Whilst it is true that man cannot live without air and water, the thing that nourishes the body is food. Hence the saying, food is life.
Food can be divided into three categories: vegetarian, flesh and mixed.
Flesh foods include fowl and fish. Milk is an animal product and cannot by
any means be included in a strictly vegetarian diet. It serves the purpose
of meat to a very large extent. In medical language it is classified as
animal food. A layman does not consider milk to be animal food. On the other
hand, eggs are regarded by the layman as a flesh food. In reality, they are
not. Nowadays sterile eggs are also produced. The hen is not allowed to see
the cock and yet it lays eggs. A sterile egg never develops into a chick.
Therefore, he who can take milk should have no objection to taking sterile eggs.
Medical opinion is mostly in favour of a mixed diet, although there is a
growing school, which is strongly of the opinion that anatomical and
physiological evidence is in favour of man being a vegetarian. His teeth,
his stomach, intestines etc. seem to prove that nature has meant man to be a vegetarian.
Vegetarian diet, besides grains, pulses, edible roots, tubers and leaves,
includes fruits, both fresh and dry. Dry fruit includes nuts like almonds, pistachio, walnut etc.
I have always been in favour of pure vegetarian diet. But experience has
taught me that in order to keep perfectly fit, vegetarian diet must include
milk and milk products such as curds, butter, ghee
etc. This is a significant departure from my original idea. I excluded milk
from my diet for six years. At that time, I felt none the worse for the
denial. But in the year 1917, as a result of my own ignorance, I was laid on
with severe dysentery. I was reduced to a skeleton, but I stubbornly refused
to take any medicine and with equal stubborness refused to take milk or
buttermilk. But I could not build up my body and pick up sufficient strength
to leave the bed. I had taken a vow of not taking milk. A medical friend
suggested that at the time of taking the vow, I could have had in mind only
the milk of the cow and buffalo; why should the vow prevent me from taking
goat's milk? My wife supported him and I yielded. Really speaking, for one
who has given up milk, though at the time of taking the vow only the cow and
the buffalo were in mind, milk should be taboo. All animal milks have
practically the same composition, though the proportion of the components
varies in each case. So I may be said to have kept merely the letter, not
the spirit, of the vow. Be that as it may, goat's milk was produced
immediately and I drank it. It seemed to bring me new life. I picked up
rapidly and was soon able to leave the bed. On account of this and several
similar experiences, I have been forced to admit the necessity of adding
milk to the strict vegetarian diet. But I am convinced that in the vast
vegetable kingdom there must be some kind, which, while supplying those
necessary substances which we derive from milk and meat, is free from their
drawbacks, ethical and other.
In my opinion there are definite drawbacks in taking milk or meat. In order
to get meat we have to kill. And we are certainly not entitled to any other
milk except the mother's milk in our infancy. Over and above the moral
drawback, there are others, purely from the point of view of health. Both
milk and meat bring with them the defects of the animal from which they are
derived. Domesticated cattle are hardly ever perfectly healthy. Just like
man, cattle suffer from innumerable diseases. Several of these are
overlooked even when the cattle are subjected to periodical medical
examinations. Besides, medical examination of all the cattle in India seems
to be an impossible feat, at any rate for the present. I am conducting a
dairy at the Sevagram Ashram. I can easily get help from medical friends.
Yet I cannot say with certainty that all the cattle in the Sevagram Dairy
are healthy. On the contrary, a cow that had been considered to be healthy
by everybody was found to be suffering from tuberculosis. Before this
diagnosis was made, the milk of that cow had been used regularly in the
Ashram. The Ashram also takes milk from the farmers in the neighbourhood.
Their cattle have not been medically examined. It is difficult to determine
whether a particular specimen of milk is safe for consumption or not. We
have to rest content with as much safety as boiling of the milk can assure
us of. If the Ashram cannot boast of foolproof medical examination of its
cattle, and be certain of the safety of its dairy products, the situation
elsewhere is not likely to be much better. What applies to the milch cattle
applies to a much greater extent to the animals slaughtered for meat. As a
general rule, man just depends upon luck to escape from such risks. He does
not seem to worry much about his health. He considers himself to be quite
safe in his medical fortress in the shape of doctors, vaids and hakims.
His main worry and concern is how to get wealth and position in society.
This worry overshadows all the rest. Therefore, so long as some selfless
scientist does not, as a result of patient research work, discover a
vegetable substitute for milk and meat, man will go on taking meat and milk.
