The “Dharma” of Food
The title of this reflection might puzzle you as much as it puzzled me. I found this thought-provoking article in Resurgence &Ecologist magazine( www.resurgence.org) Issue 294. (2016, Jan./Febr.) Vandana Shiva reflects about the deep meaning of food, as she has done so long already in her work as activist for preserving seeds in India.
Guided by her inspiring thoughts and fierce words, I will reflect with you on the sacredness of food.
First of all let us try to understand the meanning of the word “dharma”. That is not so easy, because the concept dharma is an unique Indian concept. The author considers this concept a gift of Indian Civilisation to humanity of today. Dharma is like a compass, a lamp on the path of humanity searching for right action and right livelihood.
In reading more of Vandana Shiva over the years, she has thought me so much about the sacredness of food and the mirror food is of the whole web of life. There is no word with the same meaning as dharma in Western languages. Dharma is also not limited to religion but is part of the different aspects that make a culture. It is clear that all religions from India know the concept of dharma. Mainly it means “the right path”. Looking at the etymological root of dharma it refers to ” that which sustains”: the universe and all creation, from macro-cosmos to micro- cosmos, from the finest microbe to the largest mammals. Dharma refers to the interconnectedness of all life. The opposite of dharma is adharma, that action, that way of life that violates the ecological laws and balance of the planet and our care for each being, irrespective of gender, race, caste, age or class.
So dharma helps us to choose between right or wrong, gives use right values and insights to take action for a harmonious and sustainable world.
A choice is a dharmic choice if it contributes to holding together and is adharmic if it leads to ecological destruction. Or to say it in the line of writings of Thomas Berry: a choice for action is good if it fits in the circle of life.
Vandana Shiva mentions very old resources in Indian literature on the sacred meaning of food and realizes that the depth of insights is very congruent with modern findings from the science of agro-ecology and the best thinking on the principles of food justice and food ethics.
Food itself is Brahma, the Creator.
Do not look down upon food.
Do not neglect food.
Ensure an abundance of food all around.
In dharma food is creation, the cycle of life is a food cycle, good food is medicine, and the growing and sharing of good food, in abundance, is the highest duty.
Those words can lead us into deep reflections and through that to great insights. What is good and right in fulfilling our duty in providing and sharing good food in abundance. Every piece of food we eat comes after a choice we made consciously or not for this food to eat. E.g. do we allow toxic food to enter our sacred bodies?
From what circle of production does this food come? Is it grown with much love and care by generally speaking poor farmers in East or West, or does is come from great agroindustrial farms? Have you ever tasted the difference? Have you ever thought about the effect and consequences of your choice for the poor farmers? How this pushes them into debts, stess and even suicide? Acoording to Vandana Shiva 300.000 farmers in India have committed suicide in the past years. So the food on our tables, the crops on our lands are the domain of ethical, political choices!
But do we have a say in what we choose to eat? Do we know what choices there are if we walk in the (super) market and fill our shopping carts? How have we really been able to make a choice between healthy or unhealthy foods or have others done that for us, long time ago, far away of close by?
Vandana Shiva is very strong and clear when she says: ” The human capacity to choose between healthy food and unhealthy food is being taken away. Instead of ensuring that food is the source of health and wellbeing, all consideration of growing healthy, safe, nourishing and healing food is being banished by a technological fundamentalism that promotes GMOs. Instead of seeing food as the creator, corporations and scientists developing GMOs are taking over the role of creator through patents on life itself. Instead of assessing how the use of toxic chemicals and GMOs is affecting the web of life – the bees and the butterflies, the earthworms and soil organisms, the biodiversity of our plants- assesments built into biosafety laws are being blocked through deregulation under the influence of industry in country after country”.
The principle of abundance is violated. Now abundance becomes scarcity.The old ways of seeds saving and sharing seeds will disappear and have disappeared already where seeds are made non- renewable. Where all kinds of rules and genetic manipulating make seeds scarce. Farmers are no longer free to produce the seeds they want and seeds are intentionally destroyed so that farmers depent on the market and have to buy need new seeds every year. That causes great debts for the farmers. There is also scarcity in the field when diversity-rich farming systems are now replaced by monocultures. There is scarcity because good foods turn into poison by toxic chemicals.
It is clear that choices for good food production and handling have to be made. It is the choice between happy farming and growing healthy foods and the greed of earning as much money as possible, control of harvests and the market.
How will we understand in a new way that it is our duty to help Mother Earth to be truly nourishing as she has been for billions of years? How can we grow in our respect for food and understand the sacredness of food?
May we understand the changes and conversion needed in our personal consumptions and in ways to act on behalve of farmers, soil, and the food for future generations.
And to conclude this powerful sentence of Vandana Shiva: dharma protects those who protect dharma.
See also www.navdanya.org
Vandana Shiva is an Indian scientist, philospher, feminist, author, environmentalist and activist Vandana Shiva is a one-woman movement for peace, sustainability,and social justice. in 1991 she founded Navdanya, a national movement to protect diversity and integrity of living resources, especially native seeds.