What your Diet says about your Religion

A  Filipino staff member at the hotel, also on his way down to the foyer, spotted my Carrefour shopping bags, and asked, “You go Carrefour Madam?” “No, I’m actually going to Spinneys.” “You a Christian Madam?” “Ye. . .es”, I replied hesitantly, not sure where the conversation was heading. “Ah, you buy pork!” he divulged as the elevator doors hissed open. At first my vegetarian brain didn’t quite recognise the word ‘pork’ or made an immediate connection, but when it did, I giggled as I walked out the door to meet my husband who is the pork eater and loves Spinneys’ “pork room”.

This room, like an unborn baby in its mother’s womb, out of sight, yet visibly present, contains a variety of products from ham, bacon, and pork cuts to pork flavoured products. I have only once entered this space for the briefest of moments, before the overpowering smell of meat made me clutch my nose and belly on my hasty retreat, so for a complete list of all the delights that can be found in there, I will have to refer you to my husband.

Muslims, like the Jews, do not eat pork. It is considered haraam; not allowed. The fact that it is even possible to buy pork products here in the UAE, is testament to a country that respects the difference in beliefs and values of its many expatriates. The Koran strictly forbids the consumption of pork: “Forbidden to you are: dead meat, blood, the flesh of swine, and that on which hath been invoked a name other than that of Allah.” (Al-Ma’idah:3) In the Bible the following words, written in Leviticus 11: 7 & 8, makes it clear that pork is forbidden: “…and the swine, as he divideth the hoof, and be cloven footed, yet he cheweth not the cud; he is unclean to you. Of their flesh shall ye not eat, and their carcass shall ye not touch, they are unclean to you.” Muslims find pork so offensive that even the reference to it on television programmes will be censored out.

Muslims slaughter their animals in a very specific manner to make it halaal. An incision is made through the jugular veins in the neck of an animal through which it is allowed to ‘bleed out’, causing its death. By leaving all the other veins and organs intact the meat is not contaminated with any blood, as Islam specifically prohibits the consumption of blood. The Jewish kosher laws also demand that animals be slaughtered in a specific manner, similar to that of Islam to allow the animal to ‘bleed out’, as the consumption of blood is also forbidden. The Seventh-day Adventists, a Christian sect, also do not eat pork as they adhere to the same dietary laws as prescribed in the Old Testament in Leviticus and Deuteronomy, but without adhering to the ritualistic slaughtering of animals. Many members follow a vegetarian diet though, as the focus of their faith pivots around choices that promotes health.

Some claim that the inspiration for the modern vegetarian movement within the Christian community can be found in Genesis 1: 29-30: “And God said, See I have given you every herb that yields seed, which is on the face of all the earth, and every tree which fruit yields seed; to you it shall be for food. Also to every beast of the earth, to every bird of the air, and to every thing that creeps on the earth, in which there is life, I have given every green herb for food: and it was so.”  It is interpreted as revealing God’s original will, which was for a peaceful, vegetarian world. Meat eating was only allowed in the Bible after the fall and the flood, which marks the human descent into violence.

Although Buddhism does not prescribe specific dietary rules, a vegetarian diet is encouraged. The first Precept is ‘do not kill’, and as a result many Buddhists choose a vegetarian diet, although this is considered a personal choice and not a requirement. The Buddha also advised the monks not to eat any meat from an animal that was specifically slaughtered to feed them and to avoid eating the following kinds of meat: humans, elephants, horses, dogs, snakes, lions, tigers, boars and hyenas.

Hindus in general follow a vegetarian diet, but some also eat meat. The Mahabharata, one of the Hindu scriptures state that nonviolence (ahimsa) is the highest duty and teaching. It is also believed that non-vegetarian food is detrimental to health, the mind and spiritual development. No Hindu will eat beef though, as the cow is considered holy.

If it is true that we are what we eat, then our diet serves as a mirror of our beliefs, morals and values.

Further Reading:

* Read the following Wikipedia article on the similarities and differences between Islamic and Jewish Dietary Laws.

** The following article on an interpretation of Hindu dietary guidelines makes for interesting reading.

*** Find more information on Buddhism and Vegetarianism here.

**** To read more about the eating habits of the Seventh-day Adventists, visit their website.