Now let us consider mixed diet. Man requires food which can supply tissue
building substances to provide for the growth and daily wear and tear of the
body. It should also contain something which can supply energy, fat, certain
salts and roughage to help the excretion of waste matter. Tissue building
substances are known as proteins. They are obtained from milk, meat, eggs,
pulses and nuts. The proteins contained in milk and meat, in other words,
the animal proteins being more easily digestible and assimilable, are much
more valuable than vegetable proteins. Milk is superior to meat. The
medicoes tell us that in cases where meat cannot be digested, milk is
digested quite easily. For vegetarians milk being the only source of animal
proteins, is a very important article of diet. The proteins in raw eggs are
considered to be the most easily digestible of all proteins.
But everybody cannot afford to drink milk. And milk is not available in
every place. I would like to mention here a very important fact with regard
to milk. Contrary to the popular belief, skimmed milk is a very valuable
article of diet. There are times when it proves even more useful than whole
milk. The chief function of milk is to supply animal proteins for tissue
building and tissue repair. Skimming, while it partially removes the fats,
does not affect the proteins at all. Moreover, the available skimming
instruments cannot remove all the fat from milk. Neither is there any
likelihood of such an instrument being constructed.
The body requires other things besides milk, whole or skimmed. I give the
second place to cereals — wheat, rice, juwar, bajri
etc. These are used as the staple diet. Different cereals are used as staple
in different provinces of India. In many places, more than one kind of
cereals are eaten at the same time for instance, small quantities of wheat, bajri
and rice are often served together. This mixture is not necessary for the
nourishment of the body. It makes it difficult to regulate the quantity of
food intake, and puts an extra strain upon digestion. As all these varieties
supply starch mainly, it is better to take one only, at a time. Wheat may
well be described as the king among the cereals. If we glance at the world
map, we find that wheat occupies the first place. From the point of view of
health, if we can get wheat, rice and other cereals become unnecessary. If
wheat is not available and juwar
etc. cannot be taken on account of dislike or difficulty in digesting them,
rice has to be resorted to.
The cereals should be properly cleansed, ground on a grinding stone, and the
resulting flour used as it is. Sieving of the flour should be avoided. It is
likely to remove the bhusi
or the pericarp which is a rich source of salts and vitamins, both of which
are most valuable from the point of view of nutrition. The pericarp also
supplies roughage, which helps the action of the bowels. Rice grain being
very delicate, nature has provided it with an outer covering or epicarp.
This is not edible. In order to remove this inedible portion, rice has to be
pounded. Pounding should be just sufficient to remove the epicarp on the
outer skin of the rice grain. But machine pounding not only removes the
outer skin, but also polishes the rice by removing its pericarp. The
explanation of the popularity of polished rice lies in the fact that
polishing helps preservation. The pericarp is very sweet and unless it is
removed, rice is easily attacked by certain organisms. Polished rice and
wheat without its pericarp, supply us with almost pure starch. Important
constituents of the cereals are lost with the removal of the pericarp. The
pericarp of rice is sold as rice polishings. This and the pericarp of wheat
can be cooked and eaten by themselves. They can be also made into
chapatis or cakes. It is possible that rice chapatis
may be more easily digestible than whole rice and in this form a lesser
quantity may result in full satisfaction.
We are in the habit of dipping each morsel of the chapatiin vegetable or
dal gravy before eating it. The result is that most people swallow their food
without proper mastication. Mastication is an important step in the 'process
of digestion, especially that of starch. Digestion of starch begins on its
coming into contact with saliva in the mouth. Mastication ensures a thorough
mixing of food with saliva. Therefore, starchy foods should be eaten in a
relatively dry form, which results in a greater flow of saliva and also
necessitates their thorough mastication.
After the starch supplying cereals come the protein supplying pulses—beans,
lentils etc. Almost everybody seems to think that pulses are an essential
constituent of diet. Even meat eaters must have pulses. It is easy to
understand that those who have to do hard manual work and who cannot afford
to drink milk, cannot do without pulses. But I can say without any
hesitation whatsoever that those who follow sedentary occupations as for
instance, clerks, businessmen, lawyers, doctors, teachers and those who are
not too poor to buy milk, do not require pulses. Pulses are generally
considered to be difficult to digest and are eaten in a much smaller
quantity than cereals. Out of the varieties of pulses, peas, gram and
haricot beans are considered to be the most and mung and masoor
(lentils) the least difficult to digest.
Vegetables and fruits should come third on our list. One would expect them
to be cheap and easily available in India. But it is not so. They are
generally considered to be delicacies meant for the city people. In the
villages fresh vegetables are a rarity, and in most places fruit is also not
available. This shortage of greens and fruits is a slur on the
administration of India. The villagers can grow plenty of green vegetables
if they wish to. The question of fruit cannot be solved so easily. The land
legislation is bad from the villager's standpoint. But I am transgressing.
Among fresh vegetables, a fair amount of leafy vegetables must be taken
every day. I do not include potatoes, sweet potatoes, suran
etc., which supply starch mainly, among vegetables. They should be put down
in the same category as starch supplying cereals. A fair helping of ordinary
fresh vegetables is advisable. Certain varieties such as cucumber, tomatoes,
mustard and cress and other tender leaves need not be cooked. They should be
washed properly and then eaten raw in small quantities.
