Issues of Nutrition in the Light of Spiritual Science
Berlin, 17th December 1908
It seems strange to people when spiritual science has something to say about that which is regarded by many with a certain logic as the most material, as the most unspiritual subject: nutrition. There are people who want to indicate their particular idealism, their particular spirituality by saying: oh, we care only about that which is above the questions that are connected with the material life.
Such persons also believe — and in certain respects they may be right — that it is irrelevant to one's spiritual development how the human being satisfies his bodily needs.
The materialistic way of thinking judges differently. A great philosopher of the nineteenth century had a saying that has often been repeated and that causes many who are idealistically minded to shudder. Feuerbach (Ludwig F., 1804-1872) once said: “The human being is what he eats.” Most people understand it in such a way — and the materialistic sense will absolutely agree with it — that the human being is made up of the substances which he supplies to his body, and from this develops not only the course of his bodily life but also that which presents itself in his mind.
If outsiders hear more or less cursorily about spiritual science, they believe that anthroposophists are too concerned with eating, with diet. An outsider cannot understand why the anthroposophists care so much about their diet. It should not be denied that in some anthroposophical circles whose members want to penetrate rather deeply into the spiritual life in an easy way, lack of clarity prevails. Some believe, nevertheless, that they should avoid this or that, should not eat or drink certain things in order to reach certain higher levels of knowledge! This is also a fallacy, like that just characterised view of Feuerbach's saying: “The human being is what he eats.” It is a one-sided view at least.
However, in a certain sense spiritual science can agree with this sentence, only in a rather different way than it is meant by the materialists, differing in two respects. Firstly, we have already stressed on occasion that everything around us is the expression of something spiritual. A mineral, a plant or something in our surroundings is material only with respect to its outer form. As with the limb of a human being, the outer form is the expression, the gesture of the spirit. Something spiritual is behind all material, and this is true of food as well. When we eat we absorb not only what spreads out materially before our eyes, but also that which is spiritual behind it. We come into relation through the material element of the food to the spiritual which is behind it. This is a rather superficial standpoint. However, someone who understands this is able to admit the materialistic sentence in certain respect: “The human being is what he eats.” Only one has to understand that there is a spiritual process within the material process.
This is the only way we can orient ourselves to these questions in the spiritual-scientific sense. If spiritual science puts emphasis on and pursues investigations regarding the nature of the foodstuffs, a unique perspective on the relation of the human being to nature appears. The human being comes into relation with nature because he absorbs the surrounding nature in a certain way and composes himself with that which is in it. The question arises, is the human being not subject to the external forces, because he ingests that which is external, and can he free himself from these forces? Is there any possibility that the human being can become free from the effects of his diet, so that he receives a certain power from and a certain influence on the surroundings? Could it not be that the human being, indeed, could be what he eats, through following a certain diet — and could it not be that by another diet the human being gets rid of the compulsion that is exercised on him by diet? So, the question is asked by spiritual science: how has nutrition to be arranged that the human being gets rid of the compulsion of diet, so that he becomes more and more the master of the processes within himself?
When we put this question to ourselves today, something must be said about the whole position of spiritual science in regard to these questions. This question, also about health, must be understood in such a way that in no way spiritual science argues for any particular point of view. Whoever believes that what is said today is agitating for or against this or that diet has an extremely erroneous view. Today nobody should go away from here with the view that I argued for or against abstinence, vegetarianism, meat diet.
All these questions about dogmas have nothing to do with the innermost feeling of spiritual science. We do not want to agitate, do not command the human being in this or that way; we want to say only how matters are. Then everybody may organise his life, as he wants, according to these overarching principles of existence. Thus, this talk will solely expound what is real in this field. On the other side, I ask you very much to take into consideration that I do not speak for anthroposophic circles in the narrow sense which want to go through a certain development and have to observe special conditions. Today, the question is discussed in the general-human sense. Because of the vast range of the subject, only single things can be taken out, and, above all, everything must be avoided that is connected with general health. We shall hear about this in the next talk.
