Mahatma Gandhi Community Forum

The moral basis of Vegetarianism


M.K. Gandhi

Navjivan Publishing House, Ahmedabad


Excerpts from Chapter 1: Food Values


Whilst it is true that man cannot live without air and water, the thing that nourishes the body is food. Hence the saying, food is life.


Food can be divided in to three categories: vegetarian, flesh and mixed. Flesh foods include fowl and fish. Milk is an animal product and cannot by any means be included in a strictly vegetarian diet. In medical language it is classified as animal food.


A layman considers milk as vegetarian food and eggs as a flesh food. It is not wholly true. Nowadays, sterile eggs which would never develop into a chick are also produced. So, milk and eggs come under the same category.


Medical opinion is mostly in favour of a mixed diet even though some anatomical and physiological facts favour man as a vegetarian. His teeth, stomach, intestines etc. seem to prove that nature has meant man to be a vegetarian.


Vegetarian diet includes grains, pulses, edible roots, tubers, leaves, fruits (both fresh and dried). Dry fruits include almonds, pistachio, walnut, cashew etc.




Experience has taught me that in order to keep perfectly fit, vegetarian diet must include milk and milk products like curd, butter, ghee etc. I excluded milk from my diet for six years. In the year 1917, I was suffering from dysentery, became weaker, and was reduced to a skeleton. Yet, I stubbornly refused to take milk or buttermilk. A medical friend suggested me to take goat's milk as my vow not to take milk is constrained only to cow's and buffalo's milk. My wife supported him and I agreed. All animal milks have practically the same composition and goat's milk was produced immediately for me. It seemed to bring me the new life. I picked up rapidly and was soon able to leave the bed.


In my opinion, there are definite drawbacks in taking milk or meat. In order to get meat we have to kill. And, we are certainly not entitled to any other milk except the mother's milk in our infancy. Over and above the moral drawback, there are others, purely from the point of view of health. Both milk and meat bring with them the defects of the animal from which they are derived. Domesticated cattle are hardly ever perfectly healthy. What applies to the milch cattle applies to a much greater extent to the animals slaughtered for meat.


So long as some selfless scientist does not, as a result of patient research work, discover a vegetable substitute for milk and meat, man will go on taking meat and milk.


Man requires food which can supply tissue building substances (proteins) to provide for growth and daily wear and tear of the body. The animal proteins obtained from milk or meat, being more easily digestive and absorbing, are much more valuable than vegetable proteins.


Milk is superior to meat. The medicos tell us that in case where meat cannot be digested, milk is digested quite easily. For vegetarians, milk is the only source of animal proteins. The proteins in raw eggs are considered to be the most easily digestible of all proteins.


Contrary to the popular belief, skimmed milk is a very valuable article to diet. There are times when it proves even more useful than whole milk. Skimming while it practically removes the fat, does not affect the proteins required for tissue building and tissue repairing.




Cereals come in the second place in my list of nourishment. Wheat, rice, juwar, bajiri etc. are used as the staple diet. Different provinces in India use different variety of cereals. All these varieties supply starch mainly, and it is better not to mix more than one variety of cereals. Wheat is considered as the king of cereals as many parts of the world produce it in large quantities.


The cereals should be properly cleansed, ground, and the resulting flour used as it is. Sieving of the flour should be avoided. It is likely to remove the bhushi or the pericarp which is a rich source of salts and vitamins. The pericarps also supply roughage which helps the action of the bowels.


Rice grain being very delicate has an outer covering or epicarp. This is not edible. In order to remove this inedible portion, rice has to be pounded slightly. But machine pounding not only removes the outer skin, but polishes the rice by removing the pericarp. Polishing helps preservation and hence it is done widely.


The pericarp of rice and wheat can be cooked and made in to cakes or chapatis.


Most of us eat chapatis without adequate mastication. Mastication is the important step in the process of digestion, especially of starch. Mastication ensures a thorough mixing of food with saliva in the mouth that facilitates digestion.




