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Mohandas K. Gandhi (1869-1948)

From The Vegetarian (London), February 21, 1891:

Indian Vegetarians
Part III.

In the previous article "more hereafter" was promised about the cakes. These cakes are generally made of wheat-flour. Wheat is first ground in a handmill - a simple contrivance to reduce the wheat to a powder - not a mill requiring machinery. This powdered wheat is passed through a sieve with large holes, so that the coarsest bran is left out. Indeed, among the poor classes it is not passed through the sieve at all. This the flour, though not the same as that used by the Vegetarians here, is far superior to the ordinary flour that is used here for the much abused white bread. Some clarified butter, i.e., butter boiled and passed through a sieve - sometimes a useless process when the butter is quite pure - and then allowed to become cool - say a tea-spoonful to a pound of flour - is mixed with the flour, a suffcient quantity of water is poured on it, and then it is kneaded with the hands until it forms itself into one homogeneous mass. This lump is divided into small equal parts, each as big as a tangerine. These are rolled into thin circular pieces about six inches in diameter with a wooden stick made specially for the purpose. Each piece is separately and thoroughly baked in a flat dish. It takes from five to seven minutes to bake one cake. This cake is eaten while hot with butter, and has a very nice flavour. It may be, and is, eaten quite cold. What meat is to the ordinary Englishman, cake is to the Indian, be he a Vegetarian or a meat-eater, for in India a meat-eater does not in the writer's opinion regard his meat as an absolute necessity, but takes it rather as a side dish to help him, so to speak, in eatingthe cakes.

Such in outline, and only in outline is the ordinary food of a well-to-do Indian Vegetarian. Now a question may be asked, "Has not the British Rule effected any change in the habits of the Indian people?" So far as the food and drink are concerned "yes," and "no." No, because ordinary men and women have stuck to their original food and the number of meals. Yes, because those who have learned a little bit of English have picked up English ideas here and there, but this change too - whether it is for the worse or for the better must be left to the reader to judge - is not very perceptible.

The last mentioned class have begun to believe in breakfast, which usually consists of a cup or two of tea. Now this brings us to the question of drink. The drinking of tea and coffee, by the so-called educated Indians, chiefly due to the British Rule, may be passed over with the briefest notice. The most that tea and coffee can do is to cause a little extra expense, and general debility of health when indulged to excess, but one of the most greatly felt evils of the British Rule is the importation of alcohol - that enemy of mankind, the curse of civilization - in some form or another. The measure of the evil wrought by this borrowed habit will be properly guaged by the reader when he is told that the enemy has spread throughout the length and breadth of India, in spite of religious prohibition ; for even the touch of a bottle containing alcohol pollutes the Mahomedan, according to his religion, and the religion of the Hindu strictly prohibits the use of alcohol in any form whatever, and yet alas! the Government it seems, instead of stopping, are aiding and abetting the spread of alcohol. The poor there, as every where are the greatest sufferers. It is they who spend what little they earn in buying alcohol instead of buying good food and other necessaries. It is that wretched poor man who has to starve his family, who has to break the sacred trust of looking after his children, if any, in order to drink himself into misery and premature death. Here be it said to the credit of Mr. Caine, the ex-Member for Barrow, that he, undaunted, is still carrying on his admirable crusade against the spread of the evil, but what can the energy of one man, however powerful, do against the inaction of an apatheric and dormant Government!

M. K. Gandhi.