The Baha’i Fast falls during the month of Ala–the last month of the Baha’i calendar. During these 19 days, Baha’is abstain from food and drink between sunrise and sunset. While this abstention from food and drink is a test of one’s will and discipline, the Fast is not just about abstaining from food. The Fast is, primarily, a spiritual practice.
A Reflection on Our Eating Habits and the Environment
Since the Fast is an ocean of opportunities to raise our awareness and develop our capacities, what about thinking of our eating habits and choices?
I was shocked when I read that Cuba, back in 1990 when the Soviet Union collapsed, experienced a massive food shortage and surprisingly the health of Cubans drastically got better. This was basically because they were eating just enough and there were barely any processed foods. Additionally, I stumbled upon research that shows how since Chinese people started consuming processed foods, roughly 92 million Chinese today suffer from Type II diabetes, which was a disease that was not known to their country until recently.
In 2005, worldwide processed food sales were $3.2 trillion, accounting for 75 percent of total food sales. In comparison, $400 billion was spent on fresh fruits and vegetables.
When I read this, I started thinking… Is it possible that a big part of human health issues is related to a misconception of the amount and kind of food we eat? Have we maybe taken for granted the huge role food plays on our health?
John Esslemont said:
Our physical health is so linked up with our mental, moral and spiritual health, and also with the individual and social health of our fellowmen, nay, even with the life of the animals and plants, that each of these is affected by the others to a far greater extent than is usually realized. 1
This year, during the blessed period of the Fast, I have been thinking about how this time of restraint and sacrifice could be an opportunity to consciously gage how much of what we eat is truly what our bodies need and what is beneficial, versus what we want and can be harmful to our health. As we strive to be in a mode of learning in all aspects of life, this could be a useful exercise to embark upon.
The Beloved Master said:
Looking after one’s health is done with two intentions. Man may take good care of his body for the purpose of satisfying his personal wishes. Or, he may look after his health with the good intention of serving humanity and of living long enough to perform his duty toward mankind. The latter is most commendable. 2
Shoghi Effendi also said:
…you should not neglect your health, but consider it the means which enables you to serve. It, the body, is like a horse which carries the personality and spirit, and as such should be well cared for so it can do its work! 3
How inspiring! Even our personal health is a responsibility we have in terms of our purpose: serving humanity. Baha’u’llah, in the Tablet to the Physician, says: “Avoid all harmful habits: they cause unhappiness in the world.” I think that we have a responsibility to not let our habits become a burden to our bodies and to our planet, the same planet that provides us with everything needed for good health.
How our eating habits affect the planet is a very big topic and it’s been briefly touched on in other Baha’i Blog articles. For example, Munevver wrote about the environmental impact of food waste in her article “For Our Earth’s Sake, For Our Own Sake” and I wrote about the spiritual links to protecting the planet in “Why is Earth Day Important?”.
Want to learn more and how these ideas are applicable to your life? Here are a few suggested tools that I have found helpful in learning more about how all these elements are interconnected:
Have you ever heard of a carbon footprint? Have you done a carbon footprint calculator exercise? The Google definition of a carbon footprint is: “the amount of carbon dioxide and other carbon compounds emitted due to the consumption of fossil fuels by a particular person, group, etc.” In other words, if you eat strawberries that have been transported and stored and transported again before they reach you, then there is a carbon footprint generated from this activity. Basically, we are adding carbon dioxide to the planet and contributing to the acceleration of climate change (a whole topic on its own). Likewise, every food we eat can have a little carbon footprint (such as locally grown fruits and vegetables) or a large carbon footprint (meat consumption, imported foods, food that is not in season, etc.). It might be helpful to take a few minutes of your lunch break time and try these three exercises:
Sit down for an hour or two and make a solid food plan for you (and your family), a plan that helps you waste less and eat what is best for you and for the planet. This tool is one of the best ones I have found: https://www.plantoeat.com.
Start a conversation about food and health with your friends, family and neighbours. In what other ways can we help each other with these habits and choices? Starting a community garden has more benefits than just putting vegetables on the table – this community in the US found that their neighbourhood garden strengthened their ties with one another.
Paul Handley, in the book ELEVEN, says: “If the ‘way things are’ is a product of choice then it ‘doesn’t have to be this way’”. Then, the questions I’m asking myself this Fast are: What am I eating? How much am I eating? How much food am I wasting? Can I do better? Can I make better choices? Because every choice I make leaves a trace!
I would love to hear of other tools, reflections and ideas you have about the food we eat and its impact on our health and the planet!
Delaram is an environmental scientist with a love for chocolate, her nieces and nephews, and above all, laughter. Her parents and two older siblings pioneered from Iran to Ecuador, where she was born and raised. She has since been blessed to live in four different continents and now lives with her husband in Toronto, Canada. Delaram holds a Bachelors degree in Geography and Environmental Studies and a Masters degree in Environmental Science. Her work and research is focused in developing greater understanding of complex environmental issues.