Wednesday, September 23, 2009

CONTROL OF THE PALATE


During a recent visit to a high school in Arlington, Virginia, President Obama was asked to name the one person, living or dead, with whom he would choose to dine if given the opportunity. He quickly responded by naming Mahatma Gandhi, the renowned spiritual and political leader of India who was assassinated in 1948. Obama noted that the meal would probably be a small one, as Gandhi was known not to eat very much.

This comment by the president intrigued me, and caused me to look further into the dietary philosophy of Gandhi. A strict vegetarian, he was initially trained as a barrister in London. (The great ones are always lawyers, aren't they?) In later years, he wrote about the importance of establishing complete "control of the palate." Gandhi advocated the idea of having a common kitchen "with acceptable food of which we may take only a limited quantity with contented and thankful mind."

In Yeravda Mandir, Gandhi made the following observations about dietary self-discipline and overcoming the natural tendency toward overeating:

--"We must not be thinking of food all the twenty-four hours of the day...We must resolutely set our faces against mere indulgence."

--"Most of us, instead of keeping the organs of sense under control, become their slaves...The body is injured every time that one overeats, and the injury can be partially repaired only by fasting."

--"Food has to be taken as we take medicine, that is, without thinking whether it is palatable or otherwise, and only in quantities limited to the needs of the body."

--"Parents, out of false affection, give their children a variety of foods, ruin their constitution, and create in them artificial tastes. When they grow up, they have diseased bodies and perverted tastes. The evil consequences of this early indulgence dog us at every step; we waste much money and fall an easy prey to the medicine man."

--"We have to give up many things that we have been enjoying, as they are not needed for nutrition. And one who thus gives up a multitude of eatables will acquire self-control in the natural course of things."


Thought-provoking ideas, aren't they? Gandhi penned these words about overindulgence almost eighty years ago. Imagine what he would have to say about the portions that are routinely served in our culture today, not to mention the availability of unhealthy fast food. If we believe that our bodies are temples, or if we just want to keep them healthy for as long as possible, we would be wise to remember Gandhi's advice. Like him, we should strive for control of the palate.



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15 Comments:

Blogger white rabbit said...

At the other end of the desirability for dinner compamnion scale, I once read the question 'Who would you rather have dinner with, Hitler or Stalin?'

The answer given was 'Hitler' on the ground that, though the evening would be murderously boring, you were less likely to end up literally murdered.

This is presumably on the basis that you are someone mine host found racially acceptable...

7:49 AM  
Blogger Ann Streckfus said...

Although it's an extreme that I do not recommend, I've had an interesting experience regarding food and the purpose it truly serves. I had a fall recently that caused a head injury, and as a weird sort of side issue, have lost all sense of taste and smell. It's very strange to simply eat for sustenance only.

However, I find I eat what's better for me now, and much less that I used to. I've lost 10 lbs because I don't overeat, I just eat until my hunger is abated. It makes me think that if people could learn to approach food not so much from the taste perspective, but from the nutritional aspect firstly, things would be a lot different for society, with so much less obesity and related disorders.

And it is true, starting children out with sweets and less healthy foods is like dooming them to a lifetime of poor food choices.

12:56 PM  
Blogger Meatbe said...

Ann,

I am sorry to hear about your injury and your loss of taste and smell. That sounds like an experience that would be weird and frustrating, and I hope that those senses come back for you at some point...Thanks for sharing the insight gained from your unique perspective.

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