Today, we deal with nutrition in the narrower sense. That is why the respiratory process is not taken into account. The human being has to take up proteins, carbohydrates, fats and salts in order to maintain the life process of his organism. You know that the human being satisfies the needs of his organism with the so-called mixed diet. He takes the main parts of his diet partly from the animal, partly from the plant realm. There are many more defenders of the mixed diet than of a one-sided diet among our contemporaries. We must ask ourselves, how do the laws of our environment dictate how the human being takes his food to the true forces and needs of the human organism? I speak only about the human being today, not about the animals.
The human being is easily inclined to understand his organism rather materially according to the so-called scientific results of his time. Spiritual science has to substitute this with the laws of the spiritual connections. Even if not always stated explicitly, the method which is adopted is based more or less unconsciously on the idea that the human organism consists more or less only of the physical body, and the sum of the chemical substances in their interaction with each other. One traces these substances back to their individual chemical elements and attempts — after one has recognised how these substances work — to get an idea how they could continue chemically working in the retort which one regards as the human being.
It is not necessary to state that many people are already beyond the view that the human being is only a big retort. It is not a matter of theories, but of the ways of thinking. The true practitioner is not concerned about anybody's thoughts, but about the effects of the thoughts. That is the point. It does not matter so much whether one is an idealist or not, but it is significant for life that one has fertile thoughts which are active in such a way that life prospers and progresses. It is important to bear in mind that spiritual science, even in this direction, has nothing to do with dogma or any belief. Anyone may espouse the most spiritual theories. It is not this which is important, but rather the fact that these thoughts are fertile if he introduces them in life. If one says that he is not a materialist, that he believes in the vital force, even in the spirit, but proceeds in the question of nutrition always as if the human being is a retort, his worldview cannot become fertile. Spiritual science has something to say about these concrete questions only if it itself is able to illuminate the details, and it is able to do so concerning the issues of nutrition and of health.
We must come again to clarity regarding the multi-membered human being. For the spiritual researcher the human being is not only the physical being, which one sees with the eyes, can touch with the hands - this physical body is only one part of the human being. This physical body consists of the same chemical substances that are spread out in nature. However, the human being has higher members. Already the next part of the human being is supersensible, has a higher reality than the physical body. It forms the basis of the physical body; it is the whole life through a fighter against the decay of the physical body. At the moment when the human being goes through the gate of death, the physical body is subject only to its own principles, and then disintegrates. In life, the life body fights against the decay. It gives the substances other directions and forces, other connections than they would have if they followed only their own nature. For the clairvoyant consciousness, this body is as visible as the physical body for the eye. The human being has this life body or etheric body in common with the plant.
We know from other talks that the human being still has a third member of his being, the astral body. What is it? It is the bearer of joy and sorrow, of desires, impulses and passions, of all that we call our inner soul life. All that has its seat in the astral body. It is spiritually discernible, as the physical body for the physical consciousness. The human being has this astral body in common with the animals.
The fourth member is the bearer of the ego, of self-consciousness. The human being is thereby the crown of creation, he towers over the things of the earth, which surround him. Thus, the human being faces us with three invisible members and a visible member. These always work in each other and with each other. They all work on any single member and each single member works on all others. Thus, the physical body — I say once again in parenthesis that all this applies only to the human being — as it faces us, is an expression in all its parts also of the invisible members of human nature. This physical body could not have in itself the members that serve the nutrition, the reproduction, life generally if it did not have the etheric body. All organs that serve nutrition and reproduction, the glands and so on, are the external expressions of the etheric body. They are that which the etheric body creates in the physical body.
Among other things, the nervous system is, in the physical body, the expression of the astral body. Here the astral body is the actor, the creator. We can imagine just as a clock or a machine is constructed by a watchmaker or by a mechanical engineer, the nerves are constructed by the astral body.
