Clarified: Religious dietary restrictions
July 20th, 2010
03:00 AM ET
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In cooking, the process of clarification entails straining out extraneous muck from liquids so that they might be pure, clear and ideal for consumption. With this series on the world's dietary tribes, we're attempting to do the same. Future installments will explore the foodways, politics and beliefs of vegans, raw foodists, pescetarians and other culinary collectives.

Today, we're delving into the dietary restrictions of twelve religions in the hopes of cooking up a little interfaith understanding. Learn which group looks to yogurt and fresh vegetables for enlightenment and whose holy men eschew the digestive effects of legumes and crucifers.

Off the menu: Alcohol
Why: While they're not strictly forbidden, practitioners maintain that living a simple life, free from alcohol and mind-altering drugs is beneficial to spiritual development. Many Bahá’ís are vegetarians.
Also: During the holy month of Ala, Bahá’ís abstain from food and drink from sunrise to sunset to more fully focus upon their spirituality and love of God.

Off the menu: It varies, but many Buddhists are vegetarians and refrain from the use of alcohol.
Why: Buddhists, like Hindus, believe in reincarnation and that the soul may at some point inhabit an animal. Thus, they abstain from killing living creatures. Buddhism also calls for a constant awareness of the body and mind, and it is thought that alcohol dulls this focus, and increases the possibility of negative karma while under its influence.
Also: The Buddha exhorted followers to stay away from the "five pungent spices" - onions, garlic, scallions, chives and leeks - as cooked, they are said to intensify sexual desire, and raw, increase anger.

This flows from the Buddha's "Five Contemplations While Eating," in which followers ask themselves,

1. What food is this?.
2. Where does it come from?
3. Why am I eating it?
4. When should I eat and benefit from this food?
5. How should I eat it?

Off the menu: Meat on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and all Fridays in Lent - and for Catholics in some dioceses, meat on any Friday. Animal products such as fat, eggs, dairy and broth are permissible, as is fish.
Why: These acts of self-denial and penance are in observance of divine law that each person should turn from sin and make reparation to God for their sins.
Also: Fasts from solid food on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are required of Catholics between the ages of 18 and 59. The intent is spiritual focus, penance and imitation of Christ.

Off the menu: Meat, for many Hindus, and especially beef
Why: Hindu beliefs emphasize the importance of living in harmony with nature, and having mercy, respect and compassion for all creatures. Contrary to popular belief, Hindu do not worship cows, nor are they considered sacred by all Hindus. They are, however, "Aghanya" – that which may not be slaughtered.
Also: Hindus divide food into three categories, based on how they enhance or hinder physical and spiritual development.

– Tamasic foods are considered heavy, dull and depressive and include meat, heavy cheese, onions, garlic, and mushrooms among others. The category also includes old and stale food.

– Rajasic foods are hot, spicy and salty and said to irritate and stimulate, often to a state of high agitation, anger and hate.

– Sattvic foods, like many fruits, fresh yogurt and leafy greens, are supposed to bring clarity and perception and help unfold love and compassion in the consumer.

Off the menu: Alcohol, pork or pork products, birds of prey, carnivorous animals, blood, meat that is not slaughtered in the name of Allah, gelatin from non-Halal animals
Why: It is commanded by God (Allah), who decreed some foods halal (allowed) and some haram (forbidden). Obedience to this is a matter of faith.
Also: Followers of Islam recite the name of Allah before eating and offer thanks upon finishing, thus achieving a prayer-like state. Overeating is heartily discouraged and healthy, naturally grown food is ideal.

In order for a slaughter to be considered Halal, the following conditions must be met:

– The slaughterer must be Muslim (though some of the devout allow for a Christian or Jewish slaughterer)
– Allah's name must be invoked at the time of slaughter.
– The throat, windpipe and jugular veins are cut with a sharp blade.

Off the menu: Meat, fish, eggs, butter, honey, alcohol and figs. Strict practitioners eschew root vegetables, garlic and onions.
Why: Vegetarianism is a way of life for Jains, who practice nonviolence and peaceful, cooperative coexistence with all living beings. Roots and some fruits are seen as containing more living beings than other, owing to the environment in which they develop, so their consumption is excluded. Most dairy, other than butter, is permitted.
Also: Some Jains avoid eating after sunset or before sunrise to avoid harm to insects that appear after dark.

Off the menu: Pork and pork products, shellfish, meat and dairy at the same meal, birds of prey
Why: Short answer – the Torah says so. These are some of the most complex dietary laws of all religions and reasons for and degrees of devotion vary from community to community.
Also: Animals that do not have cloven hooves and which don't chew their cud are also considered unclean. Forbidden foods are called "treif." Adherence to kosher practice varies from community to community and this is just the tip of the iceberg, but basic tenets of kashrut include:

– Avoidance of the aforementioned foods
– Slaughter of permitted animals in accordance with Jewish law – a quick, deep stroke across the throat with a perfectly sharp blade with no nicks or unevenness
– Total drainage of blood
– Consumption of permitted animal parts only - the sciatic nerve and surrounding blood vessels are disallowed, as is the "chelev" fat surrounding vital organs and the liver
– Fruits and vegetables must be washed to ensure a lack of insects
– Three hours must be allowed between eating meat and dairy
– Utensils, pots and pans for dairy and meat must be kept separate, and those used for non-kosher food may not come into contact with kosher supplies
– Grape products made by non-Jews may not be consumed

Off the menu: Coffee, tea, alcohol and large amounts of meat
Why: Caffeine and alcohol are considered to be addictive and lead to poor physical and emotion well being.
Also: Some Mormons avoid all hot drinks and some avoid all caffeinated beverages like soda. Meat is not forbidden, but excessive consumption is discouraged due to health concerns.

