Traditional Religious Foods

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There are no fixed dietary laws. Restrictions are structured very differently than those of the Abrahamic religions such as Judaism and Islam. There is a great deal of diversity. In the times of the Buddha, the monks were expected to eat everything that was put in their begging bowl, including meat or rotten food. Monks and nuns are usually stricter and some are vegetarians. Others will eat meat if they understand that the animal has not been killed specifically so they can eat. In Chinese forms of Buddhism garlic and onions are avoided because they are thought to heat the blood and make meditation more difficult.


Most are omnivores and have no religious or moral objection to eating meat of any kind, though some fast on Fridays or during Lent mainly for spiritual reasons. Some Christians are vegetarian, and exclude fish, flesh and fowl. Some are vegan, and exclude fish, flesh and fowl, all dairy produce, eggs and honey. Catholics may observe several feast and fast days during the year. They include Christmas, Easter, the Annunciation, Palm Sunday, the Ascension and Pentecost Sunday. The only feast days common to most Protestant and Reformed traditions are Christmas and Easter. Fasting is usually for spiritual reasons such as teaching control of desires, or as a penance for sin. Some Christians now advocate vegetarianism during Lent for the same spiritual reasons.


Food customs are based on the concepts of purity and pollution. Bad food habits are supposed to stop an individual reaching mental, physical and spiritual purity. The main restriction is on eating beef. The cow is regarded as sacred and cannot be eaten. Food that has an “ugly form” is forbidden, for example snails, heads of snakes, crabs and ducks. Many Hindus are vegetarian. Many adhere to the concept of Ahimsa – avoiding inflicting pain on animals and so do not eat them. Pious Hindus will also avoid “over stimulating” foods such as garlic, onions and red-coloured (blood coloured) foods such as tomatoes or red lentils.


Dietary practice is fundamentally about obeying God. All believers obey God by eating the allowed foods (halal) and avoiding the forbidden foods (haram) which are mentioned in the Qur’an. It is God’s commandments that are crucial; the health benefits are secondary. Reciting the name of God (Allah) before eating and thanking God after finishing are the key activities. It is a good thing to eat with the right hand in company. Muslims must pronounce the name of Allah on all animals while slaughtering. Pork, any porcine substance and lard are prohibited. There are other restrictions on diet including:-

  • Gelatine from non-halal meat
  • Meat that is not slaughtered in the prescribed Islamic way
  • Any food or drink with alcohol
  • Blood – direct and indirect


“Kosher” food refers to a sense of that which is legal and approved. Its use comes from marks of approval given by Rabbis to assure purchasers that food products have been produced in accordance with the Kashrut laws. The Jewish leaders of the early church considered whether the Gentile believers should be instructed to keep the Jewish food laws, but they settled on three recommendations:-

  • Not to eat meat from animals which had been strangled
  • Not to eat the blood
  • Not to eat meat sacrificed to idols

The restriction on pork is the best known law. Fish with scales are clean while other fish and shell fish are not. Jews will not mix meat and milk, either for dishes like Lasagne or following a meat dish with a milk pudding.


Alcohol, tobacco, narcotic or intoxicating drugs are banned substances. Any baptised Sikh who is found to have taken one of these substances will not only have to do a penance in front of their entire community, but may even have to face the shame of being re-baptised all over again to wash away their transgression. For some Sikhs, this prohibition extends to cover all meat and meat products, no matter how the animal is slaughtered. It may even include eggs, fish, milk and other dairy products too. For others, the meaning is much more limited and all meat apart from halal, kosher, beef and pork products may be eaten.