The characteristic of the human blood circulation, the blood activity, is the external physical expression of the ego-bearer, the bearer of the self-consciousness. Thus, the human physical body is also four-membered in certain ways. It is an expression of the physical members and of three higher, invisible members. The senses are pure physical; the glands are the expression of the etheric body, the nervous system of the astral body and the blood of the ego.
If we look at the human being in contrast to the plant, the plant faces us as a two-membered being. The plant has a physical body and an etheric body. Now we compare the human being to the plant, while we proceed universally and take the inner, the spiritual, into consideration. We relate the human four-membered organism with the two-membered organism of the plants. In order to support our view we may start from physical, known facts.
We can show how the plant builds up its organism. It builds up its body from inorganic substances. It has the strength to compose its body from single inorganic components in the most wonderful way. We need to see only how the plant is in a special interaction with the respiratory process. The human being inhales oxygen and exhales carbonic acid. The plant can absorb what is useless to the human being. It holds the carbon back for the construction of its organism and returns the oxygen for the most part. However, it requires something that is not regarded by many people as something particular: it needs the sunlight. Without sunlight, it could not build up its organism. The light that flows to us and delights us, that can animate us also emotionally, is at the same time the great assistant of the construction of the plant organism. We see how there a marvel takes place, how the sunlight helps to construct an organic being. What makes our eyes effective helps the plant to construct itself.
The human being also has the astral body beyond the physical one and the etheric body. The plant does not have it. That which helps the sunlight to build up the plants so marvellously is the etheric body. This is turned on one side towards the substances. The human being could not develop his physical organism if he did not do anything that is in certain ways in the opposite way that which the plant does. Already in the respiratory process, the human being does something contrary. The human being already goes through the contrary process. We can say the same concerning the complete nutrition of the human being. We can say, nutrition must take place in such a way that everything that is built up in the plant is destroyed in the human being again. The process in the human being is very peculiar. If it were only the etheric body that built up a physical body, consciousness or soul sensation would never appear. What the etheric body has built up must be destroyed internally over and over again, must be destroyed. Indeed, the etheric body is a fighter against decay, but, nevertheless, always some decay occurs. The astral body causes the decay that keeps the human being from becoming a plant.
The sunlight and the human astral body are two opposite things in certain ways. For one who gets to know the human astral body with clairvoyant consciousness the astral body is an internal spiritual light, invisible to the external eye. A spiritual light body is this astral body. It is the contrast to the external luminous light. Imagine once the sunlight becoming weaker and weaker, until it expires, and let it go even farther to the other side, let it become negative, then you have an inner light. This inner light has the opposite task of the external light that would build up the plant body from inorganic substances. The inner light which initiates the partial destruction, only by which process consciousness is possible, brings the human being to a higher level than the plant, because the process of the plant is transformed into its opposite. Thus, the human being is in a certain contrast to the plant because of his inner light. This is to understand the matter spiritually, and we would see on closer consideration how the destruction caused by the astral body is then continued by the ego. However, today this does not need to occupy us further.
We now take the relationship of the human being to the plant, which becomes so real that the human being takes up his nutrients from the plant. He continues within himself what is for the plant a whole world process. What is built up by the sunlight is destroyed by the astral body, indeed, over and over again, but it thereby integrates the nervous system into the human being and makes the human life a conscious one. Thus, the astral body being a negative light body is the other pole that is opposed to the plant. Something spiritual forms the basis of this process of building up the plant organism; spiritual science shows us more and more how that which appears as light to us is only the external expression of something spiritual.
Something spiritual shines, through the light, perpetually towards us, the light of the spirits shines towards us. What is hidden behind this physical light, but is separated in parts appears also in our astral body. It appears externally in its physical form, astrally in the astral body. The spiritual light works in us internally on the construction of our nervous system. So wonderfully do the plant and the human life work together.