Off the menu: Red meat, fish over 12", chemically modified food or that which contains artificial additives or excessive salt
Why: "Ital" food food, pure and from the earth, is said to increase the eater's Livity, or life energy conferred by the Almighty.
Also: Strict practitioners also avoid shellfish which, like pigs, are seen as scavengers. While marijuana is used extensively to bring the faithful in closer communion with Jah, coffee, other caffeinated beverages and strong alcohol are frowned upon.

Seventh Day Adventism
Off the menu: Alcohol. Caffeine is to be avoided but is not strictly prohibited. Many of the devout are strict ovo-lacto vegetarians.
Why: Seventh Day Adventists believe in a healthy and wholesome diet and adhere to a food doctrine taken from Leviticus.
Also: This doctrine divides meat and fish into categories of "clean" and "unclean," sharing much in common with Jewish custom. Pork and shellfish are considered unclean while fish with fins and scales are clean.

Off the menu: Alcohol is discouraged. Meat, in some sects. Those who do eat it may not consume halal or kosher meat.
Why: Sikhs are expected to be active and alert, and alcohol consumption is counterproductive.
Also: They do not believe in ritual halal or kosher slaughter as they do not consider it to ennoble the flesh. Rather, Sikhs practice "jhatka," which severs the animal's head with a single blow, causing the minimum amount of suffering. There is no implied sacrifice or ritual.

Yazidism / Yezidism
Off the menu: Legendarily, lettuce, cabbage and butter beans
Why: There is no clear answer, and the Yazidis numbers and frequency of contact with the rest of the world are in serious decline. Reportedly, one elder ties it to mass slaughter of their people in the lettuce fields by 18th and 19th century Ottomans. Another claims that the corpse of an early Yadizi saint was taunted and pelted with lettuce. Still another cites a Noah's Ark-like cabbage that once protected the group, and theories abound that the taboo may have to do with either the leaves' resemblance to the human ear or contamination with human waste.
Also: The Baba Sheik, in an April 2010 interview with the BBC told the reporter that despite many claims to the contrary, ordinary Yadizi were free to eat what they like, but holy men like himself refrain from some vegetables because "they cause gases."

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Filed under: Bite • Clarified • Cuisines • Culture • Dietary Restrictions • Halal • Kosher • Religion • Rituals • Vegetarian

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  13. Stan

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    February 4, 2013 at 4:08 pm |
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    August 27, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
  15. Metta

    The posting wrote "Buddhists, like Hindus, believe in reincarnation and that the soul may at some point inhabit an animal." Not true. Orthodox Theravadin Buddhism does not posit a soul, much less one that reincarnates. The soul–atma or atta in Hinduism–was a belief that some later sects of Buddhism incorporated.

    September 27, 2010 at 6:12 pm |
    • Bhikkhu Pannadharo

      Thank you, Metta, for posting this. It is true that Buddhists do not believe in "the soul that may at some point inhabit an animal." In fact, mind also has no inherent existence, although there are many many references to mind, that it is a conditioned thing much like stress is a conditioned thing, and there are similarly as many references to stress. And on the extinction of the factors that condition it, it no longer arises. The reference to atta (self) is in the negative Anatta (non-self) does not implicate the non-existence of soul. It becomes an apparent understanding there is nothing outside of action and the results of action, and so a realization there is no soul associated with the conditioned factors which bring about the thought of Me, My and Mine ... as the Buddha has said, "This is not me. This is not my self. This is not who I am." Avijja paccaya sankhara, sankhara paccaya vinyanam (Ignorance conditions mental volition, mental volition conditions consciousness). Mental volition in this sense are the three actions which constitute kamma (sk: karma): manokamma, vacakamma, and kayakamma (thinking, speaking, and action involving the body). Long to short, it not a spirit or soul that "inhabits" a body, it is the results of previous and present kamma that creates a (or the) body in the realm they appear in ... even to the point to where the actual realm is being created by the one experiencing and conducive to their kamma.

      February 15, 2014 at 12:49 pm |
  16. Justin

    Buddhism section states that adherents refrain from eating meat due to the possibility that the "soul may at some point inhabit an animal"; however, one of the Three Marks of Existence is "anatman" or "non-self". This means that there is no permanent, unchanging self-nature. All phenomena is impermanent. The oldest school of Buddhism, Theravada, does not hold vegetarianism as an imperative – it merely excludes killing the animals, or having animals killed for your food. Mahayana Buddhism, however, holds that the protection of life and compassion for all sentient beings is a high moral practice that fosters correct action and a meritorious lifestyle. Rather than worrying about the "soul", the Mahayanists try to reduce the suffering that they cause in the world, and to cultivate an example for others to follow so that collectively, our environment becomes more and more conducive to the realization of complete and perfect enlightenment.

