Overprocessed food products and foods with a large carbon footprint all generate a type of violence in our environment that affects our health. Using the principle of ahimsa to guide our food choices is one way to find balance.
There is much more to yoga than just doing the asanas or achieving a perfect hand stand. The eight limbs of yoga includes asanas, but also ethical considerations, self-observation, breath control (pranayama), sense withdrawal (pratyahara), concentration (dharana) and meditation (dhyana), which if practiced all together, can lead to freedom and peace (samadhi).
Among the ethical considerations lays ahimsa which means non-violence. It refers to loving yourself, those who surround you and even taking care of the environment. This non-violent action can be applied in many aspects of your life and one of them is food. When it comes to cooking, ahimsa is much more than just eating a healthy or vegetarian diet. It also implies eating in a way that is sustainable and minimizes consumerism.
Here are three ways to let ahimsa guide your food choices, and they’re actually easier than you might think:
1. Consume Love
Cooking with ahimsa involves using food and products that are simply naked: whole foods not disguised in pretty wrapping. The main purpose of the packaging is to attract the eye, but all that added plastic simply generates waste. When cooking, try choosing whole fruits and veggies, grains and pulses and food and ingredients with less packaging.
“I shop, therefore I am.”
The food industry has not escaped the negative aspects of consumerism. The “I shop, therefore I am” belief is injected in us through media and advertising. When you eat over-packaged, industrialized food this contributes to the pollution in our environment. Even if it’s a super green healthy salad or juice, if you’re drinking it from a container that isn’t recyclable, is it really ahimsa? It’s not a bad thing that eating healthy has become fashionable or trendy. The bad thing is when providing ‘healthy food’ becomes a higher priority than sourcing it sustainably.
Sustainable cooking protects not only the environment but also the animals that are affected by the erosion of their ecosystems. This way cooking with ahimsa goes further than simply choosing to not eat meat and other animal products. Sustainable cooking teaches us to also become aware and critical of food that appears to be healthy and considering more than just nutritional value when making a purchase.
2. Eat Local
Now that we’ve looked the fancy packaging square in the face, let’s move beyond that and see what’s actually in those packages? The superfood craze, foods promising to make us happier, prevent disease and flood us with antioxidants, is a massive culprit in unsustainable cooking. Examples include foods from the other side of the world like quinoa, acai berries, and chia. Trendy food crazes like these can often have devastating effects on their local populations.
A good example of this is quinoa. Its industrialization and marketing has led to increased social inequalities, decreased biodiversity and is even a factor that contributes to chronic diseases in the developing world. The popularity, value and production of superfoods like quinoa have increased explosively in recent years. Between 2000 and 2008 the price at which quinoa was sold at the international market increased by 600%. By 2013 the price tripled.
A greater demand for foods such as quinoa in high income countries like Europe, the US, China and Japan has resulted in an increase in exports from Andean countries like Peru and Bolivia, where quinoa was originally grown. As a consequence, this traditional crop has been taken away from the local people. Having once formed part of the Andean basic diet, quinoa now represents an economically inaccessible food that has been diverted from traditional local consumption to export. As a replacement for quinoa, the locals have no option but to eat junk food, rice and pasta, which is now much cheaper.
When the demand for imported foods increases, the conditions and habitats in which these foods are grown have to be modified so that they satisfy our needs and demands. Once again, using quinoa as an example, we can highlight that the demand in production for this plant has led to the use of habitats of endangered species resulting in a threat to their future survival — not very ahimsa one would say. To cook with ahimsa look for ingredients that are fresh and local. Use your local market, check or ask where the food products are coming from and, if possible, grow a little bit of your own.
3. Food for the Body, Mind and Soul
Consuming a healthy, balanced and diverse diet will provide you with the right nutrients for the health of your body and mind. Give yourself time to cook by getting rid of those things and activities that drain your energy away, and this in turn can provide you with greater nutrition and a better quality of life. Practical guidelines when cooking with ahimsa are to become informed and reading the labels to choose wisely, also being generous with your veggie intake and replacing processed added sugars and fats with natural ingredients.
Sustainable Cooking is Possible!
In sum, cooking with ahimsa or non-violence means given yourself the time for nourishment. In this context, ahimsa also means that when you are taking care of yourself you are doing it a critical, responsible environment towards other species and the environment. We are all interconnected and the changes that happen where our food comes from always come back to our plate. To cook with ahimsa try choosing local foods, preferably raw and whole ingredients which include less packaging and replace non-ahimsa products with food and ingredients which are more environmentally responsible and healthier for you.