After the starch supplying cereals, come the protein supplying pulses. Pulses like lentils, beans form the essential constituent of the diet. Those who do hard work and those who cannot afford milk cannot do without pulses. I can say without any hesitation whatsoever that those who follow sedentary occupations as for instance, clerks, businessmen, teachers, lawyers, doctors and those who afford to use milk, do not require pulses.


Pulses are generally considered to be difficult to digest, and are eaten in a much smaller quantity than cereals. Out of all the pulses, peas, haricot beans and grams are the most difficult to digest whereas the moong, lentils are the least difficult to digest.


Vegetables and Fruits:


Vegetables and Fruits should come in the third on our list. They are generally considered to be delicacies meant for the city people. One should expect them to be cheap and easily available in India. But it is not so. In the village, fresh vegetables are a rarity and in most places fruits are not available. This shortage of greens and fruits is a slur on the administration of India.


Among fresh vegetables, a fair amount of leafy vegetables should be taken everyday. Potatoes, sweet potatoes, suran etc. are starch supplying vegetables and must be kept in the same category as that of cereals. Certain vegetables such as cucumber, tomatoes, mustard and cress need not be cooked. They must be eaten in raw after being washed properly.


Our daily diet should include the fruits of the season e.g. mangoes, jambu, guava, grapes, and papayas - The best time for taking fruits is early in the morning. A breakfast of fruits and milk should give full satisfaction. Milk and bananas make a perfect meal since bananas are rich in starch.


Ghee and Oil


A certain amount of fat is also necessary. This can be had in the form of ghee or oil. It is difficult to digest and is not so nourishing as pure ghee. An ounce and a half of ghee per head per day should be considered ample to supply the needs of the body. Those who cannot afford it should take enough oil to supply the need for fat. Sweet oil, groundnut oil, and coconut oil should be given preference. If available, it is better to use hand-pressed oil. It is far better to do without ghee or oil altogether than to eat rancid oil and adulterated ghee.


As in the case of fats, a certain amount of sugar is also necessary. There is no harm in taking one to one and half ounces of sugar, white or brown in a day. City folks eat lots of sweets and other delicacies in a country where the millions do not even get an ordinary full meal. This is equivalent to robbery only. And, this is true with the ghee and oil. It is purely an extravagance to use ghee in making puris and laddus.


Those who are not used to such food cannot eat these things at all. For instance, Englishmen on their first coming into our country cannot eat our sweets and fried foods. Some who ate them had fallen ill. A hungry man will eat a dry piece of bread with the greatest relish, whereas one who is not hungry will refuse the best of sweetmeats.


How often and How much to eat?


Food should be taken as a matter of duty - even as a medicine - to sustain the body, never for the satisfaction of the palate. Because of our own wrong habits and artificial ways of living, very few people know what their bodily system requires. The habits and the ways of living of the parents influence the children to certain extent. Every child gets a wrong training in taking food from its infancy from its mother's milk to whatever she herself may be eating. Habits once formed are difficult to shed.


But, one must realize that he is the bodyguard of his body.


A list of various foods required by an ordinary man is given below:


Cow's milk                     - 2 Lbs.


(wheat,rice, bajri, in all)   -  6 Oz

Vegetables leafy            -  3 Oz.

Vegetables others          -  5 Oz.

Vegetables raw              -  1 Oz.

Ghee or Butter              -  1.5 Oz.

Gur or white sugar         - 1.5 Oz.

Salt                              - as per one's taste

Fresh Fruits                  - 1 or 2

Lime juice in hot or cold water  - 2 Lbs



Many people take two meals a day. The general rule is to take three meals: breakfast early in the morning and before going out to work, luncheon at midday and supper in the evening or later. There is no necessity to have more than three meals. Some people keep on nibbling from time to time which is very harmful. The digestive apparatus requires rest.


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Comment by Balachandran on September 7, 2011 at 11:56am

Thank you sir, for posting this.

I've already ordered 200 copies of the book from Navjivan. 

Comment by GOPI KANTA GHOSH on September 5, 2011 at 4:03pm
Absolutely right

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