Health” is a household term. Not only doctors but mothers and grandmothers too use it frequently. Newspaper columns and books are packed with advice and information on how to maintain good health. Though the secret of health consists in proper orchestration of the three activities of diet, exercise and play, it is diet that forms the basis of health. After all, we are what we eat.
A person may do a lot of fitness exercises, may play many outdoor games, but if he fails to eat good food, his metabolism will be affected badly. On the other hand, a person who has a proper diet will find no difficulty in maintaining health without exercise. The kind of “health” achieved without the intake of proper food will be always subject to imbalance.
Broadly speaking, there are three types of health
physical, mental and social. The World Health Organization has defined health as a state of physical, mental and social well-being. It also means more vitality and energy. These three types of health have to be constantly taken into account while answering the “why” questions about eating – what, when, where, how and how much.
Try to recall how perplexed you were to find that someone you love dislikes the delicacy you are fond of, or try to remember the reproachful glances of your colleagues in the office when they find you eating your usual fare of chapattis and vegetables on a holy day of general fast like Mahashivratri or EkadashL Is it all right for a boy to go on a spree of gobbling laddus (sweetmeats) the whole day simply because he has a sweet tooth?
Eating along with men and women seated in the long rows of a langar can teach us a thing or two about how and how much to eat. The “places” allotted to different food items in a plate should give us a fair idea of how much to eat. Similarly, the Bhel-puri vendors are around, in the gardens, only in the evening. This brings home to us the fact that Bhel-puri and the like are to be eaten only now and then.
Vegetarianism provides, indeed, a nourishing, healthy diet for several reasons. Anywhere in the world, in any season or at any time of the day, its variety, taste and naturalness are conducive to good health. Vegetarianism is a great source of joy and a dispenser of joy to one and all – to the consumer, the cook, the waiter and the onlooker. And the pleasant feeling of elation is personal, physical, mental and social. However, as it is almost always present, as this is part of our routine experience, we fail to realize its uniqueness and its wonder. As the Spanish proverb puts it “A rose too often smelled loses its fragrance”.
The sunset, like the sunrise, is an everyday phenomenon. We are hardly aware of it. Perhaps we have no time to stand and stare. But watching the sunset from a hill for a while and at the same time feeling a gentle breeze pass along is an incomparable experience, almost blissful, something out of this world. Similarly, a person may not be exactly pleased when he Is mciveil it mIi11|tie ihim11 id Uliiilmil hiiiI /i/M’Hihf (uiiIcmvpiipcI bread nnd gimii Hiivvci ciuivh n IhvhuiKc Muhui iuiIH rlnn peasant dlnli). Ilul he hiiiv Hi h I 11 ml Hie nnnie “huiiiHy” I’ooil tastes like nectar when lie poimccM on II nllci hii rxlilliinillMg and exhausting climb to Sinhagad Fort. Or. think of a clly- dweller fed up with the constant drizzle. But he reacts differently when he gets soaked in the heavy downpour at Khandala and is thrilled when he is drenched to the skin. These experiences teach us to find delight in simple things, as Wordsworth pointed out. Familiarity often blunts our sense of admiration for simple things. And most of us are eager to rediscover the admirable simple joys lost through familiarity.
Because vegetarian food is so easily available, we often fail to appreciate it. The tender green coriander, deep yellow lemons and the freshness of succulent vegetables – all sit easy on the eye in summer. The very presence of these colourful eatables in the market is something unusual in the dry season. The vegetarian lifestyle alone can enjoy this renewed joy, from time to time. Nature is subject to seasonal changes. And every season brings in different varieties of food and vegetables, encouraging us to prepare different dishes. All this change and variety tempts us to taste and re-taste what we find in the market.
This does not, however, mean that health depends only on foods that are attractive to the eye. There are so many different combinations of foods and tastes possible. For example, a tasty food item becomes even tastier if it is garnished with chopped coriander leaves. This also helps functionally by partly absorbing the cooking fat in the dish. The mint chutney served with a fried samosa also adds an interesting taste, a contrasting colour, texture and fragrance and makes the snack a gourmet experience! All green vegetables are endowed with their own different , characteristic tastes and fragrances and it is a fine pleasure for the connoisseur to try to discern which one has been used.
