Dietary practices connected to religion have been around for several millennia. There are many religions that abstain from certain foods, eat specific foods on specific festivals or even fast on certain days, thereby abstaining from food or drink entirely for a certain time period. Early Biblical sources contain the basis for many Jewish and Christian practices related to food that are sill kept until this day.
Why do religious people restrict themselves as far as food is concerned?
The reasons for these dietary restrictions are based on different religions in different religions; some are due to health reasons, others due to a desire to attain a natural-as-possible state of living, others see restraining their food intake as improving their spiritual process. Some won’t eat certain foods because in their religion the food is seen as holy (such as Hindus who won’t eat beef due to the cow being a sacred animal for them), whereas others won’t eat them because they are seen as impure (such as Muslims who won’t eat pig).
Fasting in different religions
On the other end of the spectrum, many religions also incorporate fasting into their religious practices. Many see fasting as a way of being able to concentrate on the spiritual aspect of themselves because of the fact that they don’t have to pay attention to the materialistic act of eating. Fasting can take place anywhere between a few hours (such as the cases of Catholics, Jews and Mormons who can fast for twelve or twenty-four hour periods) or even several days (such as the Muslims who fast for a whole month in the month of Ramadan).
Some religions also prohibit the use of stimulants such as products containing caffeine or spices. The reasoning behind this is that the caffeine products can be addictive and a religious person needs to be devoted to G-d and not dependent on outer sources for energy and the like and spices can affect the way others foods taste and this affects the way one enjoys the foods that are G-d’s creations. Some restrict the use if alcoholic drinks and others ban tobacco.
Roman Catholics center their dietary practices around restricting meat and fasting on certain holy days.
People belonging to this group will only eat foods that are only slightly cooked. Practically, meat, canned goods and unnatural drinks are avoided. Fish under twelve inches long is permitted whereas other sea foods are restricted.
Mormons abstain from tobacco, alcohol, coffee, tea, chocolate and illegal drugs. Products from the land; grains, fruits, vegetables and nuts are consumed but meat, sugar, cheeses and spices are to be avoided.
Jewish dietary laws are called Kashrut and are derived from both the written and oral Torah. Anything permitted is called Kosher and anything prohibited is called Treif. Jewish people will only drink grape products (such as wine) that have been prepared by Jews, only eat meat that was slaughtered according to the Jewish laws, do not eat pig, rabbit, sea food and any animals that don’t chew their cud and have split hooves. Jewish people will not eat or cook meat and milk products together.
The dietary laws that Muslims follow are called Halal. Any foods that are forbidden are called Haram. There are foods that fall into a questionable category and they are called Mashbooh. Muslims avoid stimulants such as tea, coffee and alcohol. Fasting is practiced regularly on Mondays and Thursdays and for the entire month of Ramadan. Fasts include abstention of food from sunrise to sunset.
Hindus believe in not consuming food that will slow down spiritual or physical growth such as pork, fowl, ducks, snails, crabs and camels. The cow is a sacred animal to Hindus and they will therefore not eat beef but the dairy by-products of the cow are considered pure and consuming them is believed to promote purity of mind, spirit and body. There are eighteen major Hindu holidays when many devout Hindus will fast.
Eastern Orthodox Christianity
Fasting is viewed as an essential practice in Eastern Orthodox Christianity- it is viewed as teaching self-restraint.
Many Buddhists are vegetarians though some will consume fish. Meat is mostly avoided. There are three festivals on which it is common for Buddhists to fast. Buddhists don’t eat solid foods after noon.
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