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Region 3 - Young Adult Programme: Food Session

I am very grateful to Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba for giving me the opportunity to participate in the Region 3 YAP, held on Saturday 30th September 2014, in Woodford Green. It was a wonderful experience to be among conscious, young aspirants, who led and participated in study circle. As we grow and develop on the spiritual path, our consciousness expands; we are presented with opportunities to express this in all aspects of our lives from how we spend our time (Sadhana) to making value based choices at work or just simply how to conduct ourselves in society.

This study circle was a stimulus for me to analyse my awareness around a simple activity which I have been doing since the day I was born: eating. Previously, I had never sat down to contemplate on this question; (most) fellow youth present (from Luton, Walthamstow, Manor Park and Thurrock Sai Centres) shared that they had a joyous relationship with food, for which they owed great debt and gratitude towards their physical mothers; but it became clear that our mind has an influence on our eating behaviours. Until a few years ago, I was simply too busy to even give a thought towards where my food came from or how the ingredients were produced; as a vegetarian, I was simply content that nothing was slaughtered before it ended up on my plate and if I wanted to be healthier, I would simply select the “low fat” versions of what I wanted to eat from the local supermarket!

Another question which does not usually feature in a lot of discussions on healthy eating was: how we (actually) eat our food? Swami looks for purity of heart behind any of our actions and here was another opportunity to practise this. If our mind is in the “present” and focused when we are eating, (as opposed to thinking of what we have done or what we are going to do during meal times), we benefit from the energy of the satwic diet much more.

Much is known about energy of the physical body, so next, we were invited to look at the role of energy within our subtle bodies called “nadis”. These nadis are channels which carry the life force energy, AKA “prana” or in Chinese tradition “Chi/qi”. Activities within the subtle body, which we cannot see, have a heavy influence on the functioning of our physical body and its systems. It then goes without saying that if we eat foods which have higher levels of “prana,” this will enable our subtle body to function better, resulting in better health of the physical body.

“What determines the levels of prana in food?” This is a very complex issue, but put simply, the levels of natural sunlight a plant receives in growth and to produce food affects its prana levels. Where vegetables and fruit are mass produced under artificial conditions for the sake of catering towards huge demand, we have to question the quality of what we are eating. What levels of prana does it have? Does it have adequate levels of nutrition that our body needs? An interesting fact was thrown out: a single orange eaten at the time of our grandparents, is nutritionally equivalent to eating 8 oranges in the present; if this fact is taken to be true, this says a lot about the diminishing nutritional content of our food in general.

The freshness of food was also discussed, for example did you know that it is normal practice to store apples for more than six months in warehouses before being sold? The sooner one eats food after it has been harvested, the better it is for our health as the level of prana and nutrition has not had a chance to diminish over time. Bearing this in mind, it therefore becomes an added incentive to invest time and effort into growing our own food. By Divine will, we are fortunate that many local councils in the UK have set up schemes to encourage people to do grow their own!

Our next best option is to obtain food high in nutrient and prana, If we cannot grow our own, we could choose to participate in local box schemes. The companies which put these boxes together, source local, organic produce which can be delivered directly to your door, mostly for free or with a nominal charge. These food boxes are likely to have higher levels of prana than food that has travelled thousands of miles as they are much fresher and since they are organic, we are not ingesting any unnecessary chemicals from the use of pesticides; in addition, their low carbon footprint shows our veneration and respect towards Mother Earth.

In today’s world, where humans are constantly tempted by the five senses through advertisements in the media, can we control our urge and appetite for fast foods? From this, I now consider processed and fast foods to be the last resort, given that they are probably devoid of any prana and contain very little nutrition. Furthermore, processed foods contain preservatives which some studies have shown to have dangerous effects on the behaviour and mental wellbeing of adults and children. With regards to processed foods, I now know that the fewer chemicals it contains, the better it is for health.

After discussing the consequences of industrial farming of fruit and vegetables, our attention was turned towards to mass production of milk. The health and ethical advantages of a vegan diet were discussed. It was highlighted that we are the only species on Earth to consume milk from another animal. Unlike in the times of Lord Krishna, cows in the West and increasingly in the East too, are treated inhumanely; they undergo artificial insemination, suffer trauma through having their calves taken away as soon as they’re born and they’re unable to walk with the weight of their udders containing 40 per cent more milk than they could naturally produce. As a result of continuous maltreatment, a huge amount of pus is also produced, compromising the quality of the milk.

As we grow in consciousness, and strive to feel unity with all creation, can we continue to support the silent suffering of these poor animals? On reflecting upon the act of eating with open eyes, I now realise that the developing world face very different issues to those in developed countries. In the developing world, some people barely have enough to eat; on the other hand, we have the opposite problem – there is so much choice available, yet we have so many diseases and ailments emerging from our inability to select wisely.

At the end of the day, we are free to make our own choices, yet are we willing to embrace consequences of eating poorer quality foods? Can we make that change to buy organic, local and fair-trade products if we are not growing our own? In our growing awareness of “being” and oneness with all of creation, these are some very pertinent questions which we need to ask ourselves each time we make choices about the food we eat.

Region 3 Sai Youth
P. Kapil Dev and AG