Spinach is rich in iron and is as tasty as a vegetable made of the mustard plant leaves (sarson ka sag). The tart taste and bitter odour of shepu adds, even if used sparingly, a distinctive flavour to the dish. The crisp taste of fresh green celeiy is wholesome and nutritious. Then, there is something unique about the mildly sour taste of sorrel when cooked well. The fresh math, rqjgira (Amarathus Polygamous) and chavali (cowpea) have a delightful taste – a blend of the sweet and the astringent.
All these gifts of nature while pandering to the palate Of the consumer pass on nutritional ingredients to his body – i.e. different minerals, iron in.particular and vitamins, which are essential for good health.
Normally, a vegetarian, whether rich or poor, partakes some vegetable preparation eveiy day with his chapatti or bhakari (unleavened bread) and following the seasonal changes; he can have a rich variety of vegetables, each with a different taste and fragrance. They are not only palate pleasing but nourishing as Well. An onion that a common man eats with his daily bread, a radish that is a favourite with a Punjabi and a tomato or a carrot on the dining table of a gentleman – though each of these has a different taste and a different price tag, they are all healthy additions to the basic carbohydrate part of a meal. The vegetarian diet enables us. to use so many different and distinct vegetables and fruit that eating can be a varied and delightful experiehce without repetition for days on end.
One is simply amazed to see so many natural vegetable food items available in different kinds in any country or in any place. Often many parts of a plant can be eaten. Think of a coconut, for example. After drinking the sweet refreshing liquid from the tender young coconut, you may turn to the cream-like kernel. The mature coconut fruit yields rich oil. The liquid g the water – from a single coconut is sweet, safe, and germ-free. It is tasty and quenches the thirst. It has cooling properties. Its kernel satisfies hunger. The oil processed from the mature fruit is used for cooking and also as hairdressing. Even the thick outer cover [shohale) is useful and the hairy protective outside is used to make coir mats. There is almost an infinite number of food items in nature, which if used in the diet will give the user the taste, sustenance, satisfaction, joy, and the gift of health. Such a rich variety is possible only in vegetarian food.
In the words of F.G. Pearce, “No part of a coconut tree is useless there is nut food for humans and animals, oil for booking and lighting … some times the tender shoots are coOked as a vegetable…”
“The Coconut Land” by V.S. Seturaman (p.58) from Pleasant Reading for the Young (Macmillan, 1989).
The jackfruit is another example. The unripe jackfruit is used as a vegetable preparation and for pickle. When ripe, it is eaten as fruit. Both varieties – kappa (with harder pulp) and garappa (with, softer pulp) – are sweet. Besides, the seeds removed from the pulp taste pleasant when fried or boiled or crushed into powder. Further, in the Konkan area, sheets of jackfruit jelly are made from the juice of the jackfruit by heating or drying it. How many excellent uses it has! Luckily the vast coastal area of our country is dotted with these trees. In the past, the green coconut and the mature coconut were not easily available except in areas near the seaside. Today you get both the fruits easily in all the towns and the cities, thanks to the improved network of transport. There is plenty, almost a bounty of natural wealth and vegetable-related produce. This is highly conducive to vegetarianism and it is wonderful to see how easily we can get a nourishing diet.
In addition to the coastal fruit like jackfruit and coconut, there are also apples, bananas, pineapples and the bor, the fruit of a jujube tree. These used to be available only in the areas where they were grown but now, with improved rail and road networks, they have become available all over India. Each of the four fruits has a taste of its own and each contains ingredients that are good for health. Each satisfies hunger and pleases the palate. Consuming these fruits is a source of pure joy and contentment.
