The Gandhian Thought for Food

By Vikas Khanna

It is said that the greatness of a man is realized when his life influences and inspires people to change for the better, even decades after his death…Such was the life of Mahatma Gandhi.

Without the message of the power of peace and non-violence that became the core of Gandhi’s beliefs, he would have just been another revolutionary, just another nationalist, in a country that was struggling to throw off the rule of a foreign nation.

(Photo courtesy of Shiva Photography)

Gandhi discovered the path of peace, learning it one step at a time and chose vegetarianism because of beliefs and morals, not due simply to a cultural heritage. Gandhi’s choice to become vegetarian became his route to ahimsa, renunciation and finally Satyagraha itself.

So what was Gandhi’s food for thought or should I say thought for food?

The following are my observations based on the Gandhian beliefs. These observations and information gathered over a period of time, also became the basis of a book I wrote-The Cuisine of Gandhi”.

Milk, a great form of protein

Gandhi abstained from cow’s milk for six years, but started drinking goat’s milk, on the insistence of doctors in 1917.

Nutritionists say: Milk is a complete protein, which means it has all the essential amino acids in the right proportion. That’s probably why doctors may have insisted on the incorporation of milk in Gandhiji’s diet, so that it would cater to his protein and calcium requirements. Milk is especially indispensable for those following a vegan diet, since the proteins found in meat, fish, poultry and eggs, are not available to them. The nutrition in goat’s milk varies slightly from that of cow’s milk.




Dry cereals for Vitamins

Gandhi advocated the consumption of wheat and rice, and believed that cereals should be taken dry.

Nutritionists say: Whole wheat and brown rice are the healthiest options available, and are good sources of B group of vitamins. Cereals like wheat and rice, however, must be consumed in their cooked form in order to make them both, palatable and easy to digest. The starch present in grains is difficult to digest until properly cooked. The process of cooking promotes digestion in the gastrointestinal tract and facilitates the process through which glucose released in the body is metabolized to yield energy.



Raw Foods

Gandhi ate fresh seasonal fruits and vegetables in their raw form.

Nutritionists say: The consumption of raw fruits and vegetables is highly recommended, since raw vegetables provide a higher vitamin and mineral content than cooked alternatives. However, you must be careful to wash the fruits and vegetables thoroughly in order to avoid consuming pesticides and other toxins that may be present on the surface or the skin. A variety of fresh fruits should be consumed since they are hydrating and provide a wide range of nutrition.




Jaggery preferred to sugar

Gandhi preferred jaggery over sugar.

Nutritionists say: Back then, Jaggery was prepared in iron vessels, and this process lent it additional nutritive qualities as it was rendered high in iron. Refined sugar on the other hand has no nutritive value aside from contributing to carbohydrates. Today, pure, unadulterated jaggery is hard to find, but if available in that form, it is definitely a healthier option to refined sugar.



Fast is important for detoxification

In keeping with his policy of Ahimsa or non-violence, Gandhi’s protests involved rigorous fasting over extended periods.

Nutritionists say: Fasting should not be encouraged. It makes you shed lean body mass (muscle) and also leads to micronutrient deficiencies (vitamin and mineral deficiencies). However, a “detox” diet especially outlined by a nutritionist, according to individual nutritive needs, is an effective way to cleanse the system and boost health.





He did not think it necessary to eat pulses if milk was included in the diet.

Nutritionists say: Both, pulses and milk have protein content, but the protein content of each is different and hence, one item cannot replace the other in a healthy diet regimen. Pulses have partially complete proteins, which means that they lack at least one essential amino acid, while milk is a complete protein. No comparison can be made between milk and pulses.





Gandhi was a strong proponent of vegetarianism because he believed, “You are what you eat”.

Nutritionists say: Eating meat is not harmful. In fact, eggs are a great source of complete proteins. Lean meat and fish are also protein-rich foods, and fish is a good source of Omega 3 fatty acids, which are great for the heart. In addition, Vitamin B12, which is especially important for women in the prevention of osteoporosis for instance, is present only in foods of animal origin and in some dairy products. Vegetarians therefore, must make up for this deficiency by taking vitamin supplements on the advice of their medical practitioner.





Gandhi consumed small quantities of pure ghee.

Nutritionists say: Ghee contains saturated fats which, when consumed in large amounts, have been seen to be detrimental to health, since they contribute to the build-up of LDL (Low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol which leads to heart disease. Considering the effect that modern lifestyle traits, such as smoking and consumption of alcohol, have on the heart, the consumption of ghee or any other form of saturated fats should be avoided or kept to a minimum. Olive oil, Sunflower Oil, Safflower Oil, Soya Oil and Groundnut Oil are healthier alternatives that are easily available today.

Recipe for Ghee (Indian Clarified Butter)


Pure unsalted Butter (not margarine)

Heat butter in a heavy skillet on high-medium heat until it boils or bubbles.

Reduce heat to medium-low and cook uncovered until butter turns to a clear golden color. (Butter usually begins to boils with lots of bubbles. When it is done, it will have foams on top of it indicating that ghee is nearly done.)

Cool it and store it in dry container. Use ghee in you regular cooking.


Tips to see if ghee is done

Ghee is properly done when water is completely evaporated from butter. To find out if water is properly evaporated follow the following procedure. Pour heated butter into small piece of paper. Light the paper on fire. If it gives crackling noise, it is indicating the presence of water. Heat butter for some more time. With experience one can tell if ghee is done with the smell and color.



Ghee does not have to be refrigerated.

To increase the shelf life of ghee, keep it dry.




                                                                                        All Material © Copyright Kavita Chhibber and respective authors.

A chef by profession, Vikas Khanna’s food is a blend of his traditional Indian Culinary Background and the flavors and history of the highly diversified New York food culture. He is owner/executive chef and consultant to several restaurants and has won acclaim from the prestigious James Beard Foundation.
Vikas is the founder of New York Chef Chefs ’Cooking for Life’, a non profit organization that brings together celebrated chefs of New York City, for tasting events to raise funds for relief efforts around the world. The proceeds of the events benefit organizations such as Save the Children, Habitat for Humanity, Red Cross, and many more.
Based on his research on the power of the palate, he has created, Vision of Palate, a series of food tasting workshops, designed to educate people with visual disabilities about the complex flavors and aromas of spices and herbs
Through SAKIV (South Asian Kids Infinite Vision), Vikas reaches out to different EYE foundations around South Asia. ’SAKIV- world’ was established in 2005 to host vision expos all around the world. Vikas is an honorary member on the Board of the World Peace Society, New York.
He is the compiler and illustrator of the book,’The Cuisine of Gandhi: Based on the Beliefs of the Legend’, a selection of Gandhi’s writings on food. His forthcoming book ’The Spice Story of India’, is his journal of recipes that are a result of his experiences while working with culinary masters.
Vikas is a graduate of the WelcomGroup School of Hotel and Hospitality Administration, India. He has also studied restaurant management at Cornell University, Food writing at Culinary Institute of America and Food Styling at The New School. He has taught at The New School Culinary Arts, Johnson & Wales, New York University, and Harvard Extension School.

To know more about Vikas Khanna and his work, please visit

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