This article is for those of us who organize and prepare Langar (but it also applies to any family). We have a responsibility to the health of the sangat, and not to just make ‘the most tasty’ Langar that is going to be the most popular. Sevadars make Langar with love, and lot of good intentions. However, when we look at it nutritionally, they could be using the checklist of exactly what NOT to do.
There is a paradigm when we are preparing food for people; quality and quantity. It is better to have a smaller portions of higher quality food, than to have bigger portions of low quality food.
Ghee is the best oil to use Ayurvedically, although it is expensive. Cheaper alternatives include Olive oil, Canola oil, and Coconut oil. These should be cold pressed and organic. Vegetable oils like corn and soy cause inflammation in the body, so they are less preferable. We can also cut back on the amount of oil we use for cooking. Oil should be used only as necessary to cook, and not to add ‘more taste’.
We don’t want to use white sugar or HFCS (corn syrup). Even though the sangat might be used to having a sweet dessert like kheer after the meal, desserts are adding inflammation to the body and zero nutrition. Ayurvedically, we crave sweets because we want to balance out the heat of the spicy food. So if we make the food less spicy, we can help decrease those cravings. Try it at home. Decrease the spiciness (heat), and see if it helps with your sugar tooth.
‘5 GREEN SAAG’ and BITTERNESS
When we go to make a saag, we can use bitter greens (not just spinach). Make a “5 green saag” using kale, chard, argula, turnip greens, collard greens, beet greens, mustard greens, dandelion greens, and spinach. Saag doesn’t need lots of oil. Don’t try to cover up the bitter taste. Bitter is a very important nourishing and cleansing tonifying taste. If we mask the bitter taste with sweet or oil, we lose the benefits of those plants to some extent. So cut back on the oil we use for sabzi and particularly saag. People might complain. It will take time to get used to, but these healthier choices will ultimately make everyone’s bodies feel better. For example, after a heavy Langar we might feel lethargic and need to take a nap. That’s because all of our energy is going towards processing the heavy oils, and sugars.
ORGANIC FOOD AND THE INDIAN DIET
Without a doubt, organic, non-GMO food is much better. There is a lot of research that say the pesticides in non-organic foods are causing a lot of pathology (disease) and inflammation in the body. In the Indian population, heart disease, metabolic syndrome, and diabetes are major issues. These issues are starting at earlier ages for Indians. Diabetes type 2, which was an adult onset disease is now happening in young kids. The Indian diet has made a huge contribution to this. So in order to have a diet that supports a spiritual life, and deeper connection to Gurbani we may need to start investing in organic and non-GMO food. That will bring a lightness to us.
BETTER FOOD MEANS LESS CRAVING
Often when we have, for example, saag we tend to add cream or milk to make it heavier, and give you the “full” feeling. When we start to eat lighter we find that over time we don’t need to have as much portion. We don’t need to eat as much.
We might find that we don’t crave as much portion when we have higher quality food. When you eat a 5 green saag, you can get full off of just one anjali (cupped hands), instead of going for seconds and thirds while eating lots of rotis. After langar we often have to take a nap, and if we snack during Gurdwara we just end up sleeping during Gurdwara instead of deeply meditating.
In India, milk is known as a satvic food. But there you can get fresh milk from your own cow. This is available especially in the villages. The cow milk in the West is from industrial facilities where the cows lifestyles are confined and dirty. This goes for non-organic ghee, and paneer as well. These are heavy foods, and when they are not high quality they bring inflammation. Over a long period of time they can bring chronic illness. Using organic milk can offset some of the pathological problems we find in industrial dairy.
EAT LIGHT AND MEDITATE BETTER
If you eat less, and practice more Gurbani you may find that the Gurbani can make you full because it makes you fulfilled. ‘Bhukia Bhuk Na Utaree – Eating and eating we are never satisfied’. The emotional fulfillment we try getting from food doesn’t come through. We have to get this fulfillment from Gurbani. Our relationship to food can support our meditative lifestyle.
LET’S CHANGE LANGAR
We encourage you to redefine your relationship to food. Because often times we relate to food emotionally, instead of nutritionally. We may get pushback, but making healthier Langars is a great seva that will serve us and our next generation.