Dietary requirements of different cultures and religions

According to Mark Twain, travel is fatal to prejudice. Unfortunately, most of us don’t have the means to jet-set across the world, but opportunities for immersing ourselves in other cultures and societies are readily available.

If you want to understand the dietary requirements of different cultures and religions, for instance, the answer is as easy as knocking on your neighbour’s door or clicking a link.

Why do certain cultures or religions have special dietary requirements?

Religious and cultural restrictions regulating one’s diet stem from different belief systems. The rationale behind these customs may include the belief that:

• Certain foods are healthier
• Natural foods and foods grown without chemicals are healthier
• Certain animals or food products are sacred
• Limiting intake for periods is essential for physical or spiritual wellbeing
• Certain foods or methods of food handling are unclean or unholy
• Addictive substances are bad for physical and spiritual health
• Consumables with psychotropic effects can elevate one’s spiritual state
• Certain foods or etiquette should coincide with certain events
• Some foods weren’t meant for human consumption

Acquainting yourself with the guidelines for dining with, or catering to, people of different cultures or faiths may take some time, but it is well worth the research. Below are a few basic rules to help you avoid a social culinary faux-pas.

Religious guidelines

Religious dietary regulations tend to be more stringent than cultural restrictions. It’s important to note that each religion has various factions and denominations, so these are general guidelines.

Islam (halal)
• Don’t consume pork, certain poultry or alcohol
• Food must adhere to halal guidelines
• Don’t consume beef
• Do consume dairy
Judaism (kosher)
• Don’t eat shellfish or pork
• Food must adhere to kosher guidelines
• Avoid meat, poultry, fish and eggs
Seventh-day Adventist
• Don’t eat pork
• Don’t drink alcohol, coffee or tea
• Don’t consume alcohol or caffeine
• Don’t eat meat, poultry, fish or eggs
• Avoid eating root vegetables
• Occasional fasting
• Don’t eat meat or canned food
• Avoid certain types of seafood

Regional and cultural guidelines and etiquette

In addition to religious rules, there are also some interesting regional and cultural customs pertaining to food consumption. Some of these are:

• Eat slowly and only at certain times of the day
Traditional African culture
• When slaughtering animals, portion and serve food by tribal rank
• Don’t pass food with chopsticks
• Don’t stick chopsticks upright in rice
• Drink your vodka straight without mixers or ice
Arab culture
• Don’t eat with your left hand

Respect and observe

There are a myriad rules and customs applicable to different groups across the globe. The best way to acquaint yourself with these requirements is by asking and observing. Knowledge has never harmed anyone and understanding each other’s point of view undoubtedly paves the way to a more inclusive and harmonious society.

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