Saturday, June 2, 2012

Religious Dietary Laws

My passions, beyond food culture, are writing, feminism, and theology. So combining food culture with theology interests me. Recently, my parents, midlife, became quite religious, which sparked my interest in theology even more. In fact, their diet changed, too. They're part of COGWA, which I don't honestly know a lot about, but I do know that they no longer eat any sort of pork and no seafood (unless it is fish with scales).

Morgantown isn't exactly the epitome of diversity, so we don't have a lot of places devoted to these specific dietary restrictions. But I wanted to learn more about them, so here's a breakdown of what I've found (info comes from here and here and here):

Most Hindus follow a vegetarian diet. The eating of meat is not prohibited, but pork, fowl, ducks, snails, crabs, and camels are avoided. The Brahmin priests take only vegetarian food prepared with clarified butter and abstain from alcohol and strong foods such as onions and garlic. Those who do eat meat are forbidden from eating beef, because cows occupy a sacred place in the Hindu religion. Other products from the cow, however, such as milk, yogurt, and butter are considered innately pure and are thought to promote purity of the mind, spirit, and body. Many devout Hindus fast on the eighteen major Hindu holidays, as well as on numerous personal days, such as birthdays and anniversaries of deaths and marriages. They also fast on Sundays and on days associated with various positions of the moon and the planets.

Many Buddhists are vegetarians, though some include fish in their diet. Eating fish and meat is allowed in Buddhism, though vegetarianism is encouraged.  Most do not eat meat and abstain from all beef products. The birth, enlightenment, and death of Buddha are the three most commonly recognized festivals for feasting, resting from work, or fasting. Buddhist monks fast completely on certain days of the moon, and they routinely avoid eating any solid foods after the noon hour. As long as a monk is not seen or suspected of killing the animal, the meat can be eaten. One eats merely to sustain the physical body, hence he should eat without greed, without craving for any kind of food, and without direct involvement in the killing. However, Buddha advised the monks to avoid eating ten kinds of meat for their self-respect and protection: humans, elephants, horses, dogs, snakes, lions, tigers, boars and hyenas. Some animals attack people when they smell the flesh of their own kind. Tibetans will not ever eat fish, and usually stay away from foul. The reason is that different kinds of meat supposedly give different kinds of obscurations. Fish, the obscuration of aggression; foul the obscuration of desire; and red meat the obscruration of ignorance. Evidently, they would take the ignorance over the others. Also, it was generally better to eat red meat because the animal killed was very large and only one life had to be taken to feed many people; with fish, you usually have to take many more lives to fill the same number of stomachs.

Most Christians don't have dietary restrictions, but some fast on Fridays (or don't eat meat) or during Lent. Some Christians do not eat pork or seafood, unless it contains scales.

Eastern Orthodox Christianity
An essential element of practicing an Orthodox life includes fasting, since its intrinsic value is part of the development of a spiritual life. To practicing Orthodox believers, fasting teaches self-restraint, which is the source of all good.

Roman Catholicism
The dietary practices of devout Catholics center around the restriction of meat or fasting behaviors on specified holy days. On the designated days, Catholics may abstain from all food, or they may restrict meat and meat products. Water or nonstimulant liquids are usually allowed during the fast.

Kashrut is the body of Jewish law dealing with what foods Jews can and cannot eat and how those foods must be prepared and eaten. These laws were formulated for health reasons. For example, rules about the use of pans, plates, utensils, and separation of meat from dairy products are intended to reduce contamination. The term kosher refers to the methods of processing foods according to the Jewish laws. Jews only eat animals that have a split hoof and chew their cud, such as sheep, goats and cows. Reptiles and pigs are forbidden to be eaten. The food must be thoroughly drained of any blood. Ritual slaughter has to performed by a shochet who kills the animal with a quick deep stroke of a sharp blade. This method does not cause the animal any pain and is the most humane way of slaughtering. Meat may not be eaten together with dairy, and Jews can only consume wine produced by a Jew. Forbidden animals may not be eaten at all, be it the flesh, milk, eggs, or organs.

