To (The Hungry) God Can Only Appear as Bread and Butter

Mohandas Gandhi? Corita Kent? Nirmal Kumar Bose? David Guy Powers? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The experience of hunger causes one’s motivations to focus on the need to acquire food. The following saying reflects this single-mindedness:

God himself dare not appear to a hungry person except in the form of bread.

This remark has been attributed to Mahatma Gandhi and Corita Kent; however, I have been unable to find a solid citation. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: For more than a decade Mohandas Gandhi was the editor of the weekly journal “Young India”. In 1931 the journal published a piece about Gandhi’s visit to Lancashire, England, a region that exported cloth to India. Gandhi wished to halt this transfer of goods because he envisioned an economy with homespun cloth produced locally by Indian workers. He met with English workers and discussed the prevalence of hunger in India. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

It is good enough to talk of God whilst we are sitting here after a nice breakfast and looking forward to a nicer luncheon, but how am I to talk of God to the millions who have to go without two meals a day. To them God can only appear as bread and butter.

This passage embodies a semantic match and a partial syntactic match for the quotation. There is also evidence that Gandhi expressed this notion on other occasions.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

The Indian anthropologist Nirmal Kumar Bose worked closely with Gandhi and published a memoir titled “My Days With Gandhi” in 1953. A section dated December 3, 1946 mentioned a conversation during which Gandhi employed a version of the saying: 2

In the afternoon, Amiya Chakraverty arrived here along with Mae Alexandre of the Friends’ Service Unit and Prof. Stuart Nelson of the Howard University of Washington. While speaking to Prof. Nelson, Gandhiji repeated his familiar view that for those who were in need, God appeared in the form of bread and of clothes.

Gandhi died in January 1948, and the saying continued to propagate posthumously. For example, in October 1948 a Dayton, Ohio newspaper reported on a speech delivered to local Rotarians by David Guy Powers who was described as a New York specialist in human behavior: 3

Quoting the late Mohandas Gandhi, he said, “God himself dare not appear to a hungry man except in the form of bread.”

In January 1949 the “St. Louis Post-Dispatch” of Missouri published a collection of quotations attributed to Gandhi under the title “The Wisdom of Mahatma Gandhi”. Here were three sayings: 4

A man of few words will rarely be thoughtless in his speech; he will measure every word.

Freedom is not worth having if it does not connote freedom to err.

God himself dare not appear to a hungry man except in form of bread.

In December 1949 “The Christian Science Monitor” of Boston, Massachusetts published an article discussing the government in West Germany. The piece included a remark from prominent politician Kurt Schumacher: 5

It was Schumacher who somewhere or other in his speech quoted Gandhi’s statement that “God may appear to the poor in the form of bread.”

In 1952 “The New York Times” printed a variant statement: 6

If I may paraphrase a saying of the great Gandhi, we who have never felt hunger should remember that to the hungry democracy comes in the form of bread.

In 1953 David Guy Powers published “How To Say a Few Words” which included the following passage: 7

For example, your few words on humaneness might begin: “These sixteen words fell from the lips of the greatest lover of man in our day—the martyred Mohandas Gandhi.

“’God Himself dare not appear to a hungry man except in the form of bread.’”

In 1966 the “Los Angeles Times” described an exhibition of works by the nun Sister Mary Corita Kent: 8

Immensely significant among her recent productions is a brilliantly colored print titled “That They May Have Life” which features, in very large letters, the words “Enriched Bread.” . . .

As we look closer there are other smaller written messages included in her over-all design. . . .

And then we see Gandhi’s quote: “There are so many hungry people that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.”

The 1977 compilation “The Quotable Woman: 1800-1975” edited by Elaine Partnow attributed the following to Corita Kent: 9

There are so many hungry people that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.
“Enriched Bread” (silkscreen) 1965

In conclusion, Mohandas Gandhi should receive credit for the remark in the 1931 citation. He expressed this notion more than once, but QI does not know whether he ever employed a close match to the 1948 version. The statement appearing in Corita Kent’s artwork was probably derived from the remark attributed to Gandhi.

Image Notes: Public domain illustration of a loaf of bread.

(Great thanks to Mary Byers and Vedang Narain‎ whose inquiries led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.)

Notes:

  1. 1931 October 15, Young India: A Weekly Journal, Volume 13, Number 42, Edited by M. K. Gandhi, Gandhiji in Lancashire, Start Page 309, Quote Page 310, Column 1, Ahmedabad, India. (Young India archive at gandhiheritageportal.org) link
  2. 1953, My Days With Gandhi by Nirmal Kumar Bose, Chapter 11: Days Full of Darkness, Location: Srirampur, Date: December 3, 1946, Quote Page 92, Ahibhusan Chatterjea, Nishana, Calcutta, India. (Verified with scans accessed via mkgandhi.org)
  3. 1948 October 29, The Dayton Daily News, How To Sell Idea? Study Other’s Views, Quote Page 46, Column 3, Dayton, Ohio. (Newspapers_com)
  4. 1949 January 30, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Section: Editorial, The Wisdom of Mahatma Gandhi, Quote Page 2E, Column 5, St. Louis, Missouri. (Newspapers_com)
  5. 1949 December 6, The Christian Science Monitor, ‘–Or I’ll Write to My M.P.’ by Doris Peel, Quote Page 16, Column 4, Boston, Massachusetts. (ProQuest)
  6. 1952 March 23, New York Times, Asia Challenges Us Through India by Chester Bowles, Quote Page SM7, Quote Page SM53, New York. (ProQuest)
  7. 1953, How To Say a Few Words by David Guy Powers, Quote Page 103, Doubleday & Company, Garden City, New York. (Verified with scans) link
  8. 1966 October 21, Los Angeles Times, Exuberant Teacher: Stuffy Art—It’s Nun-Sense by Henry J. Seldis (Times Art Editor), Quote Page C6, Column 3, Los Angeles, California. (ProQuest)
  9. 1977, The Quotable Woman: 1800-1975, Compiled and edited by Elaine Partnow, Entry: Corita Kent, Quote Page 354, Column 1, Corwin Books, Los Angeles, California. (Verified with scans)