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2008 #3 - Nourishment: Outer and Inner Dimensions

This issue of the newsletter is a kind of supplement to 2007 No.3, Custodians of Sustenance, in which we examined some of the factors that are conditioning the ongoing food crisis from the perspective of its production and distribution. In this issue, the theme is nourishment, so the focus shifts to what and how human beings consume. The main focus will be on the consumption of food, but we know that "Man does not live by bread alone", so the spiritual aspects of nourishment must also receive attention.

We start with a hypothesis that is, in this mechanistic age, not uncontroversial: that there is more to the physical body and its vitality than meets the eye of science. The notion that there is some vital force that animates living beings has a long tradition in Eastern metaphysics – the Chinese ch’i and the Indian prana are concepts now well known in the West. The maintenance of this vital force in the human being is therefore an aspect of nourishment, and it should be no surprise that it receives most support from fresh foods – foods through which this vital force has just recently been circulating, and which retain traces of it even when harvested. Left to themselves, all foodstuffs decay, a process that relates to the gradual ebbing away of this vital force. To counteract decay, humanity has devised many techniques: curing, fermenting, pickling, freezing and so on. And given the vast scale of the world’s food distribution networks, these techniques have become increasingly important. But since these techniques operate only on the outer physical form of the food, it is questionable whether they have any effect in retaining vitality.

This recognition of the importance of freshness in food is implicated in a number of trends in society – the rise of vegetarianism and veganism, the increase in organic and biodynamic farming, farmers’ markets, the idea of eating food only from one’s bioregion (or at least minimising the amount of airmiles it has travelled), and the ‘slow food’ movement that, along with some of the issues above, also advocates paying careful attention to the ingredients and the techniques of food preparation, and the ritual of dining together. And as interest in spirituality increases, people are thinking more deeply about the ethical implications of their food choices, and about the subtler dimensions of diet.

Notwithstanding these hopeful trends, major challenges still exist. Given the intense focus on the physical outer form that now prevails, what we choose to direct into our bodies has taken on an almost moral dimension, to the extent that those who are imbalanced in their personal relationship to food e.g. ‘size 0’ models, and the obese, are subject to disapproval – although very slim people are treated more ambiguously, as there is a convention in much of Western culture that equates thinness with beauty. As the incoming Aquarian energies make humanity increasingly self conscious, a prevailing materialism identifies self with the physical body. ‘Body image’ thus becomes an increasing obsession, and one diet after another is proclaimed as the healthiest, or the most effective at preventing cancer; but there is little or no account taken of other, subtler factors, such as the pranic or vital conditions in the locale of those who traditionally eat that diet, which might influence how effective it is. Even though the average person now knows more about nutrition than ever before, the complexity and genetic variability of the human organism, coupled with the vast choice of different foods available, makes any definitive statement about one right diet implausible.

Yet choice of diet is definitely a problem of affluence. Only those who can afford it have the luxury of selecting which foods they eat. In many countries, there is little or no choice for the poorest, and they must nourish themselves on whatever they can get, whether it provides a healthy diet or not. Meanwhile, it is forecast that US spending on diet products will have increased to $54 billion by 2009; and that, in spite of this, by then almost 70% will be overweight or severely overweight (obese)1, a trend which studies have linked to increased consumption of ‘fast food’. The percentage of overweight people is likewise growing in Western Europe. With these increases comes growth in diseases linked with obesity, such as heart disease & type 2 diabetes, thus placing an increasing burden on healthcare systems. So even when human beings can choose, the wisdom of their choice is doubtful. It seems it is a matter of uncontrolled desires that make us fail in sticking to diets time and again, and to fantasise about a ‘quick fix’ pill or potion that will require no effort.

The challenge for all is to find a right relationship to food. A disciplined regulation of desire, and a measure of common sense, along with paying due attention to the condition of the organism, should allow the individual to meet his responsibility for nourishment; he can then participate effectively in the wider societal issues that will secure right sharing of the world’s food supplies.

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1: Source : www.foodnavigator.com/news/ng.asp?id=65804-obesity-weight-low-fat

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