There are also the roots of different kinds that are a delight to eat raw or cooked. – potato, sweet potato, the elephant’s foot and arul At least one of them is on the domestic menu card once in a week. The potato, in particular * is a favourite since it is tasty boiled, sauteed, mashed or fried. Various preparations made from the potato are simply irresistible to people of all age groups – no matter whether it is the poor man’s vada pew or the rich man’s finger chips or wafers. The tribals, known as the Adivasis, a hardy lot, manage to subsist on such roots during the hard times when grim famines strain the land. This shows that the roots, which form part of vegetarianism, can be collected and preserved and used as staple food during the famine. By putting these foods, which are a gift from nature, to the best use, we can have a balanced diet, sound health and peace of mind.
Health may be broadly classified into three categories – physical, mental and social. Physical health requires a complete and balanced diet. Mental health is related to taste, change, hygiene, neatness and different components used in preparing food items. Many factors, besides the diet, can upset the mental health of a person but they need not be discussed here. Social health provides a different context to the diet. Here, the effect on Society of the process of preparing or manufacturing different items necessary for the diet has to be considered in detail.
A pure vegetarian will not go hungry anywhere in India. What is offered to him may not be exactly to his liking but it will serve the purpose and satisfy his appetite. On the contrary, a town dweller used to eating a meat-based meal will have a hard time in the countryside unless, of course, he is prepared to-compromise and accept a purely vegetarian meal.
The production and preparation of the non-vegetarian food items, the storage system, the slaughter of the animals, the availability of the butcher – these factors make it difficult to get non-vegetarian meals in all parts of India. Observation of food habits all over India leads to the inevitable conclusion that vegetarianism is the norm while meat-eating is an exception. Needless to say, the preservation of social health depends upon observing the norms.
One more reason why vegetarianism is advisable is that vegetables and fruit are replete with vitamins. All the vitamins are disease-resistant and also act as preventives. In particular, vitamins A, B and G are necessary for maintaining good health. Vegetables like carrots, tomatoes and citrus fruits provide large doses of vitamins A and C while vitamin B is found in the grain husks, curds, butter and milk products. D, E and other vitamins can be had from different oil seeds.
It is interesting to remember in this context the experiences of the seafarers of the olden times. From Columbus to Vasco Da Gama, the sailors and navigators had always to face a problem. Once on board their ship, they could not get vegetables or citrus fruits. The result was the incidence of diseases like scurvy and beriberi among the sailors who suffered from loss Of blood, unhealed wounds and swollen gums. The survivors could be cured at the port with the resumption of fresh vegetarian food. Only after the invention and use of artificially manufactured vitamins could these diseases be brought under control.
At present, both the travellers to the Antarctic regions and its residents have to take vitamin tablets in order to make up for the vegetarian deficiency. The astronauts too have to make such arrangements if they have to stay in space for long. Their diet is accurately measured to a gram. In India rich people sometimes scorn fresh, fruit as inferior and prefer to eat sweetmeats as dessert. Needless to say, their imbalanced diet leads to the same kind of problems suffered by people who, for some reason, cannot access fruit.
Vegetarian food has such freshness and pleasant aromas that the Sense faints picturing it. You may go off food altogether if it is tasteless. A person who shuns fresh and lively food becomes insipid like the tasteless food he eats. After all, we are what we eat. Undoubtedly, vegetarian food has tremendous potential and can so easily, almost effortlessly be made to taste appetising.
There is a basic difference between pure [satvik)- food and insipid [sapak) food. The term satvik calls up an image of the food cooked in pure ghee or butter, with a minimum addition of spices. The sapak food, on the other hand, lacks the liveliness of fresh and tasteful cooking. The satuik meals are pleasant to the senses, what with the aroma of pure ghee filling the dining room. These are highly nourishing square meals. The phodani of ghee poured over the cooked vegetables and the curry adds greatly to the taste. The term, phodani means heating a spoonful of ghee with mustard seeds and other spices and spreading it over the cooked vegetables and the curry. The flavour is matchless. Very different but equally appetizing is the aroma of unleavened bread, crisply baked and eaten with a bit of butter. The fragrance of the bread and butter spreads all over place, bringing pleasant sensations. The freshness of such delightful smells wafting over to us to tease our taste buds could be counted as one of the special features of vegetarian food.
