What the Baha’i teachings say about food somehow makes perfect sense to me, even without knowing enough about the science of nutrition.
When studying the wise counsel about what to eat in the Baha’i writings, my “gut” feeling says, Yes, this is the way to eat! When an early Baha’i asked Abdu’l-Baha: “What will be the food of the future?” he said:
Fruit and grains. The time will come when meat will no longer be eaten. Medical science is only in its infancy, yet it has shown that our natural diet is that which grows out of the ground. The people will gradually develop up to the condition of this natural food. – quoted by Julia Grundy, Ten Days in the Light of Akka, pp. 8-9.
This is the time of year that we typically review our habits and resolve to make changes for the good, so I researched statistics about the most popular New Year’s Resolution. Guess what’s number one, again? Yes, that’s right: “Losing weight and healthier eating.”
Food certainly does not seem to be a very spiritual subject; in fact, it seems to be the opposite. Our diets today seem mostly related to our physical appearance, and how we look is often largely related to how we feel and how attractive we may be to others. I for one don’t think often enough about nourishing my body in such a way that will help me serve, work and meet responsibilities more efficiently. The Baha’i teachings inspire us to change that dynamic:
Looking after one’s health is done with two intentions. Man may take good care of his body for the purpose of satisfying his personal wishes. Or, he may look after his health with the good intention of serving humanity and of living long enough to perform his duty toward mankind. The latter is most commendable. – Abdu’l-Baha, Star of the West, Volume 5, p. 231.
In 400 B.C. Hippocrates wrote about the relationship between health and food when he said, “Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food.” In 1513, the Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon searched for the Fountain of Youth (…oops, he found Florida instead). Food and its relationship to our health is an age-old subject, and still a primary concern for everyone. As foragers of food we may have eaten more organically in the past, before processed and fast foods became so easily available. But today, new guidance from the Baha’i writings suggests that there is a link between food and our spiritual potential:
Between material things and spiritual things there is a connection. The more healthful his body the greater will be the power of the spirit of man. – Ibid.
How can we approach food from a spiritual vantage point, and reap the physical benefits of productivity at the same time?
Many of us intellectually understand that moving towards healthier eating will not only help us individually, collectively, environmentally, and economically—but will also move us and our societies into a healthier future on all accounts. Yet we still find it very onerous to discipline ourselves when it comes to food.
Some of the first thoughts I wake up to in the morning are, “Oh, why did I eat that last night, I feel so lethargic now.” In searching for spiritual motivations and leaving the “appearance” incentive behind, I wanted to offer this concept of “eating for our souls” as a supreme encouragement for making better food choices this year. Feeding our bodies with mostly naturally grown food from the soil will bolster our souls as well as our bodies, so we can do better at the things we were created to accomplish in this world.
How’s that for a higher motivation over simply aspiring for a more slender, fetching frame?
Yet if these points don’t rouse enough determination to bring about a change in our food fare, here’s one more ingredient to chew over—Abdu’l-Baha wrote about foods curing diseases in the future:
At whatever time highly-skilled physicians shall have developed the healing of illnesses by means of foods, and shall make provision for simple foods, and shall prohibit humankind from living as slaves to their lustful appetites, it is certain that the incidence of chronic and diversified illnesses will abate, and the general health of all mankind will be much improved. This is destined to come about. In the same way, in the character, the conduct and the manners of men, universal modifications will be made. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 153.
Need additional compelling tips for this new soulful diet? Baha’u’llah explains how health links directly to our mental, moral and spiritual health, as well as the life of the plants and animals, and says that we’re not yet aware of the full impact of these connections. Abdu’l-Baha suggests consuming fruit, grains, legumes, nuts, oils, and vegetables; and goes on to say that human digestive tracts are different from carnivores because our longer tracts cause us to break down and absorb plant-based food more readily. Overall, the Baha’i teachings describe a simpler, more moderate style of eating, and ask us to be satisfied with one dish over complex combinations and lavish multi-course meals.
If you want to look after your health “with the good intention of serving humanity,” as Abdu’l-Baha suggests, join me in trying this new Baha’i diet—we’ll feel a new energy in body and soul.