would need to make a plan that is doable, practical and achievable. With the objective being clear, the solution is also quite simple to achieve, which is why I term my diet as ‘practical vegetarianism’.
Last year, my husband and I went on an official group tour to China. I was very excited not just about the place but the fact that I liked all the people we were going with us. We packed quickly and were all almost set when I needed to buy a few things in the last minute. This is the time I met Lakshmi, who was also coming with us and was frantically looking for ready to eat vegetarian foodstuff she could carry with her. “You have to take this with you, Jamuna, otherwise you will either starve, go bankrupt or be forced to eat non-veg”, she stressed. I took Lakshmi’s advice and along with clothes took a lot of packets of pre-cooked upma, rice and curries.
Even though all this care was taken, it so happened that once a flight was delayed and we were served free food. All the vegetarians opted for ‘cheese burger’ that seemed to be the only option available for vegetarians. What we did not know then was the term ‘burger’ itself usually means beef with cheese only being an optional topping. In this scenario, the entire group ended up eating a bite of beef !
People were extremely vexed but then slowly realized these things are bound to happen when one is travelling. It was then that I thought about what diet truly is.
What is a diet ?
I do think eating a lot of vegetables and fruits are good for everyone. In fact, when my children were growing up, ours was perhaps the only home where the only snacks we stored were fruits of all kinds and dry fruits for snacking. Children got used to this and till today, none of us can live without fruits.
However, I was ever more convinced about the efficacy of a plant based diet when I went on a detox naturopathic diet a few years back
My tryst with naturopathy
When I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis a few years back, it was naturopathy that first showed me a ray of hope.I went very strictly on the diet recommended to me and yes, I did feel better and definitely more energetic. However, it also became quite a complex issue to deal with while travelling or even while visiting people. It took up so much of my time to plan meals that at one stage, I just wanted to give it all up.
In other words, this actually became an obsession of sorts. It was also extremely difficult to keep finding the alternate sources of nutrition.
It was then that I moved to what I would term ‘practical vegetarianism’.
My diet today
I almost always eats plant-based food when that choice is available. And when that choice is not available, I ensure there are chutneys or powders that see me through the day.
The difference between being a strict vegetarian or naturopath versus a practical vegetarian is the world of difference between easily following a kind diet and struggling to stick to a strict regimen.
There are seven tips of ‘practical vegetarianism’ that I follow and would like to share :
Eat as much plant-based food as we can when we have the choice.
We in India are very fortunate as we have a wide choice of plants and I think we should make use of it.
Eat all kinds of fruits and vegetables.
Nature has done a pretty good job. A plate that is colorful is also most probably a healthy plate with a balanced set of nutrients that we need.
Understand the nutritional aspects of fruits and vegetables –
One does need to understand that many fruits and vegetables are a powerhouse of nutrition. When we know these better, our cooking and/or eating shall move towards including all of them in our diet.
Stock our kitchen with home made chutneys, powders and jaggery.
I have found flax seed (commonly known as alsi in Hindi/ Marathi) is a great source of amino acids (which is known to be rare in a vegetarian diet) and make a dry powder combining it with garlic and rock salt and have it regularly.
Avoid processed, refined food
Some things one must avoid a far as possible are processed, refined foods. This includes refined salt and sugar. We could use rock salt, jaggery or brown sugar that is less processed.
Eat with an attitude of gratitude.
The simple truth is that for each plate of food in front of us there many people have grown it, chopped it, cooked it and delivered it to us. We must try to remember this and eat with a sense of gratitude.
Be practical and understanding.
We have to recognize the fact that the dietary choice of others in this world may be different. We must know that we need to get along with everyone and for this, understanding is important.
Food and Faith
From an anthropological point of view, the killing of bulls was discouraged in agrarian societies as bulls were required by farmers to do the farming. Perhaps religion was used to enforce this.
Let us remember food is just food. It’s not a religion. One’s food doesn’t make one clean or purified or sanctified. I feel that I do a much greater wrong when I make unkind and harsh comments about those who make different dietary choices than I do.
Even Swami Vivekananda often pointed this obsession with food and had said “You will be astonished if I tell you that, according to the old ceremonials, he is not a good Hindu who does not eat beef.” We went on to aver “The ancient sacrifices and the ancient gods, they are all gone; modern India belongs to the spiritual part of the Vedas.”
In a world where vegetarians are already a marginalized group, fringe groups are further sub-categorized into vegan, pescatarians, raw foodies, lacto-ovo vegetarian or microbiotic.
I eat vegetarian as I was brought up as a vegetarian and do eat eggs too once in way as once again, I have always eaten eggs so I guess I could be called lacto-ova.
I prefer to however, define myself by attributes other than the contents of my sandwich or palate. My diet today, so far, has been plant based. The most important aspect is that I just do not give it much thought.
We can easily remain vegetarian if we make it practical and doable. Let us not identify ourselves with our diet. If the content of my sandwich becomes part of my personal definition of who I am as a person, then when someone rejects my dietary choices, it is a personal rejection of ME. The same if true as far as our judgement of others’ food choices is concerned.
Hence, let us all stop obsessing about something as minor as a diet and lead life in a wholesome, complete manner.
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