Ideals and Values/Attitude Towards Food

From Hindupedia, the Hindu Encyclopedia

By Vishal Agarwal

The Correct Quantity of Food

According to the scriptures, we should always eat a little less than what fills our stomach. In other words, we should eat a bit less than our appetite. We should fill 50% of our stomach with solid food, 25% with fluids (water etc.) and the rest should be kept empty. This Hindu teaching of eating less than our appetite is confirmed by modern science which says that our brain takes 20 minutes to register that we are full, even after we have eaten a sufficient amount of food! Therefore, always eat a little less than your appetite because after 20 minutes or so, the brain will actually tell you that you have eaten enough. Do not neglect to drink fluids for proper functioning of our organs and for flushing out toxins or metabolic wastes from your body.

Good and Bad Food

In the Bhagavad Gitā, Lord Kṛṣṇa classifies foods into three categories:

  1. Sāttvic - hygienic nutritious or good foods
  2. Rājasic - Not so nutritious foods
  3. Tāmasic - unwholesome foods

We should try to eat only Sāttvic foods and to some extent Rājasic foods. We should try to avoid Tāmasic foods. Let us read what Lord Krishna says, and try to list examples of the three types of foods. Let us also consider some cases where we might have to eat foods which are not Sāttvic.

Gita verse (Kṛṣṇa said) Examples of foods in this category
Foods that increase lifespan, mental abilities, strength, health, happiness and love, which are Juicy, not too fatty, wholesome and hearty filling are dear to the Sāttvic type of persons.[1] E.g. Fresh fruit
Bitter, sour, salty, very hot, spicy, dry and burning foods are desired by Rājasic persons. These foods cause distress, grief and sickness.[2] E.g. French Fries
Food that is cooked for three hours or longer before consumption, desiccated food which is putrid and decomposed and even food that is leftover and not fit for worship), is liked by Tāmasic persons.[3] E.g. Frozen foods with a lot of preservatives.

Discussion: When is it OK to eat Non-Sattvic Foods?

  • Give three instances where it is OK to eat Tāmasic foods
    1. _____________________________________________________________________
    2. _____________________________________________________________________
    3. _____________________________________________________________________
  • Give three instances where it is OK to eat Rājasic foods:
    1. _______________________________________________________________________
    2. _______________________________________________________________________
    3. _______________________________________________________________________
  • Write below 1 change that you will make in your eating habits so that your food is more Sattvic:
    1. _____________________________________________________________________

Avoiding Impure Food

In our tradition, food can be considered impure due the following four causes:

  1. Prohibited by the scriptures, e.g., beef.
  2. Due to contamination with an unclean substance. E.g., food in which hair has/have fallen.
  3. Food that has been polluted due to proximity with an unclean object (not actual contact) for e.g. the food kept in the same room as a corpse or which is stale.
  4. Food that is procured using ill-begotten wealth.

Why is it important to eat food that is pure? The Upaniṣads explain - “When there is purity of food, the mind becomes pure; when the mind becomes pure, it remembers the Lord and by remembrance of the Lord, liberation (Mokṣa) is attained.”[4]

The ‘Other’ Types of Foods

Food is not just something that we eat with our mouth. Literally, everything that we ‘consume’ with our senses is the food for that sense organ. The food of eyes is all the things we see, that of ears is all that we hear, that of nose is all that we smell, that of skin is all that we feel and touch. All these foods should be pure. We must not, for instance, get addicted to ‘snuff’ or to ‘gasoline’ as some addicts do. We should not smoke or drink excessively.

Eat well Balanced Diet; Do not stuff yourself with ‘Supplements’

Story: Who is free of Disease? Charaka Muni compiled a marvelous book on Ayurveda in which he described hundreds of diseases, their cures, healthy lifestyles etc. Sometime after he released his book, he decided to find out if people were becoming healthier and living longer due to his efforts. Therefore, he took the form of a speaking parrot. The parrot alighted on the branch of a tree at the center of a marketplace where a great conference of physicians was going on. The parrot started shouting, “koraruk?” (meaning, “who becomes sick?” in Sanskrit). All the physicians heard the parrot’s cry. All tried to answer the question to demonstrate who was more knowledgeable in Ayurveda.

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The first physician replied, “Only he who eats the nutritious supplement called ‘chyavanaprāsha’ stays healthy.” The second physician retorted, “No, you are wrong! It is the ash of burnt metals mixed with the blue berry that keeps the stomach healthy.” The third physician said, “Of course not! One must eat the Chandraprabhāvati to fight sickness.” And the fourth disagreed with all the three and recommended the Ashvagandhā mixture.

Their answers really disappointed Charaka. He flew away, thinking, “I did not compile my book on Ayurveda to make every human being’s stomach a warehouse of medicines!” He went around and asked the same question. “koraruk,” to every physician he had met, but got similar disappointing replies.

Finally, he sat on a tree below which was sitting a famous physician Vāgbhatta, who had just taken his bath. “Koraruk?” asked the parrot. Vāgbhatta was really amused to see a parrot say a question that is so important to physicians. And he replied, “hitabhuk,[5] mitabhuk,[6] ritabhuk.[7]” When the parrot heard the reply, “hitabhuk, mitabhuk, ritabhuk,” he was very pleased. Charaka Muni now assumed his normal human form and appeared in front of Vāgbhatta. “You alone have understood the secret of medicine, dear Vāgbhatta.” The moral of the story is that instead of stuffing our body with medicines, supplements, we should rather eat a healthy and a controlled diet. We should eat to live, not live to eat!