We now examine the human being's relationship with the animal realm as food. Here matters are different. In the animal from which he takes his foodstuffs, the process is already carried out in certain ways. What man takes usually from the plant is partially transformed by the animal, already prepared, Since the animal has an astral body and a nervous system, too. Therefore, the human being takes up something that does not come to him unchanged, but that has already gone through a process that has taken up astral forces. What lives in the animal has already developed astral forces in itself. One could now believe that thereby the human being saves work. However, this thought is not quite correct. Imagine once the following: I build up a house with the help of various pieces of equipment. I take the original equipment. There I can construct the house completely by my original intentions. However, let us assume that three or four other persons have already worked on it bit by bit and now I have to complete it. Does this make my work easier? No, surely not. You read in a widespread literature that work is made easier for the human being if someone has already worked on it. However, human being becomes a more versatile, more independent being just by taking up the original.
Another picture: somebody has a balance with two scale pans. The identical weights keep the balance. On both sides there may be fifty pounds. However, that is not always the case. I can take a balance on which the arms are different lengths. Then we only need half the weight at twice the distance. Here the weight is defined by distance. It depends not only on the amount of the forces but also on the delicacy of the materials in particular. The animal processes the materials in a more imperfect sense. What the human being takes up continues to have an effect by that which the astral body of the animal caused in it, and then the human being has to overcome this first.
However, because an astral body has worked so that a process has already taken place in a sentient being, the human being gets something in his organism that has an effect on his nervous system. This is the basic difference between food from the plant realm and food from the animal realm. The food from the animal realm works in particular on the nervous system and with it on the astral body. In contrast, with plant food the nervous system is left untouched by anything external. Then, however, the human being has also to create everything concerning the nervous system by himself. Thereby only that which originates in him flow through his nerves. He who knows how much in the human organism depends on the nervous system understands what that is. If the human being builds up his nervous system himself, it is fully receptive to that which the human being has to expect of it in relation to the spiritual world. The human being owes to the plant foods the ability to look up at the greater connections of things that raise him above the prejudices that arise from the narrow borders of the personal being. Where the human being regulates life, and thinking freely from the great viewpoints, this he owes to the plant foods. Where the human being lets himself get carried away by rage, antipathy, by prejudices, he owes this to his meat-based food.
I do not agitate for plant foods. On the contrary: the animal food was necessary for the human being and still today it is often necessary because the human being should be firm on earth, should be hemmed in the personal. Everything that brought him to his personal interests is connected with the animal food. The fact that there were human beings who waged wars, who had sympathy and antipathy, sensuous passions for each other originates from the animal food. However, the human being owes to the plant foods that he is not limited to these narrow interests, that he can grasp universal interests. That is why the talents of certain peoples who prefer plant foods are more spiritual, while other people develop more bravery, courage, boldness that are also necessary to life. These qualities are not to be developed without the personal element, and this is not possible without animal food.
We speak about these questions from a general human viewpoint today. However, this brings to our mind that the human being can go in this or that direction, can immerse himself also in his personal interests with the animal food. His sense is thereby clouded concerning the larger overview of existence. One mostly does not see how it is founded in the diet when the human being says: now I do not know how I should do this or that, how has he done it?
This impossibility of surveying these connections comes from the food. Compare this to someone who can see the larger connections. You can look back at the food of these human beings and maybe at the food of the ancestors. A person who has a virginal nervous system given to him by his ancestry is completely different. This person has a different sense of the larger connections. Sometimes, abuses in one life cannot destroy what the ancestors have founded. Even if such a person, descended from peasants, for instance, stirs up what he has in himself, it has only been stimulated by the consumption of meat because he was more sensitive.
Progress is made when the human being, as far as the requirement for protein that is not prepared in the human nature itself, confines himself to the animal foods that are not yet set aglow by passions, such as milk. The plant food will take up more and more room in the human diet.
