impact of cuisine on mind
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The nature of food consumed as also its quan tum has definite impact on the physical and mental well-being of people. Many cannot get on without food even for one day. The Tamil saint Avvaiyar laments over the fact that the belly cannot store food for a couple of days at a stretch nor can it forego meals even for a day. Though all human beings eat food day in and day out, man has still not learnt what to eat and how much to eat. Weight conscious people observe diet restrictions or even skip a regular meal to stay trim and healthy. Experts on nutrition, however, say that overweight may not be due to overeating but due to consumption of unbalanced food with either too much carbohydrate or high-fat food items. The tragedy of the world is that a very high percentage of people in the developed nations suffer from obesity or overweight while an equally sizeable percentage of population in the underdeveloped countries suffer from either malnutrition or even death from starvation.

Nobel laureate Dr. Alexis Carrel in his pioneering work entitled "Reflections on Life" published by his wife posthumously, says that innumerable observations have revealed that diet makes a deep imprint on the intellectual and moral side of human personality. He observes that diet affects the physical size, longevity of life and the natural immunity to diseases. In the course of experiments conducted on animals it has been observed that in the case of one group that received a diet excellent in quality but insufficient in quantity, the size of the animal became smaller but their intelligence increased remarkably. On the contrary, another group that was given seawater along with the food, diminished both in size and intelligence. In Dr. Carrel's view, by a wise blend of physical, chemical and physiological factors, it should be possible to effect a spiritual improvement of the human being. He, however, laments over the fact that the science of balanced nutrition confines its focus only on the physical aspect of the human personality and does not pay any attention to the development of robust nervous system for balanced disposition, courage, moral sense and intelligence to prevent mental degeneration. Dr. Carrel feels that intuition is one of the essential factors in a man's superiority.

Recent research studies on the impact of packed food on the human mind have revealed that processed and ready to use food items disturb the balance of mind giving rise to violent thoughts. In fact, the intake of pungent and hot food articles causes irritation and quick loss of temper that rises the blood pressure and quickens the heartbeat and breathing. Sound health, good physical strength, freshness of mind and longevity of life can be attained only through balanced and well-regulated diet. For the people suffering from obesity and excess weight, nothing can be harder than to rid themselves of their intemperance by resisting the impulse to indulge in the immediate gratification of their appetite. It is common knowledge that overeating can lead to obesity while undernourishment can weaken the body and mind. The great question at this critical hour of population explosion is how to improve the physical and mental health of the civilized humanity inhabiting this globe?

Temperance, self-mastery, moderation, renunciation, sacrifice etc. are meaningless words in the modern free society provoking only contempt and derogation. People desire unrestricted freedom and uninhibited autonomy to behave, as they like. They do not realize that in the name of freedom and liberty they become slaves to their senses and physical body. Enjoyment of life and living in freedom do not lie in lack of restraint over the palate or in overeating, which is injurious to health. The rich and the well-off section of society should be made to realize that intemperance and laxity in food habits would, in the long run, be detrimental to their physical and mental well- being and they should, in their own interest, restrict their food consumption and spare the excess to the poor and the needy.

India is perhaps the one and only country in the world to have closely studied the effect of food on the mind, from very ancient times. Just as charity begins from home, the spiritual discipline starts with strict control over the palate. According to Sri Ramanuja, the very first requisite for the development of Divine love or Bhakti is Viveka or discrimination in food. Food nourishes the body, mind and soul. The physical and mental growth depends almost wholly on the quality and quantity of food consumed. The type of food eaten affects not only the physical body but also the nature of thoughts and feelings that surface on the conscious mind. A heavy meal induces sleep and exotic food makes the control of the thinking process of the mind very difficult if not impossible. Empirically it is observed that the herbivorous domestic animals are found to be docile and submissive whereas the carnivorous wild animals are agitated and violent. It is also our common experience that alcoholic drinks, tranquilizers and psychedelic drugs impair the normal functioning of the neuronal networks in the brain causing drowsiness or altered states of conscious perception.

