Food is NOT religion

 

Food is a need we all have. Why has this become such a confusion and controversy? We need to remember we eat to live and survive and not really something that we need to obsess on, be it in the name of religion or anything else. This is the worst thing we can do to each other.food_02

religions

The fact is, religion has been formed as guidelines in every era.  Some religions used books, some stories and many used diktats. It is often said “Hinduism is not a religion but a way of life”. The fact is this is true for all religions as every religion has evolved as a way of life in whichever region they were born.

As far as belief systems are concerned, we must remember that these happened because of the region and the conditions where the religions were born.

 

Food and religion

All religions have their own guidelines regarding food mainly because of anthropology.

For instance, both Islam and Judaism have the similar guidelines. Of utmost importance in both religions is the way in which an animal is killed for its meat. There are very strict guidelines that much be followed for each, and there are differences between the sets of guidelines.

In both practices, the animal’s throat is cut, and it is drained of blood. The spinal cord must not be severed. Death is said to occur within seconds, but animal rights groups worldwide have long campaigned to have the practice outlawed, or, alternately, stun the animal before it is killed. In both traditions, the animal needs to be alive, healthy, and uninjured when it is blessed and the slaughtering process begins. There is debate within Islamic law on whether or not stunning the animal first violates this rule, but Jewish law is very clear on the matter. Stunning methods cause injury to the animal, making the meat that ultimately comes from it non-kosher.

The fact is both halal and kosher meats are likely to decay later than the method where blood is not drained. They also believe in killing instantly and though the blood drains gradually, according to them, the animal does not feel this.

Christianity does not have any particular practice but it is believed that meat consumed by Christians should not retain any blood, just like Judaism and Islam.

The fact is as these came from an era where the climatic conditions made it more likely to decay this was a major parameter in the times where there were no refrigerators or ACs.

In the huge debate on whether or not this is cruel to the animals, we need to remember food is just food and meat is just meat, however one kills it.

Eastern religions

Early Buddhist monks depended on food donated by supporters. Anything placed in their proffered bowls was to be accepted with gratitude and eaten, even if unpleasant. This included fish and meat. The modern sects of Buddhism have different rules regarding diet. While most practice nonviolence, many do consume meat. This again depends on the region in which they originated.

The basic tenet of Jainism is non-violence. Jains do not believe in killing anything, be it even plants hence do not recommend eating root vegetables. From a higher perspective, one needs to remember that non-violence actually means not offending others and not just about food.  A Jain who truly understands this will never offend others about their food choices.

From the Hindu point of view, the killing of bulls was discouraged as Hinduism was born in an agrarian society. Swami Vivekananda often pointed out 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 that “The ancient sacrifices and the ancient gods, they are all gone; modern India belongs to the spiritual part of the Vedas.”

Food is not who we are

We must remember religion is about spirituality not about what we wear, what we speak and most certainly not about what we eat.

One’s food doesn’t make one clean or purified or sanctified. Definitely, we do a much greater wrong when we make unkind and harsh comments about those who make different dietary choices than we do. This is one of the basic tenets of freedom and yes, about bonding too. Let us make food a medium of bonding not growing apart.

 

Let us stop obsessing over diet

Obsession of any kind is not healthy. With a lot of discussion and dos and don’ts floating around, the new obsession today seems to be one of diet.

We must remember that as far as diet goes, the first thing one needs to be clear about is listening to one’s body.  We must remember that 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.

food2

I was born into a vegetarian family and never felt like altering this at all, even if there are hiccups along the way.

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. Alone with clothes, we packed along with clothes took a lot of packets of pre-cooked upma, rice and curries as we had heard that a vegetarian meal was not always available.

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, an absolute no to all vegetarians and even non-vegetarians of the Hindu faith !

People very extremely vexed but then slowly realized these things are bound to happen when one is travelling. The obsession ceased and we got on with our lives.

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 altered my pattern.

My diet today

I almost always eat 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.

Let us try to

 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 and powders that are healthy. 

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.

 In sum

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 am vegetarian as I was brought up as a vegetarian and do eat eggs too once in a 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 follow whichever diet that suits us if we make it practical and doable. Let us not identify ourselves too much with our diet. In other words, let us all stop obsessing about something as minor as a diet and lead life in a wholesome, complete manner.

 

%d bloggers like this: