I’ve always had a distaste for food. I mean the word “food”. It just seems that something so essentially vital to our sustenance, so much a part of our daily lives, would have a more dignified nomenclature than fooood. Food sounds so animalistic. Indeed, the origins of the word are animalistic.
According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word goes back to the pre-Germanic (gothic) word fodeins, and the root of this word fod, which meant something like "to tend, keep, pasture, to protect."
Yuck! The word food conjures up in my mind images of pushing and bumping other sheep as we compete for fodder in the farm yard trough. Unfortunately for both you and I, what passes as food today is not much better for human consumption than the fodder in the trough, and is probably appropriately labeled “Junk Food”.
Back in 2004 UC Berkeley News reported the findings of a study which investigated US dietary consumption. Sarah Yang reported:
Nearly one-third of the calories in the US diet come from junk food, researcher finds
A new analysis of the foods Americans eat finds that sugary snacks and sodas reign supreme over healthier options such as vegetables and fruit.
Gladys Block, professor of epidemiology and public health nutrition at the University of California, Berkeley, has quantified the types of foods the United States population eats and ranked them by the amount of calories they contribute.
Her findings, published in the June issue of the Journal of Food Composition and Analysis, reveal that three food groups - sweets and desserts, soft drinks and alcoholic beverages - comprise almost 25 percent of all calories consumed by Americans. Salty snacks and fruit-flavored drinks make up another five percent, bringing the total energy contributed by nutrient-poor foods to at least 30 percent of the total calorie intake.
"What is really alarming is the major contribution of 'empty calories' in the American diet," said Block. "We know people are eating a lot of junk food, but to have almost one-third of Americans' calories coming from those categories is a shocker. It's no wonder there's an obesity epidemic in this country."
And, eating habits are getting worse. On October 1, 2010 the ABC News Medical Unit reported on research from the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, MD. Kim Carollo reported:
Junk Food Nearly Half of Kids' Calorie Intake
Researchers from the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Md. analyzed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and found that nearly 40 percent of calories consumbed by children ages 2 to 18 were empty calories, the unhealthiest kind of calories.
Half of these calories came from just six foods:
Sugary fruit drinks
Grain desserts, such as cake, cookies and donuts
Dairy desserts such as ice cream
Whole milk, which is far fattier than skim.
"Consumption of empty calories far exceeded the corresponding discretionary calorie allowance for all sex–age groups," wrote the researchers, led by nutritionist Jill Reedy.
"This number is staggering and depressing," said Kelly Brownell, professor of psychology, epidemiology and public health at Yale University.
So, who’s to blame and how are we going to turn this trend around before we become too overweight to care? We could condemn profit orientated food manufacturers, inept government controls, or negligent parents. But, maybe the real enemy hides in our conceptions of the word “food” itself. Maybe the word just doesn’t generate enough respect in our minds to change our patterns of self ruination. Maybe we need a change in our consciousness as it relates to eating.
Food and consciousness are closely linked, each having a great influence on the other. In a 1990 interview entitled “The Spirit of Cooking” Ayurvedic practitioner and author Harish Johari described this relationship of food and consciousness according to the ancient Indian tradition:
“Food is the first essential part of our life. The first stage of realization of the nature of reality involves understanding our relationship with food.
Without food, prana (breath) will not work, nor manas (mind), nor jnana (intelligence). Psychic make-up depends upon body chemistry and body chemistry is directly influenced by food input. Food is not just fuel for our bodies - it is as much alive as we are.
Food is also a medium through which one person's feelings can be transferred to another. In our country we say that food prepared by one's mother can satisfy the child more than the same food prepared by another. Certain foods will create a particular consciousness and another's consciousness can be transferred through prepared food. The body has both the physiological side and the emotional side and food affects both.”
Food as a medium for social interaction is not some mystery from the East that is foreign to Western man. Hare Krishna Movement Founder Srila Prabhupada describes the exchange of love and business that take place millions of times daily when people “break bread” together at restaurants and private homes around the world:
“Even in ordinary social activities, these six types of dealings between two loving friends are absolutely necessary. For instance, when one businessman wishes to contact another businessman he arranges a feast in a hotel, and over the feast openly expresses what he wishes to do. He then inquires from his business friend how he should act, and sometimes presents are exchanged. Thus whenever there is a dealing of préti, or love in intimate dealings, these six activities are executed.” (Nectar of Instruction, Verse 4 Purport)
Exchanges of food help consummate our relationships.
Eating actually gets better as our consciousness develops. Food becomes a vehicle for an individual’s spiritual development. With spiritual development we leave behind the struggles for food experienced at the trough, we leave behind all the health troubles associated with the fodder conception s of food, we even leave behind the word food itself. Food becomes Krishna Prasadam.
Author and Krishna devotee Stephen Knapp explains:
On the spiritual path, those who are most inclined to lead a peaceful existence that respects the value of all life often adopt the vegetarian lifestyle. It is in accordance with the yogic principle of ahimsa, which is to observe nonviolence and abstain from injuring any being in any way. However, in the process of bhakti-yoga, devotion goes beyond simple vegetarianism, and food becomes a method of spiritual progress. In the Krishna temples, food is offered to the Deities in a special sacrament, after which it becomes prasadam. This means the mercy of the Lord. Thus, the food we eat after it is offered to the Lord becomes a means for our purification and spiritual development.
Devotional service or Krishna consciousness is often described as a process of singing, dancing and feasting. But the feasting is done with spiritual food, Krishna prasadam.
The Lord also describes what He accepts as offerings: “If one offers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, fruit or water, I will accept it.” Thus, we can see that the Lord does not need anything, but if one offers fruits, grains, and vegetarian foods, He will accept it. The Lord does not accept foods like meat, fish or eggs, but only those that are pure and naturally available without harming others. The ingredients are selected with great care and must be fresh, clean and pure vegetarian.
Relishing the sacred food of Krishna prasadam purifies our heart and protects us from falling into illusion. In this way, the devotee imbibes the spiritual potency of Lord Krishna and becomes cleansed of sinful reactions by eating food that is first offered in sacrifice to God. We thus also become free from reincarnation, the continued cycle of life and death. This process prepares us for entering the spiritual world since the devotees there also relish eating in the company of Krishna.
This consciousness of “food” as mercy and eating as a reciprocation of love is really liberating. It’s much better than feeling like a kept animal. You feel better about yourself and are more willing to make healthy choices at meal time.
Krishna Prasadam is a rare culinary delight, enlivening to the palate and enlightening to the soul.