What Should We Be Eating
Dr. Vijaya Venkat affirms the best nutrition comes from raw food, sprouts, nuts, and living in an attitude of gratitude with no inner conflict, discovers Shernaaz Engineer
Is it one of the ills of our age that we cannot enjoy eating without guilt? That anything delicious or delectable is deemed bad for us! With global gastronomic experiments enticing us from the kitchens of celebrated chefs as we travel, to food from all over the world arriving at our local stores, carbon footprints and commercial packaging notwithstanding, there's an explosion of enticing edibles all around.
And, yet, most of this cannot be eaten, say experts, as it impacts our health adversely. Dairy? Big no-no - it clogs and congests. Non-vegetarian fare? Cruel, very cruel. Wheat and grain? Loaded with gluten. Anything packed or preserved? Banish the idea.
What's a gourmand to do? In an attempt to locate the answer, a bright sunny morning takes me to Dr. Vijaya Venkat, health activist and pioneering founder of the Health Awareness Centre in Mumbai. A simple little cottage in a downbeat Parel compound houses her office and kitchen that supplies healthy lunch tiffins to converts who abide by her iconoclastic food ideology.
In a rustling sari, accessorised by a big bindi and an enigmatic aura, she settles down to share her philosophy: "Don't separate food from life - use it for adding life to life. This happens when you eat 'living' food. Only raw food can be best absorbed by the body. All other organisms, apart from humans, do so. We have separated ethics, ecology and the environment because of food. We're no longer in tune with the natural needs of the body and discard bodily intelligence. An ailment is disharmony in the body. I refuse to call it an 'illness' - it is an energy fluctuation."
She asserts that what really nourishes us is not just food but an attitude of gratitude. "Get up with awareness and focus on all the blessings you have. I never use the terms - if, but, sorry, trying and procrastination. I use - thank you, so what, trust, faith. Tension is misplaced attention. Bring your focus back to your breath and thank God the body is alive! Take the journey from fear to faith. The saddest part of my life is having to prove something so clear."
Her dietary 'don'ts' encompass all things bottled, tinned and packed, including medicines. "I have been living in awareness for 40 years," she explains. "I am a biochemist and a nutritionist and I thought I'd be flourishing with all my knowledge as a mother. But my heart faltered when I had my first child, because microbiology made me fearful of a whole world full of germs that would kill my baby."
So she began her odyssey into the natural world instead, and has integrated it into her lifestyle. Till eleven in the morning she eats only fruit. Then gives a gap of an hour before she has her pre-lunch vegetable juice with fresh herbs. At 12.30 she eats lunch comprising a big salad, sprouts and some veggies cooked without oil. And pretty much the same for dinner. No milk or milk products.
And no indulgences? She smiles, "I do have some wine or chocolate cake or ice cream occasionally. But my fundamentals are strong: sleep when you feel sleepy, chew when you are thirsty (there is no need to drink water - when you drink water, prana goes out of the body), eat lots of fruit when you are hungry. Eat a cooked meal an hour later, but make sure three-fourths of it is a salad with lots of lemon. The balance one-fourth can be anything you like!"
She is big on lemons, consuming six to eight on an average day, and going up to 22 lemons on days when she feels the need. She is a great proponent for managing ones own health. "How many more hospitals are you going to build?" she asks, adding, "Celebrate when you are unwell. It's the body's signal that it is still alive - let the body do what it's doing without trying to suppress it with medicines. If you try to prevent disease you will end up preventing health. The root causes of disease are lack of mental poise, not enough sleep or rest, and poisonous foods."
"Your quality of life," she asserts, "depends upon what you think, eat and feel. The toughest path to traverse is from the head to the heart, from institution to intuition. Live with love and in love. You are the product of nature and nurture. Go within and heal your inner conflict. That is the best check-up you can give yourself."
In conclusion, the good Dr. (the College of Life Sciences, Texas, conferred on her a Doctorate of Philosophy in Nutritional Science after she completed a prescribed course in 1991) stresses on her mantras for 'life awareness through health awareness':
• Push yourself to live in gratitude.
• Dissolve all dissatisfaction by thanking God for your life.
• Live to preserve Mother Nature by eating fruits, vegetables and sprouts, as they energise you while causing minimal environmental damage.
• Eat raw as far as possible.
• Be humble and accept very naturally that you are part of nature.
• Fundamentally question the role of the medical community in your health. Are they helping you to live healthfully or in constant fear and dread of disease?
A chat with her is like a mental detox, but can one walk her talk? Scores of people do, and testify it greatly enhances their health. Dr. Venkat could well lead us into the age of the green gourmet!
The Kitchen Director at work