This blog note records my personal reflections on venues for exploring what may be called “Buddhist Bromatology = Buddhist Nutriology = Buddhist Sitiology = Buddhist Sitology = Buddhist Alimentology.”
“Bromatology” is defined as “the science of aliments or food.” In the Buddhist context, I would like to define “Buddhist Bromatology” or “Buddhist Nutriology” simply as “the Buddhist philosophy of food or nutrition.” Note that “sitiology/sitology” is said to be “the science of food and nourishment.” Cf. Trophology.
While reading the bSam gtan mig sgron, I just happened to wonder if there is something called “a philosophy of food” and specifically if there is something called a “a Buddhist philosophy of food.” So what do we nowadays? Just google and see if something pops up. And lo the first thing I find is “The Philosophy of Food” (a Sammelband edited by David M. Kaplan. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012). I did not read the book but people are talking about the book. The publisher ad says: “This book explores food from a philosophical perspective, bringing together sixteen leading philosophers to consider the most basic questions about food: What is it exactly? What should we eat? How do we know it is safe? How should food be distributed? What is good food?” According to a reader, it is said to take up a “a number of philosophical/ethical issues related to food, food production, and the aesthetic experience of eating and enjoying food” and about “ethical gourmandism, the myth of happy meat, veganism as a moral baseline, and nutritionism and functional foods.” I also googled up “Gastronomology,” but this does not seem to be a serious attested word. I also googled to see if I could find “Nutritionology.” One does find it though perhaps not an established word. We can also find “nutritionism.” Now can we speak of a “Buddhist philosophy of food,” or, perhaps “A Buddhist Nutritionology”? I think, we can. I have a feeling the Buddhist sources would have a great deal to tell us about food. Buddhist philosophy of food or Buddhist Nutritionology would be intricately linked with the Buddhist perception and conception of the body, its nature, status, value, and function, and this in turn, with Buddhist soteriology.
Again here, too, it would be ideal if we can obtain a diachronic and synchronic view of the issues. Here are some random points: (a) First of all, a definition and typology of food should be examined. Can food be defined as a “means of sustenance”? What about the types of food? In this regard, one immediately would think of the four types of food discussed in Abhidharmic sources: kham gyi zas, reg pa’i zas, sems pa’i zas, and rnam par shes pa’i zas (or rnam shes kyi zas). Also Vinayic sources would be valuable for extracting information about food. (b) Foods and medicines would often be discussed together in the Vinayic sources. (c) Ethically/ascetically/spiritually permissible foods and drinks. (d) The problem of meat-eating and vegetarianism. (e) The idea of “right livelihood” (yang dag pa’i ’tsho ba) and log pa’i ’tsho ba would become relevant. (f) Most Buddhist sources would look at food from an ascetic point of view and hence simply regard it like a fuel for the automobile. I think we will also find sources that tell us that we should eat food to feed micro-organism in our body. Not eating too much or too little. One third of the stomach must be filled with solid food, one third with water, and one third with air. (g) The topic of fasting might be relevant as well. The issue of starvation? (h) The topic of avoiding dinner would be an issue as well. (i) The issue of alcohol consumption would be relevant as well. (h) Perhaps like the types of food in general, the types of plant ingredients: roots, stem, flowers, fruits, and seeds. (i) As one enters the terrains of Tantric Buddhism, one would the encounter “white foods” (vegetarian) and “red foods” (non-vegetarian). Why does Kriyā system prescribe “three whites” and “three sweets” whereas some Mahāyoga systems prescribe “five meats” and “five nectars.” (j) Foods one adopts/avoids in general or only during specific occasions and situations. The theory and practice of fasting is relevant here. So it seems the venue for exploration is very vast.
In addition, the various kinds of tastes (i.e. 6 as described in the Abhidharmic literature) and also the sense of taste and enjoyment and its pros and cons from a Buddhist spiritual point of view would be relevant. What about the idea of “Tantric feast” (gaṇacakra: tshogs kyi ’khor lo)? Of course, we also find references to “table manners” (in Vinayic sources): making noises, playing with food, forming food into a shape of animals, etc. Consider: lha bshos, zhal zas ro rgya ldan pa, lto mchod, ja mchod, chang mchod. Food prohibition? What about kha srung “dietary restriction”? Where does the idea of nya phag gong gsum come from? From the idea of dug gsum? I think veganism was not known. Any discussion on cannibalism? All in all, we may see that Buddhist philosophy of food is influenced by the Buddhist philosophy of life and soteriology.