Beginner’s practice guide on food culture in India
- Why Food?
- Prerequisites of Food Culture – How to eat?
- How much to eat – The Food Quantity
- Food Culture at Places
For us Indians everything is Holy and God. That includes animals, people, plants, knowledge, tools, etc. Food joins the queue and is on par with Knowledge and Wealth. Food is revered as goddess Annapurneshwari, who is a part of Parvati, the Shakti God. Let us find out what makes us Indians feel this way. Why this holistic approach in everything we do, especially food?
आकाशाद्वायुः। वायोरग्निः। अग्नेरापः। अद्भ्यः पृथिवी। पृथिव्या ओषधयः। ओषधीभ्योन्नम्। अन्नात् पुरुषः।
The above shloka is from Taittiriya Upanishad. It starts with a beautiful conversation between Guru and his Shishya. This conversation is in the form of questions by the Guru and answers by the Shishya, where the Guru asks the pupil to find out what it is that is the most important part of human life. While in search, the pupil figures out how life works and what is the ultimate goal of every living being. The continuation of those verses is Brahmanandavalli, which talks about how we came into existence.
From Brahma came the ether (which enables the hearing senses), from ether came air (which enables us to hear and feel), from the air, fire (which enables hearing, feeling and viewing), from fire, water (which enables us to hear, feel, see, and taste), from water, earth (which enables us to hear, feel, see, taste, and smell). This is one part of the cosmos and through cosmos how we were born goes like this. From earth herbs, from herbs food, from food man. Man thus consists of the essence of food. So essentially we are made out of food.
So, if food is so important, then the culture behind it makes us who we are. We need to ask ourselves these questions in order to know more about the food culture that we have been following for ages.
Knowing why! would be one of the most significant questions. We can evaluate the rest of the questions once we figure out an answer to this basic question. From where we arrive in the previous shloka, we are clear that we are made of the food that we consume. In addition to that, one more important attribute that adds to why we eat is Hunger. This is a natural process among living beings that initiates growth and maintains the body.
Since the body contains many internal organs that contribute to one or the other function in our body, our food should be supportive of all such organs. Anyone of the organs even partially not working induces disease in us and trouble us. By taking preventive measures, we will be avoiding such diseases.
On a subtler level, there are auras and chakras that we should take care of. This is when we should be taking care of our body at an astral level, eating food that induces energy and not that which makes us feel exhausted.
Prerequisites of Food Culture – How to eat?
There have been ample discussions on how important the prerequisites are when it comes to consuming food, the culture behind eating. Postures decide the process of digestion.
In any holistic approach, prominence is always given to subtler aspects. Let us follow this step by step process assuming that we are consuming food.
- Wash your hands and legs before entering the place of eating. Use herbal soaps as far as possible
- Use a biodegradable or the below-mentioned materials as plates
- Sit down in the lotus posture and keep your backbone erect
- Once all the ingredients are served, pray. This brings all your excited and stressed senses to its calm
- Have a few drops of water to enable salivary glands. Otherwise no drinking water before or after an hour of consumption
- Concentrate on food and talk as less as possible
- Don’t indulge yourself in any distractions like reading books, watching television or getting distracted by electronic devices
- Don’t eat too slowly or too fast
- Chew as much as required. The saliva should be enabled because this saliva acts as a catalyst. More the saliva, while you eat the better, will be the digestion process.
- Eat consciously and be aware of what you are eating
- Thank the people who helped you consume the food directly or indirectly
- Wash the plates or throw the leaf in a designated place
The normal human tendency is to make excuses for something that does not directly impact us. The physical postures belong to one such case.
- The best posture to eat is to sit on the floor in the lotus posture. This posture limits us from consuming more food. Moreover, it enables digestion by keeping the stomach in its best position
- Our chewing position should have our backbones resting straight or erected.
- We should as far as possible get up without taking support from our hands, proving to ourselves that we have not overeaten
- The digestion process begins in the mouth. The more exercise we give the teeth, the better the griding work on the food that it processes further
- The posture that helps in digestion, post-consumption of food is Vajrasana, which is the only Yogasana that is considered safe after food
- It is advisable not to lie down immediately after consuming food. The longer the duration the better. Even the posture of lying down should be on the back and never on the tummy, you see postures matter!
When we consume food, a part of the cookware used will add both to the taste and health. So, we can imagine, how many new diseases might be an outcome of our daily habits of using wrong utensils.