Concerning single foodstuffs, we can emphasise certain advantages of the vegetable foodstuffs. If the human being gets his protein from vegetable foodstuffs, he has to work harder, but he develops the forces that make his nervous system fresher. A lot of that which humanity would face if the consumption of meat got out of control would be avoided if vegetable foodstuffs would be preferred. We can see in the vegetarian and meat-based food the different effects they have. To illustrate this, we can say the following: look at the physical process under the influence of meat-based food. The red blood cells become heavy, darker; the blood tends to coagulate. Impacts of salts, of phosphates originate easier. If plant food is absorbed, the blood sedimentation is much lower. It becomes possible for the human being not to let the blood take on the darkest colouring. Just thereby is he able to control the coherence of his thoughts from his ego, while heavy blood is an expression of the fact that he is given away slavishly to that which is integrated in his astral body by the animal food. This picture is definitely an external expression of truth. The human being becomes internally stronger by the relation to the plant realm. By meat-based food he integrates something that gradually becomes foreign matter which goes its own way in him. This is avoided if the food consists mostly of plants. If the materials in us go their own ways, they strengthen the forces which cause hysterical, epileptic states. Because the nervous system receives these impregnations from the outside, it becomes susceptible to heterogeneous nervous diseases. Thus, we see how in certain respects “the human being is what he eats.”
In details it would be still even more provable, but through two examples we can show that one must not be one-sided. A one-sided vegetarian may say, we are not allowed to enjoy milk, butter and cheese. However, milk is a product in which the etheric body of the animals is advantageously involved. The astral body is involved in it to the least extent. The human being can live in the first times of his life as a baby only on milk. There everything is contained in it that he needs. With the preparation of milk, the astral body comes into consideration only rudimentarily. If one enjoys milk primarily at later age, if possible only milk, one achieves a particular effect with it. Because the person ingests nothing that is processed externally and can influence his astral body, and because he absorbs something in the milk that is already prepared, he is able to develop particular forces of his etheric body in himself, which can exercise curative effects on the fellow men. The healers who want to have a curative effect on their fellow men have a particular aid in the consumption of milk.
On the other hand, we want to describe the influence of a luxury that is taken from the plant realm, the influence of alcohol. This has a particular significance. It originates only when the real plant process, the effect of the sunlight, has stopped, namely the opposite that the astral body carries out. Then a process begins in the assimilation of alcohol that takes place on a lower level and impairs the human being even more than animal food. The human being brings the substances up to the astral body, gives them a particular structure with the astral body. However, if that which should be brought to the astral body disintegrates in the way as it is the case with the alcohol, then that happens without the astral body, hat which should happen under the influence of the astral body, namely the effect on the ego and the blood. The effect of the alcohol is to take over that which should happen, otherwise, from the free decision of the ego, by the alcohol. In certain respects, it is correct that a person who enjoys alcohol needs less food. He lets the forces of alcohol penetrate the blood. He provides what he himself should do with something external. One can say in certain ways that in such a person the alcohol thinks and feels. Because the human being provides to the alcohol what his ego should be subject to, the human being places himself under the constraint of something external. He gets a material ego. The human being can say, I just feel a stimulation of my ego thereby. Indeed, but now he is not experiencing the ego, but something else with which he has banished his ego. Thus, we could still show by various things how the human being can get around to being more and more what he eats. However, spiritual science also shows us how he is able to become free from the forces of food.
Thus, I wanted only to describe the relation of the human being to his surroundings along general lines today, how he relates to the realms of nature through the processes of nutrition. Who visits this or that talk further on will see that individual questions can also be answered on other occasions. This talk will have shown you that spiritual science is something that has its effect also on the most material needs of life. Spiritual science is something that can be an ideal for the human future. Today one still says often if one sees the substances combining and separating in the human being: it is like in a retort, and one believes that one can find something salutary in it for the human beings. However, a time is coming when someone who does research in the laboratory will also keep in sight what I have said about the light and the astral body. Is not anybody able to make the usual chemical observations if he says to himself, that here the larger elements have an effect on the smallest things which are penetrated by the external physical sunlight, and those which shine up to the spiritual in the human consciousness? One will explore these things in a light that gives us an overview of the whole.
By the spirit, everything is born that is in our surroundings. The spirit is the primal ground of all. If we want to come to truth, the spirit has also to stand with us as we conduct the research. Then we recognise that truth which the human beings need both on the macro cosmic and on the microcosmic scale.