Every time we waste food or make a face at the sight of it, we should remember that we cannot take food for granted. Even as we eat, there are many people who go daily without a morsel of food.
By Team ParentCircle
Every day, many people go to bed hungry or survive on just one meal a day. According to the Global Hunger Index 2017 released by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), India ranks 100 on the list of 119 nations. This is distressing information. Countries like Nepal (ranked 72) and Bangladesh (ranked 88) have fared better than India.
According to an article 'Malnutrition among under-five children in India and strategies for control' published in the Journal of Natural Science, Biology and Medicine, in 2015 by Swaroop Kumar Sahu et.al, the prevalence of underweight children in India is among the highest in the world.
Today, many people who fall under the Below Poverty Line (BPL) send their children to schools because they are assured that their child will get at least one square meal every day. In contrast, the children of middle and upper classes are given pocket money to indulge in fast foods and junk foods as they blithely complain that home food is boring!
Does the problem lie with parental upbringing? Should parents themselves be taught to revere food and pass on the right attitude to their children? Let's take a look at what the Vedic society have to say.
For a child, 'being fed' means having a basic emotional need met. When one’s basic needs are not met adequately, one loses trust in one’s environment. Most societies have an elaborate etiquette related to sharing of food. These traditional customs express each society’s attitudes and values towards food.
In the Vedic society, the attitude towards food and the customs associated with it, emphasise on inner maturity and an appreciation of God. Our generative capacity, cells and growth are all due to the energy supplied by food. The body is a product of food and is thus called Annamaya, the modification of food. Without food, one’s physical and mental capacities malfunction. Even after death, the body becomes part of the food cycle and provides food for other forms of life. The third chapter of the Taittiriya Upanishad, sections seven to ten, contain verses in praise of food and attitude towards food that need to be practised in a disciplinary manner.
The Upanishad says ‘do not look down upon or find fault with food’. In the Vedic culture, food is considered as prasada, that which comes from the Lord. In most Indian homes, after the food is cooked, it is offered to God. Before cooking, the lady of the house takes a bath and sanctifies the home. The food is not tasted till it is offered to the Lord with a prayer and once it is offered to the Lord, it is considered as prasada and is accepted with gratitude.
The Upanishad reminds us that every act of ours and the attitude we adopt towards it, holds the means of taking us towards Godhood. This is true of eating as well. Before eating, one chants the following prayer –
“Any means of offering is Brahman, the oblation is Brahman, the fire in which the offering is made is Brahman and the one who offers is also Brahman. Indeed, Brahman is gained by such a person who abides in Brahman”.
Traditionally, while chanting the prayer, one pours a small amount of water in one’s right palm and sprinkles it around the plate. Water is considered a purifying agent and supposed to sanctify the food. Following this, six small portions of food are eaten symbolically in the form of an offering to the Lord within as prana, the physiological system. Water is sipped again at the end of the meal as an offering.
Even if such an elaborate ritual is not followed, one should at least chant a prayer and be aware that the food is being offered to the Lord. Several religions offer a thanksgiving to the Lord before and after meals.
Again, the Taiitriya Upanishad says annam na paricaksita, which roughly translates to do not discard food. Most forms of life take from the environment only as much as is needed for their sustenance. Human beings alone choose to take more than they need and discard what cannot be consumed. But if one looks at the food as prasada, it cannot be discarded, as this indicates a lack of respect for the food.
Have a cheerful attitude while eating food. Eating a meal with one’s family provides an opportunity to relax and to strengthen bonds among family members. Experts suggest that parents and children should have at least one meal together in a day as a family ritual. Eating together is an important family activity. Food can be attractively presented to create a happy disposition in everyone. Do not discuss uncomfortable topics during meals.
‘For treating the disease of hunger, take daily, the medicine of food’. - Adi Shankara, an early 8th century Indian philosopher
Do not seek tasty food but accept cheerfully whatever has been obtained by grace. For a disease, one takes medicine only in the quantity and manner prescribed. Taking more does not cure the illness sooner. Either is detrimental to the body’s well-being.
A Sanskrit verse advises how much to eat to preserve good health:
“May one fill half of one’s stomach with solid food, the third quarter with water and leave the fourth quarter for the free movement of air (food).’’
The Upanishad also advises that ‘may one produce plenty of food’. In today’s context, it means that one can develop a capacity to provide plenty of food, which can be shared with others. Only two forms of giving make the recipients feel truly full. One is anna dana (giving of food) and the other is atma jnana dana (giving knowledge of the self). In any other form of giving, there is a chance that the recipient will not gain a sense of having enough.
One must not cook and serve food with an angry disposition or a condescending attitude. When we give food in charity, we should do so with humility, thanking God for giving us the capacity to share our resources with others.
Edited excerpts from Purna Vidya (A Vision Of Hindu Dharma), and authored By Swamini Pramananda Saraswati and Sri Dhira Chaitanya.
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