Food is a reflection of the Divine. It sustains, nourishes, and fortifies life in this world. Yet, over time, the act of consuming food has become afflicted with a multitude of contaminations. Punya Srivastava takes a compelling look at these afflictions and finds out ways to eat right
Food is one of the most fundamental necessities of life, second only to breath. The act of eating is deeply divine. Putting a morsel of food in our mouth is akin to conducting a yajna—a sacrificial offering to please the deity. At its most subliminal level, a yajna is a ritual of sacrificing the aham (ego) to the sacred fire; offering it at the lotus feet of the Supreme Lord. At a physical level, it is a devotional offering to the deity that resides within our physical form—our Highest Self. Hence, the food that we consume is an offering to our Highest Self. And this is not restricted only to the aspect of eating; the thoughts we think and the breath we take are also significant offerings we make to our Highest Self. Hence, all of these primal acts require deep mindfulness.
“Annam Brahma, raso Vishnu, bhokta deva Maheshwara.” Food is Brahma, the essence in it is Vishnu, and the one who partakes of it is Maheshwara. Food is divine, and we partake of the divine to nourish the divine; hence, the act of consumption—right from sowing the seeds to putting food in the mouth—needs to be honoured. The act of eating and the object of eating, both hold equal significance in this divine ritual.
Renowned environment and food activist Dr Vandana Shiva has deep conviction in the divinity of food which is cultivated in recognition of the sacredness of the earth and the farmer. She says, “Annam Brahman—food is divinity. Food is the basis of life. It nourishes body and mind alike. Commodification of food is a violation of food as sustenance.” It is important to understand that what we eat and how we eat has an impact on our body, mind, and spirit.
Our food choices and habits have undergone tremendous changes as we have evolved over the ages. Today, as we bask in the glory of living smart and comfortable lives, we are inundated with choices galore in every aspect of life. In food too, we have an array of fad diets to choose from—vegan, raw vegan, keto, paleo, and what not! The list goes on and on!
This gives rise to many questions: Which foods are right for us and which are not? Is gluten harmful to us? Is milk not the complete food it was once touted to be? Does raw food really cause more harm than good? Where do we look for answers as each diet comes with a huge list of pros and cons.
Well, the answer lies in tuning in to your own body and listening to it deeply. Our body has its own intelligence. That is how it is able to heal itself of an anomaly, when not meddled with. The intelligence which is running this Universe is running through our physical body too and governing all its functions. And the same innate intelligence guides us regarding our food choices according to the body’s need in a specific demography and climate. It is this intelligence which manifests in young kids as a constant reluctance to drink any other milk after weaning off breast milk. It is this intelligence which makes a dog chew on grass when having an upset stomach. The only difference between a man and a dog, in this case, is that man’s intelligence has become heavily shrouded by cultural and industrial indoctrination.
“Your body is very intelligent. It can talk to you. All you need to do is to listen to it and work accordingly. Observe how you feel after a meal. Do you feel sleepy or energetic? Pay attention to these signals,” exhorts Rupinder Kaur, a Delhi based raw food enthusiast, who completely healed herself of all the afflictions ailing her, including a long bout of jaundice.
Follow your instincts
Pondicherry based Naturopath Dr Nandita Shah, Founder of SHARAN India, gives a practical parameter to understand if your palate is being ruled by the market forces or not. “Make a list of all the foods that are advertised and simply stop eating those. No one would spend money to advertise foods that are instinctual to us. That is why we don’t see advertisements for oranges and apples or carrots and cucumbers,” she says.
According to Dr Shah, every animal instinctively knows what it needs to eat, save humans who have lost touch with their instincts. “We eat according to culture, advertisements, and taste. But this is not always healthy and often leads to lots of lifestyle diseases,” she explains. Isn’t she right? Whenever we visit an orchard or a farmers’ market resplendent with fresh fruits and vegetables, don’t we wish to eat them right away? That is our instinct working!
My relationship with food began to change after I started listening to my body. I have started chewing more and can feel the sweetness of food mixing with saliva in my mouth. In a similar manner, mindfully swirling a swig of water in my mouth for a while has slaked my parched throat in a much more satisfying manner than gulping down huge sips of it. Now I do not eat after my body signals me to stop, taste notwithstanding. I have also heavily cut down on eating packaged foods after I observed that they made me feel bloated and uncomfortable.
I have realised that I have the power to decide what my body requires and which food is going to provide me with ample nourishment. Of course, years of conditioning, habits, and belief systems do come into play. The whole effort then is to rise above them and find for myself a flexible diet that is in alignment with my needs. I am learning to discern and answer to my body’s nourishment needs.
Know thy body
Becoming flexible with food choices is the mandatory step each one of us needs to take while dealing with food and nutrition. Since evolution is an ongoing process, we are perennially on this journey. Hence, it is of utmost importance to open our minds and test for ourselves what works for us and what does not, with complete commitment to our health and well-being. Our body’s instinct—and not any external factor—should govern our food choices. Another important thing to keep in mind is that each person is different and thus, no one blanket diet works for all.
According to the science of ayurveda, all the five elements of nature—earth, water, fire, air, and space—are present in our body and are governed by three operating principles or doshas—vata, pitta, and kapha. At birth, nature instils in us a particular combination of vata, pitta, and kapha, which we call our prakriti (constitution). The ayurveda-based diet plan pays attention to the individual constitution and then tweaks the diet to balance the doshas. For example, a vata-balancing diet is usually warm and soupy, whereas a pitta-balancing diet can be sweeter and cooler. Hence, it is advisable to be aware of one’s constitution since it provides a guide to the kind of food one may or may not have.
Rupinder observes that Indian regional and traditional food is very well thought of. But she also maintains that observing one’s body to gauge its reactions to one’s routine diet is essential. “For some people, eating curd at night is okay but for many others, it is a complete no-no. This is because of varying vata-pitta-kapha imbalances in each person. It is always wise to keep your mind open and make changes wisely to meet your needs easily,” she says.
Now that we have put this out of the way, let us look at some of the common features that can help us decide for ourselves a diet optimum for our palate.
In his book, How to Eat, renowned Vietnamese Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh writes, “When we can slow down and really enjoy our food, our life takes on a much deeper quality. When I eat in this way, not only am I physically nourished, I am also spiritually nourished.” A meal begins as soon as we sit down at the table. “Whether we are serving the food or waiting to be served, we can use this time to prepare our soul for the nourishment ahead. It is a time to feel joy and gratitude,” Hanh says.
According to Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev, our body and brain work at their best only when the stomach is empty. “Be conscious and eat in such a way that within two-and-a-half hours, the food moves out of the stomach bag, and within 12 to 18 hours, it is completely out of the system. If you maintain this simple awareness, you will experience much more energy, agility, and alertness.”
Apparently, studies have found that the human brain works best when the stomach is empty. Researchers found that an empty stomach produces ghrelin which stimulates and heightens the performance of the hippocampus, the region in the brain that handles learning, memory, and spatial analysis, keeping us alert, active, and focused. This, of course, doesn’t imply that we should never eat, but rather points to the fact that we should be conscious of how much we eat.
Applying awareness to this activity not only slows down the whole process of eating—resulting in the appropriate consumption of food and easy digestion—but also slows down the effects our food consumption has on this planet. “This plate of food—so fragrant and so appealing—also contains much suffering,” Hanh writes. According t
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