Religious Belief Expressed as Food Customs

To understand the reasons for nutritional and dietary customs in any religion requires a brief orientation of the rationale for such practices and laws. Many religious customs and laws may also be traced to early concerns for health and safety in consuming foods or liquids. In the past, preservation techniques for food were limited. Modern conveniences such as electricity were unavailable, and the scholars of the day did not understand theories of health promotion, disease prevention, and illness as they do today.

Therefore, religious leaders of the day developed rules about the consumption of foods and drinks, and religious practices, restrictions, and laws evolved. Specific laws about what can be consumed remain in most religions today. The lack of mechanisms to refrigerate or preserve foods led to certain rituals, such as the draining of blood from slaughtered animals, while restrictions on the eating of foods known to spoil easily, such as eggs, dairy products, and meats, were devised for safety reasons.

Attention to specific eating practices, such as overeating (gluttonous behaviors), use of strong drink or oral stimulants, and vegetarian diets, were also incorporated into the doctrine of religious practice. In addition to laws about the ingestion of foods or drinks, the practice of fasting, or severely restricting intake of food and/or drink, became prevalent, and is still practiced by many religions today.

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