Religion and Food Customs
Many religions practice dietary restrictions and prohibitions and many of those laws overlap into other religions. A great example of this is the Kosher Laws and the Halal Laws that are associated with Jewish people and Muslims people that practice Islam as a religion. Many of these laws date back many centuries while others can be traced only to the 1830s.
Buddhists’ diet generally is a vegetarian diet, finding that natural foods of the earth are the most pure. Within the religion there are some exceptions such as monks being allowed to eat meat if the animal was not killed specifically to feed them. If the meat was a by-product from another purpose, then the religion says it can be eaten. This principle is not necessarily followed by the masses within the religion.
Most of the Christian religions do not have strict dietary laws; they mainly have fast days and meat restriction on certain days. Fasting days is almost universal throughout the many religions practiced. They are often connected to holidays and most regard the fast as an instrument which disciplines followers, making them humble and leading to spiritual growth.
Hinduism is another religion that restricts meat consumption. In the religion the cow is considered sacred so the thought of killing them or eating them is a non-issue, although milk is allowed. Hinduism does not require a vegetarian diet, but many practitioners do practice it under the belief that all life forms are sacred and by not eating meat it minimizes hurting other life forms.
Islamic dietary laws are some of the most detailed of all the worlds’ religions. Foods are broken down into two categories: Halal and Haram. Halal translates to lawful, and Haram translates to unlawful. The basis for these categories comes from the Quran, but interpretation over the years has made adjustments to the diet necessary. The basic tenets of the dietary restrictions are: eating is good for health, failure to eat correctly minimizes spiritual awareness, and fasting has a cleansing effect of evil elements. According to the Quran, only the following foods are explicitly forbidden: animals that die by themselves, blood and swine. The Quran does allow for a “law of necessity,” which makes any forbidden practice permissible, such as eating pork if one were starving.
Another common practice in dietary laws is the method of slaughter. In Islam, slaughter must be done in a humane method, quickly with a sharpened blade. The animal must not suffer and it must not see the blade. Additionally it cannot see or smell the blood from a previous slaughter. Foods that meet all of the guidelines are given a “Halal” certification. Another restriction in the religion is toward alcohol or other fermented food items. Originally the Quran only stated that it is forbidden during prayer and that grew into “alcohol has good and evil, but mostly evil.” From there it adapted to alcohol is an “abomination of Satan’s handiwork.”
The Islamic religion also includes fasting during eight specific holidays and the holy month of Ramadan. Ramadan is the ninth month in their calendar, which is based on 12 months and 354 or 355 days. This means that the timing of the month compared to the Gregorian calendar changes every year. It can correspond to any month in our calendar. During Ramadan, Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset.
Jewish dietary laws, or Kosher laws, are some of the most detailed laws connected to a religion. Although most of the laws can be traced back to the Torah, which was given to the Jewish people in 1275 BCE, from the years 200-500 most of the information was passed down orally from one generation to the next. Many additional adaptations came in 1563 when the Torah was codified. The first recording of Kosher laws in America dates back to 1654.
One viewpoint of the original Torah guidelines was that it was a way to separate Israelites from their non-Hebrew neighbors. As the Kosher laws evolved it is very clear that the changes were based on keeping people safe from the foods they eat. Many religious dietary laws were formatted because there were no modern day luxuries such as refrigerators. This made products spoil quickly, thus making people sick. Like Halal laws the method of slaughter is very important within the Kosher guidelines.
Another big obstacle in Kosher is the mixing of milk and meat products. This dates back to when the body had a hard time digesting both items in the same meal. Our bodies have adapted over time and now we can digest both, but people that practice Kosher do not mix the two. There are many food items that are considered Parve, which means they can be eaten with either food.