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We all interact with food on a daily basis; as humans, it is a biological necessity to life. On Have Your Faith and Eat It Too, we focus on how religion influences the way we interact with foods and with those with whom we share it. Food practices and religion are closely tied in that “All meals[…] can be regarded as having a ritual-like quality to them” and are thus an “important site for the invention of tradition” (Crowther 2013:155). When we convene to share food we are doing more than just eating nutrients: “meals are when people can eat their identity” (Crowther 2013:155, emphasis added). Food becomes “more than just [nutritional] sustenance” – it is “a sustainer of social, cultural, and eventually national identity” (Crowther 2013:155). How is it then that so many of our basic beliefs about who we are as people derive from the food we eat?
Food taboos, common in many of the world’s religions, frequently “carry the weight of religious legitimacy and are often overseen by religious specialists” (Crowther 2013:15). Whether it is written in a binded text, or encouraged through cultural norms, the diets of these five religions celebrate some foods while forbidding others. Indeed, “most religious dietary precepts” represent “stable and distinctive dietary habits that differ from the general population” (Sabaté 2004:199). In other words, it is noticeable when religions have differing food practices – while alcohol is forbidden in Islam, wine features as a prominent food and symbol in Zoroastrianism and Judaism.
Holidays and celebrations for each religious practice often include specific, and sometimes different, eating practices than on other days of the year. These can include eating specific foods, such as the tradition of consuming sweets during the Hindu celebration of Diwali (Patel 2013) or the custom of arranging seven food dishes beginning with the Arab-Persian letter sin on a table cloth during the Zoroastrian/Iranian New Year festival (Stausberg 2008: 98); abstaining from consuming food and water on Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement and cleansing (BBC 2011A); avoiding foods that are usually accepted, such as the abstinence of leaven food during Passover; or abstaining from eating entirely, as Muslims do during Ramadan, which marks the ninth month of the Islamic calendar (BBC 2011B).
In Have Your Faith and Eat It Too, we will move beyond the kitchen and into the proverbial dining room of these varied religions to explore the social aspects, mannerisms, and etiquette applied to social acts of eating. After all, eating is not just about the food we consume, but also the way we interact with the people with whom we share the meal. For example, “the use of chopsticks is surrounded with rules, such as not tapping dishes, nor sticking both into a mound of food” (Crowther 2013:158). From the gathering to cooking to serving to eating of food, there are often different forms of etiquette depending on what is served, who is doing the serving, and who is being served.
In each post, we will hone in on the specifics of each of these religions in an attempt to align each cultural practice with its respective religious context. Despite its clear biological and nutritional aspects, food is more than the sum of its vitamins and nutrients: it is a tool through which we express our social selves, identity, community, and culture. We invite you to explore Have Your Faith And Eat It Too as we discover the global links between food and religion – dig in!
British Broadcasting Company (BBC). 2011A. Religions: Judaism Yom Kippur-The Day of Atonement. BBC Online, October 6. Accessed 26 September 2014.http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/judaism/holydays/yomkippur.shtml.
British Broadcasting Company (BBC). 2011B. Religions: Ramadan. BBC Online, July 5. Accessed 26 September 2014. http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/islam/practices/ramadan_1.shtml.
Crowther, Gillian. 2013. Eating Culture: An Anthropological Guide to Food. Canada: University of Toronto Press.
Patel, Arti. 2013. Diwali 2013: 10 Sweets to Celebrate the Festival of Lights. The Huffington Post Canada Online, November 4. Accessed 25 September 2014. http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/11/01/diwali-2013_n_4175030.html.
Sabaté, Joan. 2004. Religion, Diet and Research. British Journal of Nutrition:199-201.
Stausberg, Michael. 2008. Zarathustra and Zoroastrianism. Oakville, CT: Equinox Publishing Ltd.