Food is a Gift from Bhagavān, so treat it with Respect

Story: King Pṛthu Milks Mother Earth King Pṛthu was crowned by many Sages to rule the earth. But he found it very difficult to take care of the people in his kingdom. There were famines all the time. Rains did not come on time. All trees and plants were drying up. Cattle did not have anything to eat and were starving. As a result, his people were dying because they had no food to eat.

Pṛthu became very angry with Mother Earth for causing all this suffering to his people. He thought that earth was hiding all the grains and plants inside her instead of letting them grow on the soil outside. He decided to shoot an arrow into the heart of earth and break her open so that people could get the food that the earth had hidden in her. He was about to take aim, when Mother Earth became scared. She took the form of a cow with King Pṛthu in hot pursuit. The King followed her wherever she went and did not give up. Finally, the cow begged him not to kill her. King Pṛthu then asked her why she was not yielding any food for his subjects.

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Mother Earth replied – “Bhagavān took the form of Brahmā and created plants and food crops so that they can live and also lead a life of good conduct and discipline. But instead, people are just growing food, eating it and exploiting the natural resources for their physical comforts alone. They have forgotten to thank Bhagavān by performing worship and religious ceremonies. They are not doing their duties of charity and sharing. I was scared that human beings will finish off all the food in the world by just eating it and not using any part of their food for doing worship and charity. Therefore, I hid whatever food was left inside me.”

Mother earth told him that she would yield food again only if someone worthy brought a calf and a pitcher and start milking her. He must also level the earth and create irrigation systems so that all the rain water does not just get washed into the ocean. King Prithu agreed that people had taken the earth for granted and had forgotten her true importance. She had been abused, mistreated and harassed by everyone. He ensured that this will not happen again. So he called the Sages, the Devas etc., and they all milked her in the presence of Indra and other Devatās serving as calves. There was plentiful food and riches on the earth once again, after Mother Earth was ensured that she would be respected and cared for by people who eat the food given by her.

Moral of the Story:

  1. Food is not just something that we eat to satisfy hunger or satisfy our tastes. It is a gift from Bhagavān. Food is precious and holy. We should see food as a means of doing worship and for doing good karma.
  2. We should take care of mother earth while growing food on her. We should not abuse or over-use our natural resources. Rather, we should conserve them as much as we can.

How do we show that the food is sacred?

Practical Lessons:

  1. We pray to Bhagavān, offer a little food to Him and thank Him for giving us food before we eat it ourselves. The verse recited as prayer is a verse from Bhagavad Gitā[8]
  2. We eat and touch food only with our right hands (if we are right-handed) or with our left hands (if we are left handed).
  3. We never place food on the floor. We always place the utensil containing our food on a table or a stool.
  4. We eat food with decency, without talking and laughing out aloud while eating, or focusing more on the TV than on the food.
  5. We should not litter food all over. We should show good table manners while eating.
  6. We eat our food cheerfully, even if it is not delicious. We should not keep complaining how bad-tasting the food is.
  7. We do not throw away food. Take in your plate only as much as you can eat.
  8. We give food in charity to poor people.

Do not Waste Food

Story: Kṛṣṇa fills his stomach with a single Grain of Rice While the Pāṇdavas were in the forest during their exile, it was very tough for them to find enough food and water to keep their stomachs full. But all of them were very noble and worshiped God regularly. Pleased with their good conduct, Surya Devata (the Sun) gave Draupadi a magical cooking vessel. Once Draupadi cooked in this magic vessel, she could feed an unlimited number of guests without running out of food until she had eaten herself. So, a lot of Sages and poor guests started visiting them and the Pāṇdava brothers fed them all with love and respect. They never ran out of food and their guests blessed the brothers, Draupadi and Queen Kunti for their generosity. One day, just after Draupadi had eaten herself, Sage Durvāsā arrived with his students for a meal. Draupadi panicked, because she had eaten her own meal and the vessel had therefore become empty. Moreover, Sage Durvāsā had anger issues. Draupadi was worried that if she turned him away without feeding him, he would curse her and her family. As a result of the curse, some harm will come their way.

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Durvāsā told Draupadi to get the food ready while he and his students went for a bath in the nearby river. When they left, Draupadi started praying to Lord Kṛṣṇa to come and help her. In a minute, Kṛṣṇa appeared. But surprisingly, he too asked Draupadi to feed him lunch as soon as he came in! Draupadi told him that she had no food left and had actually prayed to him so that he could help her in feeding Sage Durvāsā and his students. Krishna said, “Draupadi, you have not run out of food. Let us go and look into the magical cooking vessel that you have.” When they went into the kitchen, Lord Kṛṣṇa said – “Look, there is a grain of rice in there. So why do you say that there is no food left?” Draupadi replied – “But this is just a single grain of rice. How can we feed so many people with it?”

Kṛṣṇa smiled. He picked that grain of rice and popped it into his mouth. As he ate that grain, Sage Durvāsā and his students suddenly felt that their stomachs had filled up and they were no longer hungry. But they did not want to go back to Draupadi and tell her that she had worked hard to cook food unnecessarily. So they just decided to scoot from there.

  • Give 3 examples of wastage of food that we see every day:
    1. _____________________________________________________________________
    2. ______________________________________________________________________
    3. ______________________________________________________________________
  • Give 3 choices that you will make in your life to stop or reduce wastage of food
    1. ______________________________________________________________________
    2. ______________________________________________________________________
    3. ______________________________________________________________________

Notes & References

  1. Gitā 17.8
  2. Gitā 17.9
  3. Gitā 17.10
  4. Chāndogya Upaniṣad 7.26.2
  5. Hitabhukh means he who eats only those foods which benefit our body.
  6. Mitabhukh means he who eats only controlled amounts of food.
  7. Ritabhukh means he who is not a slave to taste, and does not fill his stomach with junk food.
  8. Bhagavad Gitā 4.24