Sri Ramanuja advises us to keep in view the following three aspects relating to food:

  1. Jati or nature of food i.e. food should be fresh and not stale; the procurement of food should not cause any harm to living creatures and the food should be bland and not exciting. In recent times, many in the West have turned to vegetarianism. Incidentally, one is reminded of the famous reply Bernard Shaw furnished for adopting vegetarianism that he did not favour his stomach to become the cemetery for the carcasses of dead animals.
  2. As raya or the character of the person who serves the food. It is believed that the intake of food served by criminal can lead to the emergence of criminal tendencies even in noble persons. It may not be out of place to mention in this context an interesting anecdote from the Mahabharatha. Sage Vyasa and Lord Sri Krishna urged Yudhishtira to approach Bhisma Pitamaha who was lying in the bed of arrows and seek from him the knowledge about the various Dharmas or codes of conduct. Bhishma expounds in detail the Raja Dharma (king's duties), Varna Ashrama Dharmas (duties of people belonging to different castes and in various stages of life), Moksha Dharma (means to attain salvation) etc. While he is telling all this, Draupadi interferes and asks Bhishma. "Now your are talking so much about righteousness and ideal codes of behaviour but what made you to remain an idle spectator in the royal court at the time when wicked Dussasana was attempting to disrobe me in public? "In other words, Draupadi was questioning the very moral authority of Bhisma to talk on the subject of ethical behaviour to Yudhishtira. Understanding her wounded feelings, Bhishma replied with a serene and smiling face. "My dear child. My intellect was totally eclipsed at that time by the food that was served to me by the cruel Duryodhana. Now, in the ten days of battle, Arjuna has removed all the bad blood from my body and my mind has become calm and clear to tell all that I know about the eternal moral law to those interested, before I breathe my last."
  3. Nimitta or avoidance of dirty or foul food. The Chandogya Upanishad declares ahara suddhou satva suddihi, satva suddou dhruva smritihi i.e. pure food gives rise to pure thoughts and the purity of thoughts in turn lead to ceaseless remembrance of the goal to be achieved in human life.

Srimad Bhagawad Gita also contains several good advices in regard to the consumption of food. In verse 16 of Chapter VI, the Lord says that Yoga (meditation) is not for him who eats too much or for him who consumes too little. In verses 7 to 10 of Chapter XVII the Lord declares that the food that is dear to all is of threefold nature. The food that augments vitality, energy, vigour, health, joy and cheerfulness and that is delicious, bland, substantial and most agreeable are dear to the pure minded. The passionate and the restless prefer food that is bitter, sour, saline, hot, pungent and burning, that produces pain, grief and sickness. The ignorant and the lethargic prefer food that is stale, putried and even unclean. In the Ramayana, we find Kumbhakarna who was given to gluttony was notorious for his very deep slumber.

The control of the palate is as important as the control of the mind and the other senses of perception. In fact, the control of the other senses begins with the control of the tongue. Unlike all other senses of perception, the tongue performs two very important functions viz. speech and taste. Control over both speech and food is equally important. Though the tongue is held in check by an army of 32 teeth, it often revolts and exceeds the permissible limits landing the whole body in trouble. The ancients, therefore, accorded topmost priority to the control of the palate. In fact, the very first lesson in spiritual discipline begins with the control over the sense of taste.

The Five-Star cuisine culture, the fast food restaurants, the packed ready to use food items etc, are the products of Western minds who do not have even an elementary knowledge of the effect of food on the human mind. Modern generation can learn several important lessons about food from the most ancient heritage whose findings are wholly based on the scientific techniques of keen observation and intelligent inference. These lessons can only help find ways to improve the physical and the mental health of humanity.


athAto "brahma" zignAsA - Then thereafter be inquisitive to enquire about "the Absolute"