The materials used in cooking can be of several categories
Clay has been existing in the Indian cookware for a very long time. The cook prepared is tastier and is a lot healthier than when compared to modern cookware. The food that is cooked from the porosity and insulation properties that these clay pots have naturally, causes heat and moisture to circulate throughout the clay pots. This might take additional time to cook the dishes, but it prevents newbies from burning the dishes prepared. Clay can be used in the following places of the kitchen
On the other hand, wood was also used, though not as extensive as the clay pots. Wood cookware should be mainly used as spoons to serve and eat. Wooden:
- Will not scratch even when it is rubbed on a metal
- They are bad conductors of heat, so they don’t allow heat to transfer
- They are inert materials in the sense that they are non-reactive to any substance. They do not react with any of the chemicals or acids
- They can be used as easy grips and will not be as sharp as metals. It feels comfortable to hold them
- The design that wood carries along with polish will look elegant
- It has long durability and will not be affected much by the environment like rust, etc.
The most suitable material for grinding anything. There is a noticeable change in the taste of ground and cooked food when the stone is replaced. I have specifically tested Idlies and Dosas ground using stones that will be extremely soft when they are steamed or shallow fried. At the same time, the one that is ground using the sharp edges of a steel blade will be almost as hard as a stone.
- Stone’s taste added to the recipes when used in grinding is incomparable
- Stone is heavy enough to make a thin paste from what it encounters
- The wet grinding process using the stone adds a different kind of softness to the batter, probably enabling fermentation better
There are several metal elements that have to be a part apart from what is being used in a modern kitchen. Among them, Brass and Iron are the best. Iron is used extensively in the manufacturing of Tawas to prepare chapatis and dosas. Cast-Iron has become the order of the day. Thanks to the conscious lot that wants to go back to their roots. Some of the metals used in our daily cooking are:
- Brass in preparing the coffee decoction
- Copper for drinking water
- Cast iron as Tawa
- Silver plates and spoon
Benefits of Metal usage
Ayurveda has endorsed the usage of ashes of metals called Bhasma. The same knowledge and legacy were thrown into the cookware.
- Copper – reduces weight gain, coughs, and congestion
- Silver – reduces inflammation and cools us down
- Brass – increases strength and immunity
- Bronze – dry skin, nervous temperament
- Gold – improves in overall rejuvenation
Please read more about utensils and cookware in this article.
How much to eat – The Food Quantity
In the modern system, everything works on numbers and people are too happy about it. In urban cities after the advent of the metro train, new units called minutes and seconds of time have come into practice. Well, such is the power of numbers. Similarly, calories have played an important role in suggesting to us how much to eat. These are all hardly experimented.
In the ancient system, things were kept simple. It is said in Ayurveda about the quantity of food to be consumed. Each individual is given a different gift. The same holds good for tummies. It does not matter how skinny or how fat a person is. A skinny person might consume more food than that of a fat person and be healthy. This totally depends on the metabolism of each individual, the fire that helps digest food.
An individual has to eat fifty percent of the total consumption of the tummy. Of the remaining fifty percent, twenty-five percent is for water and the remaining twenty-five percent should be empty. This empty space is for the movement of the food.
Factors affecting Food Culture
Again, as opposed to what modern systems say, the biggest meal according to Ayurveda is lunch. This is when the fire in the stomach will be on par with the fire of the cosmos, i.e. the sun. The best time to have lunch is when the sun is at its peak, enabling the digestion process and activating the metabolism.
The environmental factors include our reaction to the Panchabhutas. The air we breathe, the sun/fire we walk under, the water we drink, the whole of cosmos that contributes to our wellbeing in terms of emotions. Irrespective of what we do, our consciousness has an effect. For instance, while we cross a busy road, without being conscious, in an extremely rare case can the situation help us survive. We cannot be that lucky always, there has to be a conscious effort in not meeting with an accident.
To be in line with the environmental factors our ancient food culture and health savior Ayurveda and Upanishads have a lot to say on how to handle these situations,
- Consuming the food that our ancestors consumed. By doing this not only will we be respecting the genes that we would be inheriting from our ancestors, and also will we be consuming only what is available from the place
- By eating what is available closest to us on trees and plants, we will already be making the digestion process faster and better, and not letting our stomach suffer the pressure
- Conscious enough on climatic changes, we need to let our gut feeling choose our food for us. If you watch any animal (that is not a pet animal) eat. They, first smell the food and if they feel like having the food they will consume. This discretion, if, is possible among animals, certainly we, as human beings, should.
