Before we understand the food that we intake and its role in our spiritual lives, we must understand ourselves. As human beings we are made of three selves: the gross or material self, which is made of the five elements of nature; the subtle self, consisting of our mind, intellegence and false ego (which keeps us attached to our material self through material objects and achievements); and finally the soul, which is not attached to any sex, gender or religion, but is merely connected to the supreme being.
Our goal as spiritual seekers should be to understand our true identity as the soul and please the supreme being of which it is a part. Besides what we wear and what we do, food also plays a role in helping us attain this goal because what we eat is what we are. Our food influences our thought process, actions and therefore our journey of spirituality. Therefore, to help us attain our goal, the Bhagvad Gita and the Vedic Scriptures have categorised food into the following:
Sweet, juicy, fatty and palatable foods fall in this type and are said to be in the mode of goodness as they increase the duration of our life, give us strength, purify our existence and lead to happiness and satisfaction. Doing this is foods only purpose, which was found to be served by milk products, sugar, rice, wheat, fruits and vegetables.
These include foods that are too bitter, sour, salty, pungent, dry and hot. They are known to induce passion and also cause pain and distress. The mucus they produce in the stomach also leads to diseases. A common question in this relation is why should you avoid onions and garlic? Because both are proven to be aphrodisiacs, meaning they induce sexual passion. Foods inducing passion and other aforementioned emotions are to be avoided because these emotions distract you from your spiritual goal.
Food cooked more than three hours before consumption, which is tasteless, stale, putrid, decomposed and unclean, is considered tamsik because it has lost its nutrients. This kind of food is in the mode of darkness and ignorance. Meat-eating involves igrnorance in the form of lack of sensitivity. One may argue, if we are to be sensitive, then why not to plants? Why are we allowed to eat them? The reason is that plants unlike animals and human beings don't have a nervous system and hence do not feel pain. They do not bleed and even when they are cut from the fields, they can grow back... Finally liquor and other illicit substances also fall in this category because they numb your senses and hence your consciousness, making you do things you otherwise won't.
Other important aspects of food and eating:
How our consciousness affects our cooking
Our subtle self, consciousness or frame of mind also affect the food that we cook. So if we cook with love, it will reflect that love. If we cook with a negative bent of mind we may not be able to digest it. And if we cook with passion, that too will reflect in the food. That's why we often find that nothing tastes like "ma ka khana", it's so full of love.
The philosophy of prasad and giving back
As a children we often save money and gift our parents with it, in a way we're just returning their money to them, but what they are receiving with it is the love. Similarly, all food in its raw form comes to us from nature or as we believe it from God. So we offer food to God before eating as a way of giving thanks as it is the least we can do. Not doing that would be selfish. God doesn't take the food, but accepts our love. This is the philosophy of offering, and accepting prasad.