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There's a story about quitting eating sugar (or about verifying that you can do something before you order someone else to do it), which is attributed here to the Mahatma Gandhi, and which is told as if Gandhi himself were the actor in the story. The story ends with,

Gandhi says to the boy, “you must stop eating sugar. It’s very bad for you.”

The boy has such respect for Gandhi that he stops and lives a healthy life.

The woman is confused and asks him, “Gandhi, please tell me: why did you want me to wait two weeks to bring back my son.”

Gandhi said, “Because before I could tell your son to stop eating sugar. I had to stop eating sugar first.”

Every search result on the first page of https://www.google.com/search?q=gandhi+sugar repeats this story.

I've previously read that story attributed to Nasrudin by Idries Shah. Nasrudin is approximately 13th century.

So:

  • Does this story pre-date Gandhi's life?
  • Did Gandhi tell this story, and if so did he portray himself as the main actor in it?
  • While the story is told in Shah's version of Nasrudin, Nasrudin stories are a living folk tradition and individual stories can derive from any period, including the contemporary. – Samuel Russell Dec 15 '14 at 4:26
  • @SamuelRussell Yes. So I guess there are three possibilities: a) is from Gandhi; b) pre-dates Gandhi and is not from Gandhi; c) modern and is not from Gandhi. I wonder where and when Idries Shah (who was born in India) found the story. It's even difficult to search for Nasrudin online, because the spelling of the name changes, and because Idries Shah might have been one of the earlier people to translate/publish/popularize them into English. – ChrisW Dec 15 '14 at 13:13
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    @georgechalhoub I think it's characteristic of (i.e. similar to) other stories of Nasrudin (so if you think that was a good story, you might like to find and read a collection of other Nasrudin stories). – ChrisW Mar 11 '15 at 10:42
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Did Gandhi tell this story

It seems doubtful

  • He was a vegetarian, did not drink tea or coffee and preferred uncooked food.
  • He was willing to lead by example but not always in advance of his advice.
  • There is no obvious source or references for the origin of this story.
  • The story has an enormous amount of variation.

Vegetarianism

Gandhi was a strict vegetarian, it seems unlikely he was in the habit of sprinkling sugar on his food.

From his writings about the food of India it is clear that he had on occasion eaten end enjoyed sweets made with sugar

Lastly, nuts take the place of English sweets. Children eat a great quantity of sugared nuts. They are also largely used on "fruit days". We fry them in butter, and even stew them in milk. Almonds are supposed to be very good for the brain. I will just point out one of the various ways in which we use the cocoanut. It is first ground and then mixed with clarified butter and sugar. It tastes very nice. I hope some of you will try at home those coconut sweet balls as they are called.

However it seems very unlikely that a strict vegetarian, living mostly on uncooked vegetables, who (at least later in life) endured many long fasts, would have had any doubts that he could give up sugar for a week.

Leading by example

The Times of India tells a related story

Throughout Gandhi's correspondence, this is a constant thread; in one letter he'd be writing to the Viceroy, in the next he would be telling one of his followers what to eat.

Gandhi never forced anyone to follow his diets. On the contrary, he advised a follower who had been inspired by him to turn vegetarian, but whose wife was resisting, that it was his duty to buy his wife meat. Gandhi was adamant that people could not be forced but could be persuaded, by extremely strong emotional blackmail if necessary. He did exactly that once when Kasturba fell sick. He told her to stop eating pulses and salt. She asked him sarcastically if he was capable of doing that. He replied that he would do just that for a year, at which Kasturba pretty much had to acquiesce.

So if Gandhi didn't give up pulses and salt for a period before advising Kasturba to do so, it seems inconsistent that he would need to prove to himself or to others in advance that he could give up sugar.

Inconsistencies

I checked a few of the stories, none of which say exactly where or when Gandhi said this. They tend to vary considerably

The period is any of: three days, one week, two weeks or three months. Usually the child is a boy but in at least one example it is a girl. What Gandhi says to the child varies quite a bit

  • "Young man, you must stop eating sugar. It is not good for you, and it is very troubling to your mother when you eat it."
  • "My boy, you must stop eating sugar"
  • "You must stop eating sugar."
  • "you must stop eating sugar. It’s very bad for you."
  • "You must stop eating sugar immediately."
  • "You really should stop eating sugar, as your mother wishes."
  • "Don’t eat sugar."
  • Gandhi told him it would be best if he quit eating so much sugar.
  • "Boy, you should stop eating sugar. It is not good for your health."

It seems almost every reporting of this story has unique embelishments.

It is probable that Gandhi spoke in a language other than English (It has been reported he knew half a dozen languages used in India) - so it's plausible the story would have been translated into English several times. Even so, the variations seem excessive.

These variations suggest that there isn't a single written source that has been accurately repeated.

Reported Sources

One blogger reports the following sources:

  • The story is in Al Gore's book "Earth in the Balance". 1992. which references
  • "The Great Turning", by Craig Schindler and Gary Lapid (Bear and Company, 1989).

Apparently the latter doesn't give a specific reference but the bibliography mentions Gandhi's autobiography - however the blogger can find no trace of the story in Gandhi's autobiography.

  • I think it's doubtful, too; but I'm not sure that would be enough to convince someone who finds it credible (someone who, for example, might claim to remember having read it in a biography of Gandhi's). – ChrisW Dec 9 '14 at 11:29
  • What are "pulses"? – Scott Baker Dec 11 '14 at 21:50
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    @ScottSEA See Wikipedia - they include beans, peas, lentils ... they're a vegan's source of protein. – ChrisW Dec 11 '14 at 22:55
  • According to that blog post, the quote which he couldn't find in Gandhi's autobiography is the "Be the change" quote (but IMO the "sugar" quote is also not to be found there). – ChrisW Dec 11 '14 at 23:20
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    What has being a vegatarian to do with eating sugar? Sugar is made from sugar cane or sugar beets. It's a completely vegan product. – Philipp May 6 '16 at 19:15
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The specific passage attributed by the OP to Gandhi is found to be previously present in the book "The Pleasantries of the Incredible Mulla Nasrudin" by Idries Shah.

Thanks so much to the earlier commentators for helping get to the real source of one of my favorite parables.

  • For a good, complete answer, you should reference the location of the story in the text (e.g. by page number?) and it might be worth quoting it in its original form. – matt_black May 6 '16 at 8:50
  • @Erol What do you think "the real source" is that was found by earlier commentators? The only message I saw in the previous answer was that it probably wasn't Gandhi. – ChrisW May 10 '16 at 9:07

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