 Other rules include:
  1. A Jewish person must prepare grape products, otherwise they are forbidden.
  2. Jewish laws dictate the slaughter and removal of blood from meat before it can be eaten.
  3. Animals such as pigs and rabbits and creatures of the sea, such as lobster, shrimp, and clams, may not be eaten.
  4. Meat and dairy products cannot be eaten at the same meal or served on the same plate, and kosher and nonkosher foods cannot come into contact with the same plates.
To the Muslims, eating is a matter of faith for those who follow the dietary laws called Halal, a term for all permitted foods. The dietary laws of Islam are quite similar to those of the Jews, and they forbid eating blood, pork, animals found dead, and food sacrificed or offered to idols. Those foods that are prohibited, such as pork and birds of prey, are known as Haram, while the foods that are questionable for consumption are known as Mashbooh. Muslims eat to preserve their good health, and overindulgence or the use of stimulants such as tea, coffee, or alcohol are discouraged. Fasting is practiced regularly on Mondays and Thursdays, and more often for six days during Shawwal (the tenth month of the Islamic year) and for the entire month of Ramadan (the ninth month). Fasting on these occasions includes abstention from all food and drink from sunrise to sunset. In the Muslim faith, the holy month of Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic year and is devoted to prayer, fasting, and charity. Muslims believe that it was during this month that God first began to reveal the holy book of Islam, the Quran, to the prophet Muhammad. Most Muslims are required to refrain from food and drink during daylight hours for the entire month. The fast is broken in the evening by a meal called the iftar, which traditionally includes dates and water or sweet drinks, and is resumed again at sunrise. Fasting during Ramadan is one of the five Pillars of Faith, which are the most important religious duties in Islam. The practice is meant to remind Muslims of the poor, to cleanse the body, and to foster serenity and spiritual devotion. Ramadan ends with Eid al-Fitr, the "Festival of Breaking the Fast."

The law of health—the Word of Wisdom—contains the laws for proper eating and the rules of abstinence for tobacco, alcohol, coffee, tea, chocolate, and illegal drugs. Mormons must choose foods that build up the body, improve endurance, and enhance intellect. Products from the land, such as grains, fruits, vegetables, and nuts, are to take the place of meats; meats, sugar, cheeses, and spices are to be avoided. Reason and self-control in eating is expected in order to stay healthy.

Members of this group are permitted to eat any food that is I-tal food, meaning that it is cooked only slightly. Therefore, meats are not consumed, canned goods are avoided, and drinks that are unnatural are not allowed. Fish under twelve inches long may be eaten, but other types of seafood are restricted.

Seventh-day Adventists The Seventh-day Adventist Church advocates a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet, including moderate amounts of low-fat dairy products and the avoidance of meat, fish, fowl, coffee, tea, alcohol, and toboacco products (though these are not strictly prohibited). The church's beliefs are grounded in the Bible, and in a "belief in the wholistic nature of people" (Seventh-day Adventist General Conference Nutrition Council).

Type of religion Practice or restriction Rationale
Buddhism • Refrain from meat, vegetarian diet is desirable • Moderation in all foods • Fasting required of monks • Natural foods of the earth are considered most pure • Monks avoid all solid food after noon
Eastern Orthodox Christianity • Restrictions on Meat and Fish • Fasting Selectively • Observance of Holy Days includes fasting and restrictions to increase spiritual progress
Hinduism • Beef prohibited • All other meat and fish restricted or avoided • Alcohol avoided • Numerous fasting days • Cow is sacred and can't be eaten, but products of the "sacred" cow are pure and desirable • Fasting promotes spiritual growth
Islam • Pork and certain birds prohibited • Alcohol prohibited • Coffee/tea/stimulants avoided • Fasting from all food and drink during specific periods • Eating is for good health • Failure to eat correctly minimizes spiritual awareness • Fasting has a cleansing effect of evil elements
Judaism • Pork and shellfish prohibited • Meat and dairy at same meal prohibited • Leavened food restricted • Fasting practiced • Land animals that do not have cloven hooves and that do not chew their cud are forbidden as unclean (e.g., hare, pig, camel) • Kosher process is based upon the Torah
Mormonism • Alcohol and beverages containing caffeine prohibited • Moderation in all foods • Fasting practiced • Caffeine is addictive and leads to poor physical and emotional health • Fasting is the discipline of self-control and honoring to God
Protestants • Few restrictions of food or fasting observations • Moderation in eating, drinking, and exercise is promoted • God made all animal and natural products for humans' enjoyment • Gluttony and drunkenness are sins to be controlled
Rastafarianism • Meat and fish restricted • Vegetarian diets only, with salts, preservatives, and condiments prohibited • Herbal drinks permitted; alcohol, coffee, and soft drinks prohibited • Marijuana used extensively for religious and medicinal purposes • Pigs and shellfish are scavengers and are unclean • Foods grown with chemicals are unnatural and prohibited • Biblical texts support use of herbs (marijuana and other herbs)
Roman Catholicism • Meat restricted on certain days • Fasting practiced • Restrictions are consistent with specified days of the church year
Seventh-day Adventist • Pork prohibited and meat and fish avoided • Vegetarian diet is encouraged • Alcohol, coffee, and tea prohibited • Diet satisfies practice to "honor and glorify God"