How to choose food to offer to the Lord.
If you've decided to be a vegetarian, and to take the further step of offering all your food to the Lord, sooner or later you'll face the task of changing your shopping habits.
When I first became interested in Krsna consciousness, I thought the problem was simple: buy what Krsna likes, and don't buy what He doesn't like. Philosophically speaking, that's correct. Devotees of Krsna make all their decisions for the pleasure of the Lord, because they love Him. But practically speaking there's a little more to it.
I still remember my first shopping trip after I had resolved to become a devotee. When I arrived at the supermarket, tired from my day's work and very hungry, I pulled a cart clanking out of the stack and started wandering the aisles. Soft music filled the air, orchestral arrangements of old top-ten tunes. My mind was pleasantly blank, flowing with the music and wide open to the advertising displays along the aisles.
"This is a snap," I thought. "All I have to do is not buy meat, fish, or eggs. Then I'll be able to offer Lord Krsna everything I cook. What could be simpler? Surely I've got enough will power to do that."
The shopping cart decided my first purchase. Like so many shopping carts, mine tended to pull away from the center of the aisle and head toward the brightly stocked shelves in this case an array of pickles and preserves. My arm reached out, and before I knew it I had a jar of pickles in my hand. "Cucumbers," I thought. "That's a vegetable." And I put them in my basket. I'd gone into the store with no special plan in mind. I was tired, and I just wanted something that wouldn't take long to fix. Pickles fit the bill.
And so did bread, an apple pie, a bottle of salad dressing, and cottage cheese. I knew I needed protein, and cottage cheese was supposed to have a lot. I also bought some cheddar cheese and Swiss cheese, for the same reason. Soda pop seemed all right. It went into the basket too.
When I reached the produce section, I began to worry whether I'd brought enough money. There were so many varieties of vegetables and fruit! But many seemed high priced, and most I had no idea how to prepare (kohlrabi, eggplant? I had never evenheard of jicama). I also knew that devotees shunned two of my previous favorites, garlic and onions, not because they weren't vegetables but because they increased the mode of passion in the eater. So, sticking to my determination to shop devotionally, I settled for potatoes, tomatoes, lettuce, and apples.
The check-out line was a bore, so I picked up a magazine and began leafing through it. 1 found an interesting article on preparing eggplant, but before I was halfway through it my turn had come. So I slipped the magazine into my pile of purchases and waited apprehensively for the cash register to ring up what I owed. I had just enough money.
When I got home with my bags, I was proud of myself. Now I could offer a vegetarian meal to Lord Krsna and eat His remnants, prasadam, just like the other devotees!
I didn't know how to cook Indian-style (I barely knew how to cook at all), but the devotees had assured me that the style of cooking is not so important as the care for Krsna that goes into it. So I prepared grilled-cheese sandwiches and a salad, and I arranged them on my offering plate with a pickle, a piece of pie, and a glass of soda.
I put the plate on my altar, in front of the pictures of Srila Prabhupada and Lord Krsna, and then read the offering prayers from the sheet of paper the devotees had given me. Then I transferred the offered food from the Lord's plate to a plate of my own, washed the Lord's plate and put it away, and sat down to dinner.
I was (and still am) a compulsive reader, and the magazine with the eggplant article was lying on the table with most of the other groceries, which I'd been in too much of a hurry to put away. I soon finished the article, so I began reading the labels on the jars and packages before me. I started with the cheddar cheese and got my first shock: It was made with rennet.
I knew what rennet was. As a child, I had read the "Little House" series of books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. In the very first book young Laura was afraid that Pa was going to kill their beautiful little calf for the lining of its stomach rennet so that Ma could make cheese. In the story, of course, Pa hadn't killed the calf. A neighbor had already killed one, and that made enough rennet for both families. But what calf had been killed for the cheese I'd bought and that I'd offered to Krsna?
I stopped eating. I picked up the cottage cheese container. It had "cottage cheese" on the label, and "salt," and sure enough "gelatin." Gelatin comes from boiling the bones, hooves, and horns of dead animals. What about the salad dressing and the pickles? In the dressing, eggs. And in the pickles garlic and onions, the very vegetables I'd made an extra effort to avoid.
Surely there was nothing wrong with the bread! And what could they possibly do to apple pie? But I'd let myself be fooled again. There it was, right on the labels of both: "vegetable and/or animal fat."
I was sad and angry. Sad because I'd offered something unofferable to Krsna and I was coming to care enough for Him to want to give Him things He liked. And angry not only at the food manufacturers (they didn't have to put meat into everything), but also at myself for being fool enough to go along with it, and for hurrying too fast to read the labels in the store, where it would have counted.
I finished the meal. I couldn't afford not to: I was low on money. As I mentally prayed to Lord Krsna for His mercy, I hoped He would be kind enough to accept the good intentions of a very, very neophyte devotee like me. But I wanted to offer Him food, not just good intentions! "Next time," I determined, "I'll know what to look for. And I'll get it right!"
I didn't get it all right on the next trip, of course, nor on the next. But I found that buying what Lord Krsna likes is easy, if you just maintain a firm determination to serve the Lord.
Over the weeks I learned more and more about what to do and what not to do while shopping for Krsna. What I learned I'd like to share with you now. Here's a list of tips. If you follow them, you'll avoid my mistakes, and your joy in offering food to the Supreme Lord will never diminish.
1. Plan simple menus of dishes the Lord would like. Ask the devotees they can help with menus and even recipes. You can also get a Hare Krsna Cookbook. (Send $2.50 plus $1.00 postage to IES, 3764 Watseka Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90034.) Before you go shopping, make a list based on your menus, and stick to it.
2. Meditate on the Lord's pleasure, not your own. This will be easier if you don't shop when you're hungry. That way you won't be tempted by junk foods or quick-to-prepare foods, which cost more and often contain things you don't want to offer to Lord Krsna.
3. Chant Hare Krsna as you shop, or bring along a tape recorder and headphones. Chanting Krsna's holy names or listening to devotional tapes will help you remember Krsna. It will also shut out the corny background music in the store.
4. Put devotional care into your shopping service; take time to read every label. This cannot be emphasized enough. Don't assume that labels stay the same; products change. Watch out for rennet, gelatin, and lecithin (it comes from eggs, unless specifically marked "soy lecithin"). Also watch out for "natural flavorings" (they could be natural animal flavorings). If a product has a blank label, don't buy it they don't want you to know what's in it.
5. Bring a BACK TO GODHEAD magazine to read in the check-out line. The store manager puts the magazines and candy there because he knows you'll be so bored that you'll probably buy something. Fool him! Bring your own Krsna conscious reading matter.
6. Explore alternatives to supermarket shopping. Many cooperatives, for example, will order rennetless cheese for you. Or explore your local farmer's market, or farms near your city where you can pick your own produce. And if you have a little space in your yard, why not grow something for the Lord? Lord Krsna will be pleased to see your sincere efforts in His service.