By Sunita Pant Bansal
Gandhi and his recipe to good health and happiness
The Gandhis were strict vegetarians. When Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was in school, a wave of ‘reform’ was sweeping through his town, Rajkot. People had started consuming meat secretly because the general perception was that the British, being meat eaters, were stronger than the Indians, and hence able to rule India. In order to oust them, Gandhi began to eat meat. This continued for a year until he stopped because it involved lying to his parents.
During his stay in England, Gandhi chanced upon Henry Salt’s Plea for Vegetarianism. The book impressed him so much that he made vegetarianism his mission. Subsequently, he became a member of the Vegetarian Society in England. He experimented with various foods, and in 1906, took a vow of brahmacharya.
Brahmacharya literally means a mode of life that leads to the realization of God. Realization is impossible without self-restraint, which means restraint of the senses. Control of the palate is essential in its observance. A glutton is a slave to his animal passions and will not be able to control his other passions and instincts either. One should consume just enough food to meet the body’s requirements and no more.
The diet should be healthy and well balanced. ”The body was never meant to be treated as a refuse bin, holding all the foods that the palate demands,” said Gandhi. He believed that a man becomes what he eats, and that spiritual progress demands that we cease to kill our fellow creatures to satisfy our bodily wants.
In pursuit of truth, Bapu thought it necessary to find the perfect food to keep body, mind and soul healthy. He always (save for the brief episode in his youth) favored vegetarianism.
Experience taught the Mahatma to include milk and its products—curds, butter, ghee—in his diet. He had once vowed not to consume milk which, being an animal food, could not be included in the vegetarian diet. He abstained from it for six years. Once he fell very ill and was reduced to a skeleton, yet he stubbornly refused to take any medicine, milk or buttermilk. When he became very emaciated, his doctor suggested goat’s milk. So Bapu began taking goat’s milk, and after regaining his strength, decided to continue taking it.
In his list of dietary priorities, the second place after milk was given to cereals. Among these, Bapu considered only wheat and rice to be necessary. He knew that wheat bran and rice husk contain important nutrients and advised their use in chapattis. He ate his cereals relatively dry. This enabled proper mastication of the morsel, thus helping in digestion. He did not think it necessary to include pulses if milk was being taken. He also found them difficult to digest, with the exception of green gram and lentils.
Among vegetables, Mahatma Gandhi considered potato and yam, and among fruits, bananas to be equivalent to cereals because of their high starch content. He stressed on fresh seasonal vegetables eaten raw whenever possible. Fruit, according to him, was not a necessity.
Bapu recommended a certain amount of fat and sugar to be taken daily but believed fried foods and concentrated sweets to be unhealthy. He also felt that spices and condiments destroy the natural flavor of food.
Food should be taken as a matter of duty, even as medicine, to sustain the body. ‘When food submerses the body, and through the body the soul, its relish disappears, and then alone does it begin to function in the way nature intended it to,’ he said. His own diet comprised a litre of goat’s milk, 150 gm cereals, 75 gm leafy vegetables, 125 gm other vegetables, 25 gm salad, 40 gm ghee or butter, and 40-50 gm jaggery or sugar.
Bapu’s dietary experiments included subsisting only on fruits and nuts for some time, giving up cereals, or salt and so on. Every experiment was a step towards self-restraint. Every now and then he fasted, taking nothing except water. Fasting is a necessary external aid to brahmacharya as it helps control the senses.
This was the secret of Mahatma Gandhi’s tremendous self-restraint. The entire process took him about 35 years, but in the end, the fruit of spirituality which he attained was worth the long labor. It helped him wage the most courageous non-violent war on earth.
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