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Religious Criteria of Food

Food Religious Criteria

Religion is another important influence on food choices. Religious tenets affect the diets of many by declaring which foods are acceptable and unacceptable and by specifying preparation procedures. By designating certain foods for specific occasions and assigning symbolic value to some, religious principles wield further influence. A traditional holiday meal with a turkey or ham as the main entree is usually served at Christmas and/or Easter. Until recently, Friday was fish day for many Catholics. Some food practices of Buddhists, Hindus, Seventh-Day Adventists, Mormons, Jews, and Muslims are explored in further detail below.


There are over 100 million Buddhists in China and 300 million worldwide. Buddhists believe in karuna, which is compassion, and karma, a concept that implies that “good is rewarded with good; evil is rewarded with evil; and the rewarding of good and evil is only a matter of time”. Many Buddhists consider it uncompassionate to eat the flesh of another living creature, so vegetarianism is the ideal.


Hinduism also promotes vegetarianism among some, but not all, of its followers. Some Hindus believe that the soul is all-important, uniting all beings, so it is against their beliefs to injure or kill an animal. Thus strict Hindus reject poulny, eggs, and the flesh of any animal. Among many Hindus, the cow is considered sacred and is not slaughtered for food. Coconut and ghee, or clarified butter, are also accorded sacred status, but may be consumed after a fast. Some strict Hindus do not eat garlic, onions, mushrooms, turnips, lentils, or tomatoes.

Seventh-Day Adventist Church

A vegetarian diet is recommended but not required for members of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church. About 40 percent of the members are vegetarians, the majority of them lacto-ovo-vegetarians, meaning that milk and egg products are allowed. Hot spices, between-meal snacks, and alcohol, tea, and coffee consumption are discouraged.

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons)

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints supports vegetarianism and discourages the use of alcohol as well as tea, coffee, or any other caffeinated drink. A significant number of Mormons live in Utah, and several studies have shown that the death rate attributed to specific diseases for Utah residents is 40 percent below the average rate because of lower rates of heart disease and cancer. Other religious factors possibly affecting the death rate are the discouragement of smoking, and the recommendations of regular physical activity and proper sleep. The lower fat content of some vegetarian diets also cannot be ignored as a possible contributing factor.


The kashruth is the list of dietary laws adhered to by orthodox Jews. Foods are sorted into one of three groups: meat, dairy, or pareve (containing neither meat nor dairy). Milk and meat cannot be prepared together or consumed in the same meal. In fact, separate sets of dishes and utensils are used to prepare and serve them, and a specified amount of time must pass between the consumption of milk and meat. Foods considered kosher include fruits, vegetables, grain products, and with some exceptions during Passover, tea, coffee, and dairy products froth kosher animals as long as they are not eaten simultaneously with meat or fowl. Kosher animals are ruminants, such as cattle, sheep, and goats, that have split hooves and chew their cud. Orthodox Jews are not allowed to eat carnivorous animals, birds of prey, pork (bacon, ham), fish without scales or fins (shark, eel, and shellfish such as shrimp, lobster, and crab), sturgeon, catfish, swordfish, underwater mammals, reptiles, or egg yolk containing any blood. Other meats that are considered kosher are chicken, turkey, goose, and certain duck. The meat from even the allowed animals is not considered kosher, however, unless they have been slaughtered under the supervision of a rabbi or other authorized individual who ensures that the blood has been properly removed. Foods that are tainted with blood, a substance considered by Jews to be synonymous with life, are forbidden.

Kosher foods are labeled with a logo such as those of the kosher-certifying agencies. People other than Jews who often purchase kosher foods include Moslems, Seventh-Day Adventists, vegetarians, individuals with allergies (shellfish) or food intolerances (milk), and anyone who perceives kosher foods as being of higher quality.

Food figures prominently in the celebration of the major Jewish holidays. Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, is celebrated in part with a large meal. Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement, requires a day of fasting preceded by a bland evening meal the night before. Passover, which is an eight-day celebration marking the exodus from Egypt, is commemorated in part by a meal whose components represent different aspects of the historic event.


The Koran, the divine book of Islam, contains the food laws recommended for Muslims. Kosher meat is allowed because it has been slaughtered in a manner that allows the blood to be fully drained. Most meats are allowed except pork, carnivorous animals with fangs (lions, wolves, tigers, dogs, etc.), birds with sharp claws (falcons, eagles, owls, vultures, etc.), land animals without ears (frogs, snakes, etc.), and products containing gelatin made from the horns or hooves of cattle. Alcohol and products containing alcohol in any form, including vanillin, are forbidden. Stimulants such as tea and coffee are also discouraged.

Ramadan is a time of the year that significantly affects diet for Muslims. Islam teaches that the ninth month of the lunar calendar is the month in which the Prophet Muhammad received the revelation of the Muslim scripture, the Koran. This month, which usually begins February 1 or 2, depending on the sighting of the new moon, is a time of religious observances that include fasting from dawn to sunset.

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