The Yeast Bread Debate

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Yeast Bread Loaf

Can we offer bread made with yeast to Krishna?

Krishna prefers chapatis. But yes, if you can't live without it, you can offer bread made with yeast to your home deities or to a picture of Krishna. However, you should not offer such bread to installed deities in the temple. Here's why.

There's the high standard.

At the temple, deities of Krishna are offered only the purest, healthiest foods, freshly prepared with love and devotion. Devotees offer Krishna what He likes to eat. Lists of foods our Founder Acharya Srila Prabhupada specifically authorized are consulted when preparing temple offerings. No canned or frozen foods are used. Nothing cooked by non-devotees, such as pasta, aged cheese, or soy products. Only initiated Brahmana cooks are allowed to prepare this exquisite food for the temple Deities, clearly maintaining a high standard of worship.

Then there's the home worship standard, where adjustments are made on the practical, progressive path to perfection.

As lay persons attempting to lead a Krishna conscious life at home, work or school in the secular world we are given concessions. With our oh-so-busy schedules it's not always practical or possible to make fresh chapatis for every meal, or to eat only what we've prepared ourselves with love and devotion for Krishna, and nothing prepared by non-devotees. To avoid all frozen, pickled or canned foods. No aged cheeses. To offer only fresh foods prepared minutes in advance. (Those who want to make an argument that we shouldn't use yeasted bread might just as soon argue for avoiding all of the above.)

In practical reality, many of of us settle for what we can manage under the circumstances, offering Krishna readily available foodstuffs with all the love we can muster. We set a standard that we can maintain, and we work our way up from there. It's a trade-off between following or not following a Krishna conscious diet, lest we proclaim with hands above our heads, "It's too difficult! I quit!", and give up on offering our food altogether. We may be tempted to (erroneously) think, "Krishna won't accept this anyway, so what's the use!"

Krishna encourages us in the Bhagavad-gita that, whatever we do, whatever we eat, we should do it as an offering to Him, with love. Even a leaf, a flower, a fruit or water He will accept. That's not to say that we lose sight of the goal. Make no mistake, Krishna likes fresh, buttered chapatis, with butter churned from the milk of the happy cow in your back yard. That store-bought, non-devotee, karmi-baked German sourdough loaf, tasty as it may be for my palate, is not what the big man ordered. (Yet He assures us that He accepts our offering anyway, because He knows we're trying.)

It's always better to lean on the side of offering everything to Krishna, even if the offering is not yet perfect. Gradually, as we increase our love for Him by regularly hearing and chanting His names, by associating with His devotees, and yes, by eating foods offered to Him (prasadam), we naturally begin to wonder, "what would Krishna like to eat? Would He prefer a sourdough roll from supermarket shelf, or something fresh, home-made, that took some effort on my part to make for Him?"

That's the short of it. Here are details.

Some arguments people give whenever this topic comes up in discussions:

1) It's fermented. Bread prepared with yeast undergoes a fermentation process. Isn't it therefore considered tamasic, in the mode of ignorance, and not offer-able to Krishna?

ISKCON chef Kurma Dasa replies: "Yeast is not a traditional ingredient in Vaishnava cookery, yet we do prepare and offer to Krishna fermented things like khamir poori, dosa, idli, jalebis, etc. These are all fermented naturally, with the help of airborne yeasts."

We might add, yogurt is produced by the bacterial fermentation of milk, in a fermentation process lasting 4 to 7 hours. Yet Krishna likes yogurt, so we offer it.

2) Yeast is a single-celled fungus, like a mushroom. Because mushrooms grow in the dark, from decomposing substances, and are therefore considered to be in the mode of ignorance, shouldn't we therefore conclude that yeast is also in the lower mode and shouldn't be offered?

Although the yeast fungus also grows in the "dark", it feeds on juicy fresh starch and sugar molecules. If "growing in the dark" is the measure of what makes a food tamasic, then any root vegetable should also be avoided. No potatoes, carrots, peanuts or ginger for you. (There are people who make such a case.)

3) Aren't yeast (and mushrooms) living organisms, and therefore shouldn't be offered?

Not unless you include every food known to man, which all comes from living organisms. Consider the billions of live lactobacillus organisms you offer and eat in a spoonful of yogurt. Want to compare the conscious evolution of a single-celled yeast fungus against that of a lactobacillus bacterium, and decide which is the lesser life form? Which will incur less karma to eat?

Clearly the answer to why we don't offer yeasted bread to deities of Krishna on ISKCON temple altars lies somewhere else.

ISKCON chef Kurma Dasa explains, "Yeast is not such a good thing to offer to Krishna - best to make traditional breads. .. Especially since commercial yeast is a by-product of the brewing industry, it is not a high-class ingredient."

Strike one. It's a by-product of making beer. Not a "high-class" ingredient. Right. Only the best ingredients should be used in preparing food for Krishna.

ISKCON's deity worship handbook (Pancharatra-Pradipa) states that "it is best to avoid offering foods containing unhealthy substances such as yeast and white sugar."

Strike two. The authors of the rule book say it's unhealthy, so why offer it.

In a letter to his disciple Vibhavati, dated July 15, 1969, Srila Prabhupada writes:

"No, it is not very good to use yeast in preparing prasadam. It is better to prepare bread in the process as you have seen done in the temple."

That's clear.

The original Hare Krishna Cook Book from 1973, compiled from recipes taught by Srila Prabhupada, explains:

Chapter 4, Breads, second paragraph: "The breads described here are very delicious as well as wholesome, and they are easy to prepare with a little practice. None of them are cooked in an oven, although regular baked bread (without yeast) is very nice to offer. All the breads described here (except bread sticks) are round and require a little skill in rolling, but it soon becomes easy to do."

Note the "without yeast" clarification. Baking bread without yeast was apparently the standard in ISKCON in 1973.

In his book about the early days, The Hare Krishna Explosion, Hayagriva Dasa recalls:

"With dismay we begin to realize that more than hamburgers are off limits. We’re all fond of coffee and tea, and it’s hard to imagine breakfast without eggs. Besides, breads, hot cakes, ice cream, and cookies usually have eggs in them. Also, “no foodstuff cooked by non-devotees” excludes all restaurants, quick food shops, and even most packaged supermarket foods. And no yeast, garlic, onions, and mushrooms puts an end to pizza. Somebody even points out that most cheeses are made with rennet—cow’s stomach! “I’m ninety percent lenient,” Swamiji says, laughing. “If I were to tell you everything at once, you’d faint.”

Again, it seems that from the earliest days Srila Prabhupada set a standard for no yeast and no mushrooms. (Rats! There goes that pizza.)

So, you might ask, given all of the above information, why does anyone still eat yeasted bread? Don't they know better? Aren't they displeasing Srila Prabhupada?

Well, for one thing, most people haven't yet read this blog post.
And besides, maybe there's more to the story.

In Vedavyasa dasa's memoir, "Srila Prabhupada and His Disciples in Germany," Manimanjari devi dasi remembers:

"We didn't think about using yeast to raise the dough. Our first attempts at baking bread were unsuccessful. Because Germans can't live without their daily ration of fresh baked, crunchy bread, Srila Prabhupada was consulted about our using yeast. When he heard that yeast is the dried form of a single-celled fungus, he said it was all right, but that we shouldn't offer the bread to the Deities."

And there you have it. The justification for all German devotees, and all those of German descent and all lovers of German bread around the world (and all those who love German devotees), to eat their favorite daily bread made with yeast. Just don't offer it to the installed Deities on the altar, where buttered chapatis are expected.

Manorama Dasa
February 10, 2012

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