So What's Cooking up Against ISKCON?
         Date: 18-Dec-2018
When no governments complained about nutrition all these years and there are reports of improvements in children's health due to Akshya Patra Mid-day meals, HD Kumaraswamy Government's sudden realisation that only Onion or Garlic can benefit their health, reeks of deeper malaise against ISKCON
Dr HS Prema
 
I opened the day’s newspaper with my cup of piping hot Kashayam to have a rude shock. The State Government has instructed the ISKCON to add garlic and onion in their mid-day meal against their age-old practices. It has been since decades that ISKCON is rendering a yeoman’s service to school children by serving hot midday meals to schools spread across six districts in Karnataka. There are 4,42,108 children from 2,814 schools that are benefitted. As an age-old practice, ISKCON does not add any garlic and onion in the food they prepare. The food made at their kitchens is served first to God as ‘bogh’ and thereafter distributed as Prasad to others.
 

 
 
However, it is not just ISKCON alone. There are various other Hindu temples across the country that do not add garlic and onion to their food preparations. It is believed that these foods are rajas and tamas in nature. To support this view, the biggest psychoanalysis ‘Bhagavad Gita’ says, kkIYMXÐU¸»f »fU¯ff°¹fb¿¯f °feïf øYÃfdUQfdWX³f:ll— which means food which is too strong in flavour, too pungent, too much of masala can cause lethargy and reduces the concentration levels. Ashrams across the world, where they teach yoga and dhyana have tested to the effects of rajas and tamas quality of garlic and onion. Hence, they do not add these ingredients to their meals. A good number of my foreign friends who practise yoga and dhyana strongly do not believe in eating pungent garlic and onion to improve their concentration power. Onions due to its high content of oligosaccharides like raffinose and verbascose cause smelly flatus, and garlic smell which linger in the mouth for long is socially obnoxious.
For 17 long years, ISKCON's Akshaya Patra Mid-Day meals programme has served over 2 billion meals to millions of children since 2001. Starting with 1500 children in 2000, Akshya Patra has provided nutritious food to 1.6 million children in 2017 
The notice served to ISKCON by education department instructs that garlic (condiment) and onions (vegetable) are mandatory and to be added on a daily basis. Otherwise, it threatens that the government will look for other alternative serving centres. To justify their notice, it says further that these two vegetables are imperative for health. Many children do not eat garlic and onion by principle or due to religious practices. Jains, Vaishnavas and many Brahmins eliminate these two vegetables. In the name of the mid-day meal government is interfering with the food practices and imposing to change the food culture. Food choice is an individual’s right. As long as one’s food choice is eco-friendly, not hurting the sentiments of others, it should be encouraged. State Government notice appears to be meddlesome and unacceptable to many. We are not questioning the health benefits of onion and garlic but that it is not imperative for nutrition. Apart from health benefits, traditionally-prepared foods have various other values which are nurtured and protected for generations. My driver who is a Jain was upset that schools will convert his children to non-Jains. He said rightly, “Madam, instead of interfering with our food practices, let schools look into improving the quality of teaching.” Who is going to answer him!
 
We do appreciate the concern shown by the government in improving the quality of the food. Let us take a look at the qualities of the ingredients. Condiments in food are added to give it a flavour. The condiments have nutrients like oligosaccharides, phytosterols, phytates, saponins etc., that have curative values which take care of health. If anybody who is familiar with Indian vegetarian food would readily agree that the use of other condiments is more in the absence onion and garlic.
 
Cumin, curry leaves, turmeric have higher phytochemical values than garlic and onion.
Apart from the above nutrients, garlic does have allicin useful to guard cardiac health. But let us not get confused that garlic is the only food that can do this function. In fact Condiments like Hing, coriander seeds, cumin, red chillies, curry leaves, pepper, fenugreek seeds and turmeric have better physiological functions and can target specific ill-fated tissues and cells. Among all the condiments turmeric placed at number one. Curcumin in turmeric is known for its anti-inflammatory, anti-cancerous qualities. It acts as an antibiotic in the body. A pinch of turmeric prevents cold and cough for which school children are susceptible. Alkaloids present in fenugreek seeds have a hypoglycemic effect and help diabetes prevention. Satwik vegetarian meals do have enough of these condiments to take care of children’s health. Hing, coriander seeds, curry leaves improve memory power among children are very much needed but not onion. Curry leaves apart from it phytochemicals rich in carotenoid pigments and other organic acid and healthy fatty acid contents. Encourage children not to throw away the curry leaves served in the meals. Coming to the onion, like any other vegetable it does have health benefits. When we have hundreds of different vegetables and condiments which have the same or even more nutritional values why imposing them in a satwik diet is the question.
 
The concept of mid-day meal was started way back in the sixties to promote the growth and development of children who showed stunted growth and wasting. Today Mid-day meal walked further ahead to support the overall health of the children. But Garlic and onion are not the only vegetables that contribute nutrients and health. Many other foods have more nutrients and have similar physiological functions. In many families, people have not used garlic and onion throughout life but have lived without any medical aids. So, has the government failed to evaluate the health benefits of a satwik meal? Is the government misguided? To improve the quality of meals garlic and onion are not imperative. The government should supplement the nutrients without hurting the value-based
food practices.
(The writer is a consultant dietician and nutritionist and Managing director of Varenya Nutrition Concepts, Bangaluru)