Even a person who dislikes hot foods is pleased with the pungent aroma that fills the kitchen when chutney is being prepared by crushing and mixing together cumin seeds, coconut, garlic, green chillies and coriander leaves. Also, when the mild but distinctive smell of rice cooking reaches you, you are promptly affected. Hungry or not, you suddenly find your mouth watering, ready for the imminent meal. Each of these smells has a special appeal of their own. A food item is identified by the olfactory sense. Next, it is appraised by sight. You have had a full meal in the real sense of the term if the food is satisfying in both senses. This alone ensures good health. Vegetarian foods pass all these tests at all the stages, obtaining full marks. Therein lays its superiority.
In vegetarianism, variety is the main attraction. As most of us know, variety is the spice of life. How tedious it is to eat the same food day after day ! It may lead to a loss of appetite. A change is, therefore, always welcome.
Think of the vegetarian varieties available for breakfast. A man from Konkan has a breakfast of rice gruel with lemon pickle, layered with red chilli powder. He can tiy, for a change, either panagi or rice flash mixed with curds, with a fried papad
to taste. Unleavened bread eaten with a thick curry of I’lonic gram flour is a substantial breakfast for a hard wm Uinp, labourer. Does the grandchild insist on sweets for a hrmliltiniv No problem. Serve him a hot cake (sanjane) made from I lie mix of jackfruit pulp and rice flour. And for a pallet it who has lost taste there is a tasty soup of vetch (hugali).
Nagar and Sholapur districts are known for rich jawar and bajara harvests. Here, you get for a breakfast a hot tasty pancake (thalipith), fresh from the griddle, with a dollop of butter and spicy coriander chutney to go with it. Another favourite dish is a paste made of the flour of parched grain (vada) with pungent garlic chutney to add taste. A dish of sprouted grains of bajara pulse boiled and spiced (ussaQ is also popular.
In Khandesh, kheer (a kind of porridge made of milk, sugar and wheat) is a nourishing item for the breakfast. And as we know, shira (a dish made of semoiina, sugar, ghee and milk), upma (a salty dish of semolina, salt, ghee and chilli), kandapohe (a mix of rice flakes, chopped onion fried in oil and seasoned with chilli) – all freshly cooked – are welcome as breakfast foods. Further, com flakes and noodles grace a rich man’s breakfast table and both are used for a change and as desirable items.
The same holds good about a vegetarian sandwich made from varieties of bread. Besides being fresh, it contains natural vitamins. The natural aroma of the sliced tomato, onion, cucumber and carrot makes the pleasant morning seem still brighter. Again, a crisp toast with a spread of butter along with a steaming hot cup of tea – nothing like it for breakfast.
In the South, there is a plenty of breakfast foods – hot idlies with chutney, dosa and rasam. The smell and the taste of these would lure even those who have never tasted these mouth-watering dishes. In the North, you get puffed-up puris with a potato dish, sweets – all served hot.
Tourism has been spreading its wings all over India during the last twenty-five years. Hence the common man finds it easy to go places. Food is no problem. Vegetarian varieties are available in everywhere. No problem in savouring chana
bhatura in Pune and idli in Chandigarh. This has been of much help to a vegetarian in matters of health, taste and change.
Such a range of tastes cannot be easily made available in the non-vegetarian diet. Though there are several egg and meat preparations for breakfast, the tastes and smells do not vaiy much. This has long-term effects on the mind and body of the I consumer which can be easily avoided through a vegetarian diet.
. Starting the day with a vegetarian breakfast, you feel the natural you in satisfying hunger. The riot of colours, the textures, different tastes and smells are very appetizing. As such, they are conducive to health. These factors taken together provide part of the answer to the question Why Vegetarianism?
Several aspects of health depend upon the storage of consumable foods, their appropriate use, and the natural capacity of preservation and the, disposal of the unconsumed I portions. In other words, the food items that are in demand and are fit for consumption must be readily available in adequate quantities for preserving the health of the people.
Both green peas and green gram fresh from the fields are in great popular demand, besides being nourishing. However, they are not available all round the year. During the last twenty five years, though the technique of scientifically preserving food has not advanced much in India; these two items have been made available in dehydrated condition in airtight paper packets and they continue to taste fresh when soaked in water and steamed.
