Admittedly, my husband and I are longstanding carnivores—probably because, for us, nothing quite compares to a good cheeseburger!
Lately, however, we’ve been watching documentaries on the links between nutrition, diabetes and cardiovascular disease (CVDs). According to the World Health Organization, CVDs are the world’s number one cause of death, taking almost 18 million lives in 2015, or almost a third of all deaths globally.
Given both a greater awareness about personal and planetary health–and an effort to bring down my own cholesterol levels–we’ve tried a mostly vegetarian diet for the past couple of weeks. I’m never going to be a big fan of tofu, but we have felt less hungry and less “weighed down” as a result of eliminating most meats and dairy from our diet, and instead focusing on fruits, vegetables and grains.
This personal experiment prompted me to think more about food addictions, what roles they play in our society, the difference between living to eat and eating to live, and what the Baha’i writings have to say on this topic.
The killing of animals and the eating of their meat is somewhat contrary to pity and compassion, and if one can content oneself with cereals, fruit, oil and nuts … it would undoubtedly be better and more pleasing. – from a tablet written to an individual Baha’i.
What will be the food of the future? 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. – Ten Days in the Light of Akka, pp. 8-9.
I think moderation is an important watchword in the Baha’i Faith, with respect to the topic of food and many others. So, in our case, we don’t plan to go completely vegan. But, a little reflection on what moderate food consumption looks like seems both important and vital to health–especially when modern societies are flooded with messages of greed and gluttony.
There are some important passages on this theme in the Baha’i writings:
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. – Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 156.
If humankind were free from the defilements of sin and waywardness, and lived according to a natural, inborn equilibrium, without following wherever their passions led, it is undeniable that diseases would no longer take the ascendant, nor diversify with such intensity. But man hath perversely continued to serve his lustful appetites, and he would not content himself with simple foods. Rather, he prepared for himself food that was compounded of many ingredients, of substances differing one from the other. With this, and with the perpetrating of vile and ignoble acts, his attention was engrossed, and he abandoned the temperance and moderation of a natural way of life. The result was the engendering of diseases both violent and diverse. – Ibid., p. 152.
Medicine has advanced tremendously, and sometimes surgery is necessary. Still, I often wonder if, in the future, medical practices in our time will be viewed as bordering on the barbaric, e.g. cutting people up, pumping them full of drugs, and/or zapping them with radiation.
Alternatively, an important theme in the Baha’i writings focuses on maintaining balance and equilibrium–physically and spiritually–as well as on treating disease through diet. Although it was written in 1870 and reflects medical practices in the East at that time, Baha’u’llah’s “Tablet to a Physician” offers some fascinating insights into dietary practices. I pulled out a few takeaways that, to me, emphasized moderation in our relationship with food:
O People, do not eat except when you are hungry. Do not drink after you have retired to sleep.
If two diametrically opposite foods are put on the table, do not mix them. Be content with one of them. Take first the liquid food before partaking of solid food.
That which is difficult to masticate is forbidden by the wise.
And, finally, one general piece of advice we can all benefit from:
Avoid all harmful habits: they cause unhappiness in the world.