    September 18, 2010 at 8:47 am |
    • Zenmonk

      I do wish that people would actually do some research before writing such pieces. Yet again more misinformation here about Buddhism. For example, most Buddhists let alone many Buddhists are vegetarian and Buddhism does not teach reincarnation. It teaches rebirth, which is very different. Also, Justin, Buddhism teaches that there is no soul. It's one of the cornerstones of the Buddha's teaching and is called Anatta or Anatman.

      September 18, 2010 at 10:31 am |
      • Zenmonk

        That should read – many Buddhists are not vegetarian. There should be an edit option here.

        September 18, 2010 at 10:32 am |
  17. Anonymous

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    September 12, 2010 at 9:22 am |
  18. Mungo

    Many Jewish food laws are not Biblical, they are Talmudic laws interpreted by rabbis.

    For example, the Biblical law does not forbid eating dairy and beef at the same meal nor does it require 2 sets of dishes, one for meat and one for dairy.

    September 9, 2010 at 7:35 pm |
  19. TAMMY

    Just stupid

    September 6, 2010 at 7:06 am |
    • Wesley

      Stupid? Yes, you are. If you look at how science proves that there is a reason why the Bible specifically decrees some meats clean and others unclean. The original diet in the Garden of Eden was completely Vegan-based – fresh fruit and veggies. If you consider how many years people lived for back then in comparison to today, then you'll soon come to a rational conclusion that there is actually something to what the Bible says, even if we don't understand it.

      January 29, 2013 at 4:01 am |
      • Nizzeman

        Science doesn't prove that, it proves why it was a good idea to follow these rules when they were made, nothing more. "The original diet in the Garden of Eden ..." Ok, you're talking about a fictional place, I could just as well ask you about the diets and longevity of people in the Star Wars movies or Harry Potter books.

        Tammy was right, it is stupid, but you're even more so, and I find it hillarious how someone like you would have the gall to call someone else stupid as the first thing they do when you obviously have no batteries in your calculator if you know what I mean...

        March 3, 2013 at 8:16 am |
  20. Robbi F

    What makes a "man/people" unclean is not the same thing that makes an animal unclean. God is God and He either knows what people should/should not eat for their health, or He doesn't. Paul explains his vision of the sheet with the unclean animals in it. Just read a few verses past. It is symbolism for taking the Gospel to the Gentiles. As a Jew, Paul thought that was not allowed. God corrected him. It was not about eating at all. Paul says so, himself. We need not criticize our brothers and sisters. The Gospel is about love and brotherhood. Love the Lord with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself. Even if your neighbor is a little different from you. If ALL religions would keep these Greatest Commandments in their minds and hearts, there would be so much more peace in the world.

    September 5, 2010 at 10:36 pm |
  21. I Eat tHalal

    Halal is the healthier alternative..

    September 5, 2010 at 12:33 am |
  22. Adam

    Eastern European Jews must wait 6 hours between meat and dairy.

    August 12, 2010 at 5:38 pm |
  23. Adam Dorian

    This seems pretty superficial and pointless. most of it is "why can't this religion allow it?" : "because its holy text doesn't allow it" like the real reason why Catholics still could eat fish was because The apostles were fisherman as well as many early Christians, why put themselves out of business for a few days? This could be elaborated on a lot and its what I should have expected from cnn

    August 10, 2010 at 12:37 pm |
  24. Maranatha_Shalom

    ... and from the equally deadly folly of atheism / agnosticism. :)

    July 23, 2010 at 1:54 pm |
  25. Maranatha_Shalom

    I thank Jesus that He freed me from the dogma and false-humility of man-made religion. Thank You!, Lord.

    July 23, 2010 at 1:53 pm |
  26. Maranatha_Shalom

    He went on: "What comes out of a man is what makes him 'unclean.' For from within, out of men's hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man 'unclean.'" Mark 7:20-23

    July 23, 2010 at 1:52 pm |
  27. Maranatha_Shalom

    Interesting that Evangelical Christians were not listed in the groups above. And, here's why: Jesus said: "Are you so dull?" he asked. "Don't you see that nothing that enters a man from the outside can make him 'unclean'? For it doesn't go into his heart but into his stomach, and then out of his body." (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods "clean.")
    Mark 7:18-19

    July 23, 2010 at 1:52 pm |
    • Taha

      This does sound rather self-defeating. If everything has been declared "clean", faeces and urine also becomes food thats allowed.

      July 29, 2010 at 4:15 pm |
      • Guest

        Well, that is if you consider those "food"

        August 10, 2010 at 2:55 pm |
  28. Phil E. Drifter

    More proof that religitards are morons.

    July 23, 2010 at 4:08 am |
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