It is possible to store most of the grains, pulses, and all seeds in good condition for two or more years. Pests like rats and insects can be easily taken care of. It seems that much inconvenience is not caused by the absence of air-conditioned godowns, frozen stalls and factories for freezing food.
A few years ago, as a result of the bumper harvest, the prices of wheat began to fall sharply. The government made huge purchases , of wheat and, though there were no storehouses and godowns, the piles of wheat sacks were
stacked in the open, laid out on low wooden structures and were covered with tarpaulin and sackcloth. The stored wheat was protected from the pests by spraying pesticide all around. In about a year the wheat was sold out through the public distribution system. Such an action was possible only in the case of the vegetarian food items It was neither expensive nor wasteful. A little bit of planning and resourcefulness was all that was necessary.
The process of the production, of additional grains or other food items and the process of their ready disposal are equally important. Otherwise, social health is in jeopardy. Both the preservation and the disposal of the non-vegetarian food items are extremely clumsy. As everyone knows, the offensive odour of a dead rat lying around the house is simply unbearable. Similarly, the leftovers – the fish bones thrown away in the garbage pail – attract all types of birds and beasts, vultures, kites, dogs and cats. The sight is both sickening and unhygienic. This has nothing to do with the general salvage of the animals in an abattoir. Here we are concerned only with the problem of the general disposal of the leftovers from the food that an individual consumes.
As against this, it is easy to dispose off the excess fruit, vegetables, tomatoes and onions and other items in eveiyday use. Throw them out into the open, they are putrefied and soon turn into earth. The farmer can use them as manure. The process does not in any way endanger public, private, or family health.
A major aspect of vegetarianism that ensures health is that plenty of time is available for both – the production and the consumption of various food items like grains, flour and fruits used for diet partly or fully. The vegetables that you buy from the market might have been plucked from the farm just a day before. They can, however, retain freshness for one more day if draped in a wet cloth. And when boiled, they can be consumed during the next twelve hours as per the need. This preservation requires neither special conditions nor machines, but simply common sense. Vegetarian food items alone have this kind of “hardiness” about them.
One may adopt a different point of view about diet while determining the health-based reason for it. What will be the result of eating food items in their most natural form? Normally they are processed in different ways before they are consumed. They are fried, cooked, boiled and steamed and in this way, made to undergo a test of fire, as it were. But is it possible to avoid this and still remain healthy by eating, raw, unprocessed foods? A vegetarian alone can firmly give a positive answer.
Several examples can be cited in support of this statement. A breast-fed child enjoys prefect health. Its unprocessed diet contains all the vitamins it needs. Similarly, we often, munch happily a variety of raw vegetables like cauliflower, radish, lady’s fingers, tomato, knolkhol, bean pods, salads made of spinach, coriander and the green fleshy stems of spring onions. It is also natural to eat raw pulses, legumes, groundnuts soaked in water or powdered and the sprouted grains, which contain ample sugar and carbohydrates.
Further, there is a natural supply of proteins and fats from cashew nuts, almonds, dates and dried dates. Ordinary fruits are a good source of sugar, calcium, potassium and vitamin C.
The daiiy products like milk, curd, buttermilk and butter contain naturally refreshing ingredients. .If, under unusual circumstances, a person is compelled to limit his diet to these items only, he can still manage to remain healthy, Sometimes there are general catastrophes like floods and earthquakes or individual misfortunes like losing one’s way in a jungle or finding oneself marooned on ah island. In all these situations the persons concerned can maintain balanced health by eating whatever is naturally available. In naturopathy, even at present, different methods are practised for regaining health by taking only vegetarian and unprocessed foods. It is not intended here to discuss the methods of treatment and the various differences among them. Only a passing mention is, therefore, made. It would be better to leave the subject to the experts.
Vegetarianism is a dietary system in which a person, while coming close to, nature, can continue to maintain his health
by eating only simple vegetarian food. Once this is understood, there is, indeed, no need at all to raise the question Why Vegetarianism?