I would like to say to the diligent reader of my writings and to others who are interested in them that I am not at all concerned with appearing to be consistent. In my search after Truth I have discarded many ideas and learnt many new things. Old as I am in age, I have no feeling that I have ceased to grow inwardly or that my growth will stop at the dissolution of the flesh. What I am concerned with is my readiness to obey the call of Truth, my God, from moment to moment, and, therefore, when anybody finds any inconsistency between any two writings of mine, if he has still faith in my sanity, he would do well to choose the later of the two on the same subject.
Health is undoubtedly of supreme importance to man, for without it, it is not possible for the average individual to develop in mind or spirit. And just as bodily health is essential for mental and spiritual development, even so nourishing food is essential for bodily health. Unless the body gets from food all that it requires to keep it in a fit condition, it will suffer from disease, prevent the individual from functioning to his full capacity and cause early death. So it is most necessary that we should become diet-conscious and should concern ourselves with feeding the body with the kind of food it requires.
Gandhiji's interest in food arises partly from his concern for those around him. When he took to public life he had a group of followers and their children living with him. He held himself responsible for their well-being. Naturally, therefore, when any of them fell ill he had to see what could be done to restore them to health. He did not wish to use drugs if he could help it, as he believed they were injurious to the human system. He was convinced that disease was due to some maladjustment in the system, and that all that was necessary to overcome it was to help nature to rectify the wrong. A fruitful way of aiding nature to do this and maintaining the body in health, he believed, was through proper diet. He therefore became involved in research on Diet.
Moreover, Hinduism had always laid great stress on the subject. Even the Bhagavadgita speaks of the various psychological effects produced by different kinds of food, and there is a rich mine of literature, tradition and folklore in India regarding dieting for health. So Gandhiji's interest in questions relating to Diet is nothing strange. It is in line with India's ancient wisdom.
Only the rest of us of today have tended to ignore the vital importance of Diet and have made of food a mere matter of habit and taste. The result is that all of us, both rich and poor, educated and illiterate, the former probably even more than the latter, suffer from the ill effects of malnutrition. We are going in for highly processed foods like polished rice, white flour, sugar and vegetable 'ghee' in the place of the more wholesome unpolished rice, wholewheat flour, gur and pure ghee. Even our cooking is faulty. We throw away the water in which rice is boiled. We fry till most of the valuable elements in the food-article have been destroyed. We do not eat enough greens, fruits or vegetables and we consume milk-sweets, tea and coffee instead of milk.
In regard to all these Gandhiji has some wise things to say. And not from mere theory or second-hand knowlege, for his ashramas were always places where he incessantly carried on experiments in Diet. He started his dietetic experiments, as a matter of fact, very early, even when he was an eighteen-year old student. The reader will find his experiments on uncooked food, recorded in Young India and included in Chapters 3 to 7 of Part I of this book, interesting not only from the dietetic point of view but also as revealing the eager scientific mind which he brought to bear on the subject. Ever since, he has been carrying on experiments on Diet. He has experimented with ovens, vessels for cooking, quantity of water to be used, steaming, boiling, baking determining what ingredients are to be used or avoided in cooking, various ways of making bread, manufacture of jams and murabbas out of fruits and orange-skins which might otherwise be wasted or thrown away, use of green leaves as salads, preparing dishes out of oilcake and Soya Beans, combining various articles to constitute a balanced diet, and making up of suitable diets for invalids and convalescents. He had the weights of his ashramites recorded regularly and observed carefully the effects on them of changes introduced in their diet. He took nothing for granted. His experiments were conducted with a view to finding out the most wholesome food and the wisest way of preparing it, all the time keeping in mind the poverty of our people and their slender resources.
The aim of this book is to bring together Gandhiji's writings on the subject in his weeklies, the Young India and the Harijan. As Gandhiji himself could not give exclusive attention to a study of this subject, he obtained the help of experts in the field. Their opinion and the writings of others interested in the topic were published in the Harijan. Gandhiji's writings are included in Part 1 of this book, and those of others in Part II. For the convenience of the reader the matter has been arranged topically, so that from a mere glance at the table of Contents a person may be able to pick out readily what he is seeking. In some cases the titles of the articles have been changed, and only relevant portions and not the entire reproduced.
Much research requires still to be carried on, both in laboratories and in homes, on matters pertaining to Diet. Even more, the knowledge, we already have needs to be put into practice and to be broadcast. Food is a matter on which we are very conservative. If this booklet stimulates research, makes at least some people take interest in what they eat and leads them to reform their food habits, it will fulfill its purpose. Considering the importance of the subject, the overwhelming ignorance and apathy which prevail in regard to it are most deplorable, and need to be combated. It is to serve towards this end that this book is published.