Food is one of the basic needs of a living organism. A good portion of one's life is devoted to fulfillment of this need through acquiring, preparing, eating and digesting food.
Besides being a physiological necessity for human beings, food also assumes importance on an emotional level. As one grows, food becomes a vehicle for social interactions. Most societies have elaborate etiquette related to eating and sharing food. These customs express a society's attitude towards food.
|Naivedya Arpan in ISKCON|
|Villagers offering food to Gomaatha(cow)|
|Chinese New Year Food Offering|
|Naivedyam on Ganesh Chathurthi|
|Naivedyam to family Deity|
In the Vedic culture, food is considered to be sacred. In traditional homes, the preparation of food is carried out with a prayerful attitude. Before cooking begins, the lady of the house takes a bath and sanctifies the hearth. Then alone is the ritual of cooking considered kosher. The food is never tasted during cooking.
Once the cooking is completed, it is offered to the Lord at the altar in one's home. Only then it is looked upon as prasaadam and received with gratitude.
Food is always handled with respect and is never discarded. The attitude towards food and the customs associated with it emphasise the daily reminder of the Lord's grace in one's life.
Food is perceived, not merely as nourishment for the physical body, but also as serving one's inner growth. The scriptures classify food into three types : Sattvic, Rajasic and Tamasic.
Sattvic foods include rice, wheat, milk, fruits and vegetables. Food is considered sattvic when it isacquired by rightful means, cooked with prayerful attitude and served after being offered to the Lord. Such food alone is considered conducive to gaining the contemplative disposition necessary for self-knowledge.
Tamasic foods evoke lethargy and dullness. Tamasic foods include fermented foods and leftovers. One who is committed to a contemplative life abstains from eating rajasic and tamasic foods as well as foods which are not cooked at home. Unlike in Western society, 'eating out' is not a common practice in traditional Indian homes.
The quantity of food eaten must be in keeping with one's age and stage of life. The regulation of food intake helps bring about awareness and discipline in one's day-to-day living. Indian dharma saastra prescribes specific customs and disciplines in consuming food. A verse from Chaandogya Upanishad states "A Sannyaasi(sage) has to limit his food to eight mouthfuls; a Vaanaprastha (a Hindu monk) to sixteen mouthfuls; and a Grihastha ( a householder) to thirty two; where as a Brahmachaari( a student) can eat as much as he desires."
A well known saying in Hindi is, " daane daane pe likha hai khane vale ka naam: - on every grain is written the name of the one who is destined to eat it. As with other gains, the gain of food not only involves effort, but also an element of chance, which may be understood as grace. The food one receives is indeed a result of the Lord's grace and there food has always been revered in the Vedic culture.