Does Ayurveda propose vegetarianism and a vegeterian diet for all?
Many modern Ayuvedic physicians, especially those teaching in Europe and the West, espouse lacto-vegeterianism as the ideal diet for everyone. But is this an accurate reflection of the Ayurvedic texts and of Ayurvedic medicine in history?
In fact, the modern idea of vegetarian diet and vegeterianism as the ideal in Ayurvedic medicine betrays a number of influences, ranging from the respect in India for all things foreign that is the result of colonialism and feelings of inferiority (indeed the popularity of Ayurveda in the west as led to an upsurge of interest in India, where as little as 20 years ago it had fallen into a position of very low respect) in which British, French, and German Naturopathic and Natural Hygeine vegeterianism had a great influence (even today there is a split in India between traditional Ayurvedic Vaidhyas and those who mix and match a hodgepodge of western medicine, naturopathy), and in earlier periods the influence of Yoga philosophy, of Jainism and Buddhist and their notions of Ahimsa, or harmlessness which in turn influenced the high caste Hindu Brahmins who have formed the core of the modern practitioners who brought Ayurveda to the west.
Ayurveda does not historically promote vegetarianism for all Doshas, or bodymind types. Moreover, all other arguments aside, humans have been eating the cooked flesh of animals for at least 300,000 years….(See: A newly discovered hearth full of ash and charred bone in a cave in modern-day Israel hints that early humans sat around fires as early as 300,000 years ago — before Homo sapiens arose in Africa.) There may be religious, ethical, and/or ecological reasons against the consumption of flesh foods, but any argument about flesh being somehow unhealthy or unnatural for human beings to eat, to me fly fast in the gale winds of nature and history.
But a vegeterian diet is exactly the worst choice for weak, cold, ungrounded Vata, and it says so in the Ayurvedic classics, such as the Charaka Samhita, (quotes to follow on next post)which details the medicinal use of flesh foods of all types and for all doshas. The problem in the west is often one of extremes. Just because people OVEREAT poor quality meat and junk food, doesn’t mean you should never eat high quality meat. If you need flesh food to be healthy for your body-mind type Dosha, or for your weakened condition of any dosha, don’t feel guilty, enjoy it, eat it with moderation, don’t use it as a crutch or as a glutton, and by crutch i mean there are many ways to build energy in addition to meat, prepare it in a way that matches your Dosha, in a manner that promotes digestion, and be sure to find pasture raised flesh foods and wild caught or ethically farmed fish.
I am tired of the argument that organic or pastured meat is “too expensive.” I think cheap factory farmed meat is too expensive. To expensive for society in terms of the overall health costs, and too expensive for the individual. Be careful what you put in your body. Diseased, hormone filled, factory farmed food is going to cost you in the long run, and the short run its going to taste dreadful compared to a pasture grazed animal. Cheap factory farmed animal food encourages overconsumption of meat. Isnt it better to buy 1 pasture raised chicken a month at $18, and find 5 different ways to prepare it, including in the end making stock from the bones, than to have factory farmed chicken twice a week?
Because if there is one thing that Ayurveda and Chinese medicine agree upon regarding food, is that the essence of a healthy diet is in the freshness. Freshly picked ripened on the tree fruit, not fruit picked green and shipped from halfway around the world, for example (which is why I rarely eat fruit out of season or not grown locally, and i say rarely, not never, that is very hard, esp if you live in the North), like raspberries and watermelon in the dead of cold winter. Those raspberries are never sweet; the may be high in antioxidants (though I wonder compared to ripe picked ones in season), but they are low in Qi and Prana, and actually are considered to cause digestive toxins/Ama in Ayurveda and food stagnation in Chinese Medicine.
The same holds true for factory farmed flesh foods. Smell the difference. Splurge on a ‘bronze” chicken at Whole Foods Market; these are a variety of chicken that is completely pastured. First, it has no bad odor at all. Zero. Smells incredibly fresh. Two, the skin pulls right off, because it was never soaked in water or crushed against other birds, and its fresh. Three, the bones are so strong you can’t cut through them easily, and also, the legs are large and the breasts small, b/c these birds are out in the sun working for their food, walking around the yard.
Same thing with the pastured eggs. First thing you notice is how hard the shells are. Etc.
to be continued next week.