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Religion, Culture and Food

Religion and culture play an important part in determining food choice. Discuss how they influence meat consumption patterns, using examples from around the world.


Culture and religion have a huge influence on food choice especially in meat consumption patterns. First we should understand the definition or meaning of culture and religion.

Culture is defined as a large group of people with a distinct way of life who have their own unique behaviors, habits, belief system, values and motives. They usually share their knowledge amongst their group. (1)

Religion on the other hand can be defined as a set of beliefs, morals and values which are useful in one’s progress in spiritual path and to attain the highest consciousness in spirituality(8).

Culture sounds more primitive nowadays because of the religious domination however; cultures are distinct but not like how they were once. The humans were first semi nomadic and then they formed small groups in order to survive .That’s the beginning of culture and whereas religions were formed later when cultures grew big people with certain beliefs to attain spiritual fulfillment formed certain sects and thus religions were formed. Though both have a great deal of influence in food choice in the 21st century, religious influence has outwitted cultural influence in this modern world.

Though all religions and cultures have some distinct food habits they all are so because of one common reason that’s to maintain the so called cultural and religious identity in this diverse world. Even though they want to be distinct their food choices are influenced by some common factors like sociodemographic characteristics, healthy lifestyle, dietary environment, food beliefs, food preferences, food availability etc (3) .It is not possible encompass everything about religion and cultural influence on food choice in this report because the role of food in religious beliefs and cultural practices is very complex. In religion, food is a important part of their spiritual rituals. Every religion has developed its own form of rituals by which on can relate to the Supreme Being or the so called supernatural force (4). And food is an important part of this rituals which is every important or mandatory for the member of the sect to follow it.

The order of factors influencing the food choice (intake) in both culture and religions are as below:

Sociodemographic characteristics

Food beliefs Health/Lifestyle Dietary environment

Food attitudes

Food preferencesFood availability

Diet consumed

Influences on Diet, Health Behaviours and

Their Outcome in Select Ethnocultural

and Religious Groups


Meat consumption based on culture and religion varies extensively. More than culture, religion has a better influence on meat consumption and its complex too. Some prohibit meat consumption entirely whereas some have certain restrictions and days on which meat is prohibited. Let’s see some of the most popular religions and their influence on meat consumption. I would briefly explain the religions like Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, Judaism and Jainism based on their ideologies and advocacy on meat consumption.

Roles of food in Religion:

Dietary restrictions may include:

Mostly the rules governing the consumption of particular food serve mainly to reinforce the collective identities of religious groups and to distinguish them from the followers of other doctrines. It also bond the believers together especially midst the unbelievers.(2)


Judaism can either be orthodox or liberal. it depends to upon the level of adherence to the various Jewish laws. The law for food in Jewish religion is known as ‘kashrut’.While Kosher is known as the permitted food or clean food. Whereas anything that is unclean like pork and selfish is strictly restricted in the Jewish religion. These food laws make Jewish community distinct and help in their identity. Some of the food restrictions that have relevance with meat consumption are as follow:

-Animals with cloven hooves, which chew their food is permitted to be consumed .This justifies the consumption of cattle, sheep, goats, deer etc but pig is strictly prohibited.

-Fish with fins and scales are permitted to be consumed

-Poultry is permitted whereas all carnivores animal are strictly prohibited.

-Only meat of those animals which were slaughtered by the prescribed method may be consumed.

-dairy products and meat shouldn’t be consumed together in a single meal.

-internal fat, blood and sciatic nerve are restricted.

-All the slaughters should be supervised by a rabbi.

These are some of the restrictions found in Jewish religion.(4)


In Islam there are two important terms that govern the food restrictions, they are Haram and Halal. The meaning of halal is ‘permitted food’ whereas Haram means ‘prohibited food’. It is said that the person who consumes Haram food is deprived of gods grace and blessings.

-The haram foods are pork, foods that may contain animal emulsifiers, Alcohol, bread products containing yeast. Even frozen vegetables are considered haram.

-As some gelatins are made from pig, Gelatin is prohibited (as pig is considered as haram).

-During the month of Ramadan Muslims fast during the sunlight hours.

These are some of the food restriction in Islam but they may differ in a slight manner according to the sect they belong to like Sunni, shiates etc.


The largest religion in this modern world and it is classified mainly into three categories they are Roman Catholics, Protestants and orthodox. The regulation on food differs according to the above classification. Usually the common thing for all these faiths are that they fast during the holy days which according to Christianity is like praying to the body so meat is usually prohibited during the holy days. Good example for the above fact is the Roman Catholics who abstain from eating meat on lent day and on Good Friday. But there are extremes too like in the seventh day Adventists who don’t eat any meat products and also refrain from dairy products. Pork is very strictly prohibited in seventh day Adventist faith like in Judaism and Islam. These kind of restrictions are mainly laid out to improve the self discipline and to progress in ones spiritual life.


People of Indus valley civilization are known as Hindus and the religion is called Hinduism .Its believed to be formed more than 5000 years ago. Its the only religion that got transformed from culture into a religion. According to Hinduism ‘You are what you eat’ because they believe that everything in this universe exists in a some kind of energy. So when we consume them we are also consuming the energy thus ending up with the characteristics of the consumed product. The second reason is because of the concept called karma that is like whatever actions we do, it boomerangs on us again. If we eat an animal causing suffering to it, the same suffering will come to us in this birth or the next. But the diet varies according to the cast they belong like the Brahmins don’t eat any kind of meat products because they are spiritual seekers and teachers whereas others like the kshatriyas (warriors and rulers) ,sudras(menial labors) are allowed to consume meat.Vaisyas(farmers and traders) are prohibited from consuming any kind of animal flesh products. Thus Hinduism advocates vegetarianism .But the common rule to all Hindus is that prohibition of beef because they believe that after their mothers milk all humans consume cows milk so it’s considered to be a mother too. Killing a cow is like a big crime in Hindu tradition.(2)

Yogic Culture-The culture of inner engineering:

Yoga and the yogic tradition is the of shoot of Hinduism. According to it the food is classified into three categories like positive prana, negative prana and neutral prana. Prana is nothing but energy. Positive prana food includes most of the vegetables. Negative prana contains all the meat products whereas neutral prana has tomato and potato. If we consume positive prana foods it helps in once spiritual seeking whereas the negative prana food gives negative effects .Neutral prana foods are neutral they don’t do any harm to the body. In relevance with modern world the yogic tradition talks about the meat consumption and the increase in global warming.


The religion founded by Gautama Buddha is known as Buddhism .Its believed to be more than 2000 years old. It has very similar dietary rules like Hinduism .They too believe in the concept of karma because Buddha talked about taking many forms of life before transforming into a human being. So Buddhists refrain from taking animal meat so they follow strict vegetarianism .Meat of carnivorous animals are avoided by all and mainly by the Buddhist monks. Majority avoid meat and dairy products whereas others only shun beef. As the Buddhist monks are not allowed to cook they eat only by getting alms so that time if they get meat products they should eat it because they shouldn’t reject any alms food .Like most of the religion Buddhist too fast on holy days .Fasting and silence is a very important part of Buddhism because they are the keys to discover the inner peace.


From all these facts it’s evident that there is a great deal of influence of religion and culture on food. I have concentrated more on religion because in this modern world religion has more relevance than the culture .A culture is like a recessive gene whereas religion is like a dominant gene .Nowadays religion is more expressed than the culture but culture is still there in a recessive state. All religions and culture have their unique dietary restrictions mainly to maintain the cultural or religious identity and also for the spiritual wellbeing .