Eating is the most universal of all human rituals. When it is breakfast time in New York, people are brunching in Rio, Lunching in Madrid, and dining in New Dehli. Throughout the world, we plan meals according to what is available, tasty, nutritious, economical, or simply easy to prepare.
But, in India’s Bhagavad-Gita, the principal text of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), another consideration is stressed – “we are what we eat.”
Albert Einstein once pointed out the important connection between our diet and the quality of our lives. Similarly, the Gita explains various types of foods and how the consumption of these foods yields different physical, psychological, and spiritual results.
Bhagavad-Gita states that milk products, grains, fruits, and vegetables increase the duration of life and provide strength, health, happiness, and satisfaction. Meat, fish, and fowl are described as “putrid, decomposed, and unclean” foods.
Numerous scientific studies prove that eating of animal flesh can be extremely hazardous to our health. For example, the National Academy of Sciences in the United States has linked meat-eating to cancer, and the American Heart Association reports evidence that a ” high saturated fat diet is an essential factor in the high incidence of coronary heart disease.”
Because it involves the slaughter of innocent animals, meat-eating also raises serious ethical and psychological questions. Playwright George Bernard Shaw wrote that when animals are killed for food “man suppresses in himself, unnecessarily, the highest spiritual capacity – that of sympathy and pity towards living creatures like himself – and by violating his own feelings, becomes cruel.”
According to the Vedas (the body of thought of which the Gita is the essential text) plants, insects, fish, fowl, beasts, and other lower than human life forms are bound by nature’s laws to eat according to their instincts. Humans, however, endowed with greater intelligence, can adopt higher spiritual principles in choosing their food. In all major religious scriptures man is enjoined to live without unnecessary killing. In both the Old and New Testaments we find the order “Thou shall not kill.” In Genesis, man is given dominion over all other creatures, but, when we study the whole range of Jesus’ teachings we find that His position clearly calls for compassion, not aggression. Buddhism completely forbids animal slaughter and killing of animals is regulated in the Koran.
The Bhagavad-Gita explains that our position in the world is unique because as human beings we can comprehend the existence of a Supreme Creator and proprietor who provides nourishment for all forms of life. The Gita teaches that God is the seed-giving father of ALL living beings.
Understanding how we are dependent on God for our food, we can express our realization and gratitude by offering our food to the Lord before eating it. This is an important spiritual principle we learn in the Gita. The act of offering food is also a vital component of self-realization.
Many vegetable foods require no killing. Furthermore, even when plants are killed they suffer much less than highly sensitive animals. Nevertheless we incur a reaction when we take any form of life. This reaction is part of karma, a subtle law of action and reaction. But Krishna, or God, explains that He frees us from any karmic reaction when He accepts vegetarian food offered to Him with love and devotion. Krishna states, “Offer Me with love and devotion a fruit, a flower, a leaf, or water, and I will accept it.” (Bg. 9.26)
In what has been called “liberated vegetarianism,” ISKCON members worldwide artfully combine rice, vegetables, cheeses, yogurt, fruits, nuts, and spices to produce nourishing and tasty dishes; karma-free, this spiritualized food (prasadam) is deliciously satisfying. ISKCON gourmet vegetarian meals are available to the public in over 200 cities throughout the world at ISKCON’s famous Sunday festivals. ISKCON also operates over forty full service restaurants in the Americas, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and Asia.