Religion’s Impact on Peoples’ Diets
I am taking a world religions class originally to simply fulfill my general education requirement, but I have come to realize that it is more important than I thought. It is especially crucial for those going into the nutrition field to study different religious dietary rules and practices in order to be successful in helping an individual reach their nutrition goals.
Hindus believe that all living things are equal therefore they are lacto-vegetarian and fruitarian. They do not eat meat for the same reason you would not eat a human. Humans and animals are all equal, therefore neither are food. Cows especially are completely off limits because they are sacred. Hindus believe in something called a dharma which is basically your role in this present life. Dairy is permitted because it is the cow’s dharma to produce milk. Hindus do not eat fruit or any plant off of the tree or vine because that would be considered harming the living plant which is, again, equal to you. They wait until the fruit has fallen off of the tree.
Buddhism is an offshoot of Hinduism so they have some similar dietary rules. Buddhists refrain from any wrong thoughts or actions like killing, because it causes suffering and bad karma. This means that they also do not eat any meat or fruit from trees. They must refrain from drinking any alcohol because it clouds the mind and may cause poor decisions. This may be the reason for the “red flush” that many Asians get when they drink alcohol. Their bodies are not accustomed to it so if some drink alcohol they may break out in hives. Buddhist monks and nuns do not buy their food because they are not allowed to touch any sort of money. Something as materialistic as money clouds the mind and causes suffering, so the surrounding Buddhist community brings food to the temple where the monks and the nuns live so they can eat. They do not need to eat a lot, only enough to survive because any more is considered to be something extra that may distract them from their clear mind. Monks and nuns are also not permitted to eat past noon. They perform a ritual at 11:45, then they eat the food that the community has brought over at 12pm and they do not eat again until very early the next morning.
Jainism is another offshoot of Hinduism that practices fasting for very long periods of time. Women are even more encouraged to fast. The original buddha, Shakyamuni Buddha was initially a Hindu and then was a Jain. When he was practicing Jainism he fasted so long that he was basically dying slowly.
Judaism has the most rules and the strictest rules regarding foods that are fit or unfit to eat and how they must be cooked. It may come as no surprise that Jews follow a Kosher diet, but you may not know exactly what that means. There is a set of laws called Kashrut laws that define a Kosher diet. These laws describe how the animal should be hung and how the meat should be cut so that the least amount of blood is released from the animal. Blood is considered to be the soul of the animal so Jews do not eat rare meat. It must be cooked all the way through. A rabbi is present in the slaughter of the animal and the preparation of many foods to ensure that the process has been done correctly. Foods that are fit to eat are fish with fins and scales and animals with hooves that eat mostly grass, like cows, goats, sheep, etc. Kosher salt is different than common table salt in that the granules are larger in order to soak up the most blood in cooking. Foods that are unfit for Jews are crustaceans, scavenger birds, birds of prey, mammals and pigs, because although pigs have hooves, they eat pretty much anything so they are seen as dirty. Jews refrain from mixing dairy with meat at any time. Some Orthodox Jews will have separate dishwashers and refrigerators for dairy and meat. During the Sabbath, the seventh day of the week, no work is allowed. This means that they cannot turn on the lights or cook with electricity. This is why you may find that some Jewish foods are typically cooked earlier and served cold.
The importance of certain dietary practices in these religions is evident. If you were supposed to help a client or patient change their diet, you may have trouble finding alternative foods if you do not know what their religion permits them to eat. You may even offend them which could mean the end of the session and perhaps the loss of a client. Even if the individual does not strictly follow these rules, you would want to ask before they have to tell you, as not to offend them.