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Mahatma Gandhi


08. Unfired Food

Dear Sir,

I have read the further account of your dietetic experiment - reprinted in the Hindu of July 22 - with much interest; and I am glad to see that you do not carry your objections to milk and its products to the extent of recommending the 'youth of India" not to use it. Indeed, you are, if I may say so, recording the results of your experiment with much open-mindedness. But there are in your account two misstatements of fact (a) the capacity of the plant-world to sustain man at his highest is not an unexplored field to modern medical science, and this science has shown it to be not unlimited: one reason for the nutritive limitations of a purely vegetable diet for man is the difference in length and structure between the human gastro-intestinal tract and that of herbivorous animals. Man's digestive tube is not long enough nor capacious enough to accommodate a sufficient mass of suitable vegetable food, nor to extract from such as it can contain all the nutriment man needs for his fullest well-being; (b) there is only one vitamin - vitamin D - for which man can rely (to a considerable extent) upon the sun. There are, of course, more things in Heaven and Earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy; but so far as nutritional science has progressed, there is nothing to indicate the possibility of 'getting the most important of the vitamins from the sun', though, no doubt, the sun plays a great part in their production in the foods available for mankind. There are, by the way. no vitamins which can truthfully be said to be more important than others.

One of the great faults in Indian diets at the present day is their deficiency in vitamin A, in suitable proteins and in certain salts; and the greatest nutritional need of India is the freer use of good milk and its products which supply these factors. There can be no doubt in the minds of those of us who have devoted a lifetime to the study of nutrition that milk is one of the greatest blessings given to mankind. And to one like myself, whose work is to learn the Truth and spread it, the scarcity of this food in India and the lack of appreciation of its value are matters of grave concern. Do not. I beg of you, decry it; for a pint of milk a day will do more for 'Young India' than most things I wrote of. It is, for example, to deficiency of vitamin A that we owe so much disease of the bowels and lungs, so much disease of the bladder (such as "stone') and so much anaemia in this country.

I am glad you are interesting yourself in the matter of food and I agree with much that you say. But let me assure you that a little more "fortissimo' on the 'milk and milk-products theme' will do great good when you are leading the orchestra of Truth.

Coonoor, 26-7-1929

I am,
Yours sincerely,
R. McCarrison
PS. - When next you make an Andhra tour, avoid "the extreme weakness" which overtook you in your last one, by taking a pint of milk a day!

I publish this letter thankfully and wish that other men versed in medical science would also guide me. In making the experiment, I am trying to find out the truth about food in so far as it is possible for a layman to do so.

As for Dr. McCarrison's argument about the necessity of animal food, I dare not as a layman combat it, but I may state that there are medical men who are decidedly of opinion that animal food including milk is not necessary for sustaining the human system to the full. By instinct and upbringing I personally favour a purely vegetarian diet, and have for years been experimenting in finding a suitable vegetarian combination. But there is no danger of my decrying milk until I have obtained overwhelming evidence in support of a milkless diet. It is one of the many inconsistencies of my life that whilst I am in my own person avoiding milk, I am conducting a model dairy which is already producing cow's milk that can successfully compete with any such milk produced in India in purity and fat content.

Notwithstanding Dr. McCarrison's claim for medical science I submit that scientists have not yet explored the hidden possibilities of the innumerable seeds, leaves and fruits for giving the fullest possible nutrition to mankind. For one thing, the tremendous vested interests that have grown round the belief in animal food prevent the medical profession from approaching the question with complete detachment. It almost seems to me that it is reserved for lay enthusiasts to cut their way through a mountain of difficulties even at the risk of their lives to find the truth. I should be satisfied if scientists would lend their assistance to such humble seekers.

I am thankful for Dr. McCarrison's more accurate statement about vitamins.

Young India, 15-8-1929