The Importance Of Local Food

Words: Dr Asit Kumar PANJA

Food is one of the three supporting pillars of life. It has a direct impact on our body [dosha, dhatu and mala], senses and mind. This impact relates to origin, growth and development, and also destruction [by causing illness] of the elements supporting life.

The goal of taking food is to provide vital energy supply to the body. Food is a foreign substance and human beings have to make it favourable for the body and mind. Seasoning, processing, habituation, according to specific area, time, climate variation, and lifestyle, are tools for making food favourable for the body.

Ayurveda categorises food conduct into two aspects: firstly, principles related to proper intake of food that should be adopted, and secondly, improper intake either knowingly, or unknowingly, that has to be avoided. Food consumed properly and improperly decides health and illness, respectively.  Knowledge of food and food conduct are essential to preventing and curing disease.

Parameters For Making Food Compatible To The Body & Desha-Satmya 

Factors responsible for beneficial and non-beneficial effects of food are eight-fold — ashta-aharavidhi-vishesha-ayatana. They are all interrelated and independent. The factors could be either directly related to food, food processing, food combinations, amount of food, place of origin of food substance, or directly related to food conduct, or the person taking the food in relation to individual compatibility and also compatibility to the place, or region, where they reside, irrespective of individual compatibility. This is termed atma-satmya, or purusha-satmya, and desha-satmya.

Local Food Habits & Its Significance 

The food habit is a dynamic lifestyle — changes are done accordingly to make the unwholesome wholesome. Food habits are usually designed in accordance with the laws of the body, body status, mind, nature and intrinsic quality of food.

Many of the local food habits are based primarily on desha-satmya applicable to people residing in that particular place, irrespective of individual compatibility. Since this does not take account of individual compatibility, the health risk is always involved. So, proper differentiation between purusha-satmya and desha-satmya is necessary.  When local food habits are found beneficial they are prepared in accordance with geography, climate, lifestyle, individual compatibility, and by adoption of minimum processes. Compatible does not necessarily mean that it never produces disease.

Local food habits are generally compatible with people residing there. When general and individual compatibility match, the person would surely derive the beneficial effects of food.

Assessment of cause and effect between general compatibility and particular local food should be done based on parameters mentioned in Ayurveda [classical] literature. Food taken with due consideration given to the eight factors will not hamper either propulsion, or mixing, of the food in the alimentary tract, secretory functions of the alimentary tract, digestion and absorption in the gastrointestinal tract.

Local Food Habits As Immunity Boosters 

As stated earlier, when local food habits match properly with desha and purusha-satmya, it remains beneficial to maintain the body homeostasis of dosha, dhatu and mala. This leads to the dhatu essence being formed in the usual manner. When ojas, the dhatu-sneha, is formed properly, our body’s immunity is maintained properly. People who migrate from one place to another at frequent intervals are unable to match with desha and purusha-satmya — they are more susceptible to getting disease than the locals [villagers] who stay in a single place for a long time and are used to taking the local food.

Exploration & Research On Local Food Habits: Need Of The Hour 

The key purpose of learning and understanding the local food habits is to remain healthy by adjusting the situation based on the parameters cited and to preventing the diseases appearing due to sudden adoption of new food habits and consumption of incompatible diet.

Nowadays, owing to first urbanisation and social competitiveness in every aspect of life, people migrate from one place to another place in the search of a better livelihood. Various kinds of health issues appear as a result of irrational use of food habits without due consideration of desha-satmya. [i.e., climate and geography].

It is, therefore, high time we explored the scientific basis of local food habits being practised across the country and also useful local food habits that should be restored.

Dr ASIT KUMAR PANJA, MD, PhD, is Associate Professor, National Institute of Ayurveda, Jaipur, and Consultant at TCI Unit, WHO HQ.  This article was first published [Local Food Habit: A New Horizon of Research] in International Journal of Ayurveda and Traditional Medicine, Vol 2, Issue 3, pg 1-2, December 2020, under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License 4.0. Dr Panja lives in Jaipur, India.

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