We should eat to live and work, Gandhiji felt earnestly. As in all other aspects, Gandhiji used a minimalistic approach to diet intake too. He propagated that we should consider food as energy, even a medicine that is required to keep our body healthy and fit for work. Hence, we should take only that which is required, in minimum quantity. We should not eat to appease our taste buds.
Gandhiji was a strict vegetarian. Amongst the three types of foods; vegetarian, mixed and flesh foods, Gandhiji practiced and professed vegetarianism. Although he had vowed not to take milk, he was compelled to add goat milk to his diet to recover from a serious ailment. This practice, he continued later in life. However, in principle, Gandhiji considered milk as nonvegetarian diet. Apart from his moral and ethical rationale that man has no right to any other milk than mother’s milk, he maintained that milk was also an unhygienic product. Coming out from an animal’s body which was likely to be infected, one is at a serious risk of incurring those infections and diseases by consuming animal milk. Gandhiji also equated milk with meat, and hence classified it as nonvegetarian item.
Regarding what has come to be known as eggitarianism, which is a middle path between vegetarianism and nonvegetarianism, Gandhiji did not consider eggs as nonvegetarian. However, he was ethically opposed to consuming eggs, since they are unborn babies, and eating them would amount to killing a baby in the womb. Even poultry eggs, which are sterilised and hence can’t produce chicks, were against Gandhiji’s ethics. This was mainly because of the genetic alteration that was required to produce sterilised eggs, and this was considered as against the natural law by Gandhiji.
Drinks were a part of Gandhiji’s broader perception of diet. He favoured nourishing and nonviolent drinks like juices and squashes, but was against all brews including tea and coffee, which temporarily stimulated the reflexes. Asto intoxicating drinks and substances, Gandhiji considered them not only harmful to the body but a social malice too.
From a spiritual perspective also, Gandhiji considered flesh food, mixed diet and intoxicating drinks abhorrent, because they acted as deterrents to man’s inner purification and spiritual evolution. He equated chastity of soul with chastity of food, and wrote in India’s Case for Swaraj, in 1932, “I do feel that spiritual progress does demand at some stage that we should cease to kill our fellowcreatures for our bodily wants. The beautiful lines of Goldsmith occur to me as I tell you of my vegetarian fad:
• No flocks that range the valley free
• To slaughter I condemn
• Taught by the power that pities me
• I learn to pity them
Any seeker of spiritual advancement should use vegetarian food as a means and not an end; this is what Gandhiji felt earnestly. He reasoned that while one may abhor meat and tea and coffee, he may still be impure at heart, thus defeating the fundamental motive of purification of heart and soul through such diet. On the other hand, a meat eater can be pious and pure, and hence be nearer to awakening and enlightenment than the pretentious practitioner of pure diet. The essence, according to Gandhiji, was to actively pursue inner purification, and use the right dietary habits as a means to this end. Food, as such, should not be for healthy body alone but for pure heart and soul too.
Gandhiji also favoured uncooked food, especially from the vegetable kingdom. It retained more nutritional value, and eating uncooked food was less violent too.
Gandhiji was inculcated to vegetarianism at an early stage, before leaving for England for Law study. His mother Putlibai had administered an oath to Gandhiji not to touch meat. However, he did not hold firm ideological or moralethical beliefs on the subject at that time. His attachment with vegetarianism started with his reading of the book A Plea for Vegetarianism by Henry Salt. Later, he undertook various dietary experiments, which helped him concretise his views on diet and its purpose in life.