As for fruits, our daily diet should include the available fruits of the
season, e.g. mangoes, jambu, guavas, grapes, papaiyas, limes—sweet or sour, oranges,
moosambi, etc. should all be used in their season. The best time for taking fruit is
in the early morning. A breakfast of fruit and milk should give full
satisfaction. Those who take an early lunch may well have a breakfast of
Banana is a good fruit. But as it is very rich in starch, it takes the place
of bread. Milk and banana make a perfect meal.
A certain amount of fat is also necessary. This can be had in the form of
ghee or oil. If ghee can be had, oil becomes unnecessary. It is difficult' to digest and is not
so nourishing as pure ghee. An ounce and a half of ghee
per head per day, should be considered ample to supply the needs of the
body. Whole milk also is a source of ghee.
Those who cannot afford it should take enough oil to supply the need for
fat. Among oils, sweet oil, groundnut oil and cocoa-nut oil should be given
preference. Oil must be fresh. If available, it is better to use hand-
pressed oil. Oil and ghee
sold in the bazaar are generally quite useless. It is a matter of great
sorrow and shame. But so long as honesty has not become an integral part of
business morals, whether through legislation or through education, the
individual will have to procure the pure article with patience and
diligence. One should never be satisfied to take what one can get,
irrespective of its quality. It is far better to do without
ghee and oil altogether than to eat rancid oil and adulterated ghee.
As in the case of fats, a certain amount of sugar is also necessary.
Although sweet fruits supply plenty of sugar, there is no harm in taking one
to one and a half ounces of sugar, brown or white, in the day. If one cannot
get sweet fruits, sugar may become a necessity. But the undue prominence
given to sweet things nowadays is wrong. City folk eat too much of sweet
things. Milk puddings, milk sweets and sweets of other kinds are consumed in
large quantities. They are all unnecessary and are harmful except when
taken in very small quantities. It may be said without any fear of
exaggeration that to partake of sweetmeats and other delicacies, in a
country where the millions do not even get an ordinary full meal, is
equivalent to robbery.
What applies to sweets, applies with equal force to
ghee and oil. There is no need to eat food fried in
ghee or oil. To use up ghee in making puris and laddus
is thoughtless extravagance. Those who are not used to such food cannot eat
these things at all. For instance, Englishmen on their first coming into our
country cannot eat our sweets and fried foodstuffs. Those that do eat them I
have often seen fall ill. Taste is acquired, not born with us. All the
delicacies of the world cannot equal the relish that hunger gives to food.
A hungry man will eat a dry piece of bread with the greatest relish, whereas
one who is not hungry will refuse the best of sweetmeats.
Now let us consider how often and how much should one eat. Food should be
taken as a matter of duty—even as a medicine—to sustain the body, never for
the satisfaction of the palate. Thus, pleasurable feeling comes from
satisfaction of real hunger. Therefore, we can say that relish is dependent
upon hunger and not outside it. Because of our wrong habits and artificial
way of living, very few people know what their system requires. Our parents
who bring us into this world do not, as a rule, cultivate self-control.
Their habits and their way of living influence the children to a certain
extent. The mother's food during pregnancy is bound to affect the child.
After that during childhood, the mother pampers the child with all sorts of
tasty foods. She gives the child a little bit out of whatever she herself
may be eating and the child's digestive system gets a wrong training from
its infancy. Habits once formed are difficult to shed. There are very few
who succeed in getting rid of them. But when the realization comes to man
that he is his own bodyguard, and his body has been dedicated to service, he
desires to learn the laws of keeping his body in a fit condition and tries
hard to follow them.
We have now reached a point when we can lay down the amount of various foods
required by a man of sedentary habits, which most men and women who will
read these pages, are.
Cow's milk- 2 lbs.
Cereals (wheat, rice, bajri, in all) 6 oz.
Vegetables leafy 3 oz.
„ others - 5 oz.
„ raw - 1 oz.
Ghee - 1½ oz.
or Butter - 2 oz.
Gur or white sugar 1½oz.
Fresh fruit according to one's taste and purse. In any case it is good to
take two sour limes a day. The juice should be squeezed and taken with
vegetables or in water, cold or hot.
All these weights are of raw stuff. I have not put down the amount of salt.
It should be added afterwards according to taste.
Now, how often should one eat? Many people take two meals a day. The general
rule is to take three meals: breakfast early in the morning and before
going out to work, dinner at midday and supper in the evening or later.
There is no necessity to have more than three meals. In the cities some
people keep on nibbling from time to time. This habit is harmful. The
digestive apparatus requires rest.