- Most of the natural food is not available on a particular climate if they are not good for us. But with special care and chemical fertilizers, they are grown in plenty. For instance, having “Sarson ka saag” in winter is normal. But, when the same “Saras” is grown in summer and we eat them in plenty, it will certainly invite trouble, by increasing heat in our body, causing inflammation
In continuation of the previous point, according to Ayurveda, diseases are an outcome of our own crime against wisdom, in Sanskrit Prajnaparadha.
Many times, we go against our intuition. We fall prey to our own intelligence taking over our instincts. There could be many such instances and that is what makes us worse from how we are. These things instill diseases upon us.
Some examples can shower light on this a bit more:
- We can understand that smoking is injurious to health but the crime against wisdom kills the understanding
- The tummy tells us enough, but the crime against wisdom tells our tongue to ask more of it
- Our thoughts will be clear that our talk is a big lie, but the crime against wisdom takes control of our brain to tell a blatant lie
Like this and more, the root cause of every disease is our own wisdom going against us and committing the crime.
Food Culture at Places
Every place is a divine place since god is omnipresent. Well, that does not mean that we can eat anywhere. The most important thing to keep in mind is that we should not be stressed while we eat. We should also be in a calm and composed mind devoid of toxic emotions. Not being too excited is also an important aspect of consuming food.
Consider the following best places to keep in mind before sitting down to eat
- A place that is calm and peaceful
- A place that is silent enough to stay calm throughout the consumption
- A place that is devoid of electronic gadgets
- A place from which chemicals are flushed out
- A stress-free place
The ambiance of the place should help you in being happy and comfortable throughout the process. The lighting and sound should all be apt in imbibing the right king of emotions.
Eating according to Indian Food Culture
Ayurveda iterates this sole reason being “Digestion, the root cause of all problems”. Every other disease starts with indigestion. Our food selection is vitally important for our well being. There are some simple steps to follow for our well being.
Natural food is nothing but the food that is grown organically without genetically modified ingredients. Chemicals in the form of pesticides are a common worry to keep ourselves healthy. There are a lot of organic pesticide substitutes that keep the predators away without just relying on the chemical fertilizers. Let us be as natural as possible even though it results in a few extra bucks.
As you might know that raw vegetables take extra effort from our digestion process. To avoid this, cooked vegetables and vegetable broths are the best substitutes. They help ease the digestion process by making it faster.
Aama is nothing but the toxins that get collected from indigestion. The digested food clears the digestive tracts for the coming food to get digested again. On the contrary, at times we consume food even before the digestion process is completed. This results in the production of Aama, the waste undigested food that gets collected. To avoid such things, either we should wait for the process of digestion or consume easily digestible food.
This is very very important. Each body type is unique and each body can digest some food easily while some other food with a lot of difficulties. Some food might not get digested for some causing diseases. To avoid such kind of situation, it is better to try in small quantities, if something is easily digestible. This part mostly depends on our genetics that comes via our ancestors. So, by eating food that our ancestors ate is a safe way of continuing without any experiments.
It is annoying to hear every new trend that is discovered is given a lot of importance. Remember, these trendy diets are not tested due to which they cannot be trusted. Instead, follow your intuition to come up with your own best diet and avoid such trendy diets that might spoil your digestion process.
Types of food
Ancient Indian system had classified food into three main categories.
Satwik is a word derived from Sanskrit, Satwa. Satwa is used in a lot of different contexts and is not a simple word to be explained. It can simply mean the one that is pure, essence, natural, vital, full of energy, pure, conscious, strong, true, honest, full of wisdom, the essence of life or life force. These are the easiest to digest like fruits, cooked vegetables, etc. They bring clarity and perception, with unfolding compassion and love. After having it, it gives a feeling of contentment.
These foods are that which are not available naturally. They are associated with our activities and movements. To become active, we need rajasic food. But an overdosage of rajasic food might enable restlessness and overactive mind. Moreover, this can further lead to selfishness, ego kind of negative qualities that might harm is slowly.
This is more of a kind of food that makes us dull. They have processed food with artificial flavors and sweeteners. These are the food that causes harm to our physical and mental well-being and affects our health. If we want to be healthy in life, then these kinds of food should be avoided as much as possible.
Let us not again go to what modern science has to offer us, workout and calories. Food, in Ayurveda, comprises of six tastes. Quality of food comprises all or most of the tastes that are listed below. That will be a balanced diet. Having the same taste time and again might affect us in a negative way by inducing diseases. The following are the tastes that are listed in Ayurveda and are to be consumed in a balanced way.
Above all, to sum up, analyze ancient systems in India, make wise decisions and have the right food to enjoy a healthy life.