Food For Fitness
By Mr. Aruna Rathod
Science has established what Jainism has advocated all along - we are what we eat, and to stay healthy, you have to follow healthy eating habits.
The menus of most vegetarian restaurants have the ubiquitous statement 'we also serve Jain food ', but why haven't we heard of a specialty Jain restaurant? That's because, besides being strict vegetarians, the Jains also have other restrictions when it comes to food. And the reason Jainism advocates strict vegetarianism is because the very first principle laid down by Bhagwan Mahavir is ahimsa, which means non-injury to living beings.
Many religious and spiritual practices that originated over 2000 years ago, continue till date. It is no coincidence that science and medicine have now deemed these practices conducive to good health. Dr. Ramanlal Shah, retired Head of the Gujarati Department of St. Xavier's College, explain, "Even though the basic principles of Jainism are framed from the religious and spiritual point of view, you can find scientific reasons for them. When we talk about vegetarianism, the question we're always asked is don't plants have life? Jainism has an answer to this query. We recognise the five physical senses of touch, taste, smell sight and hearing as the principal attributes of living beings. All life forms in the universe are then classified in terms of the senses found in various creatures. The lowest life forms are those with only one sense, the sense of touch, such as plants. But since human must eat to survive, they are allowed to eat life with only one sense, that is basically plant life."
Dr. Vijaya Venkat who runs the Health Awareness Centre in Mumbai, and who is an authority on nutrition says, "Food should be ecological, evolutionary and ethical. Jainism scores 100 percent when it comes to ethics regarding food. Also because of the numerous restriction, Jains normally don't overeat."
She believes that the Jain philosophy of live and let live is very important and necessary for evolution. "We can never recapture what our ancestors had by way of discipline. We have destroyed nature and sensitivity. We don't even have to validate ancient culture through science. Tradition is more important."
The medical reasons for being a vegetarian are relatively a modern phenomenon; mostly evolving during the past half a century or so, after developments in modern medicine established links between certain ailments and a non-vegetarian diet.
Dr. Venkat too believes that our bodies are not designed to digest non-vegetarian food. "The Jains are definitely right when they believe that one must not consume meat. Our body cannot digest non-vegetarian food. In the human digestive system, the saliva and blood is alkaline while meat products and other products are acidic." In fact, Jains also avoid eating onion and garlic. Dr. Shah explains, "The onion is made up of many cells, so eating it would mean killing many lives. It was found later that eating onions and garlic also lead to an increase in tamasik behaviour that leads to aggression."
Food Practices with a medical relevance : According to Dr. Vijaya Venkat the practice of having our meals before sunset and after sunrise, is something we must follow like orthodox Jains. "Our ancestors were really far, far ahead of time. They recognized that there is a rhythm in life - day and night, the cycles of seasons. Similarly our body too has a rhythm according to the Circadian principles. There are three processes in the digestive system - elimination, digestion, absorption. The elimination process is from morning to noon. Our energy level rises as the sun rises, so noon is the time when our energy is at the highest. Our digestion stops before six in the evening. When the sun sets our body prepares for sleep and rest."
Jains normally have their meals before sunset. The food is cooked during day light only, never at night. This practice originated in ancient times when there was no electricity. When a lamp was lit, insects attracted to the flame could die. Besides, going to bed soon after dinner is not very healthy, so when Jainism advocated an early dinner, it was again health driven, besides religious Jains are supposed to drink boiled water only. Jain monks never fall sick as a result of drinking this water.
Vegetables and fruits that grow underground (roots of plants) are prohibited as a general rule. The reason being, if we pull out the plant from the root, we destroy the entire plant, and with it all the other micro organisms around the root.
Dr. Venkat adds, "About an inch below the soil, there is a rich growth of micro-organisms around the root, so when we pull it out, we are destroying a life cycle."
Fresh fruits and vegetables should be plucked only when ripe and ready to fall off, or ideally after they have fallen off the plant. In case they are plucked from the plants, only as much as required should be procured and consumed without waste.
Roots are supposed to increase your sensuous feelings. Sour and spicy food is rajasik. Only satwik food keeps the mind clean, makes you samatabhavi, gives you equanimity. Alcohol, meat and even honey are forbidden. Honey because you have to burn the beehives to get it and also the fact that you drive away the bees and usurp their hard achieved collection of honey which is not accepted by Jainism.
In the case of food grains, such as wheat, rice , maize and beans, these are obtained when the plants or the pods are dry and dead. Mushrooms and fungus are not eaten by Jain families because they are parasites and grow under unhygienic conditions.
Honey, vinegar, molasses and wine are taboo. So are vegetables, like jack fruit, that bleed on cutting and when cooked look like meat. Vegetables like cabbage are peeled layer by layer, each leaf cleaned and washed before cutting and cooking, in case there are insects and worms in between the leaves. Similarly, leafy vegetables must be cleaned well before consumption.
Food should be ecological, evolutionary and ethical. Jainism scores 100 percent when it comes to ethics regarding food - Dr. Vijaya Venkat
Source : From "Vardhaman" A Book On Jainism, Published by Bennett Coleman & Co. Ltd.