Food and Religion

Food plays an important role in many religions; ideologies followed for centuries are still valued and practiced today. All over the world, people choose what and how to eat depending on their religious beliefs.  According to foodafactoflife.org.uk, the role of food in religion includes a means of communicating with God through blessings or saying thanks, demonstrating faith through following dietary guidelines, and developing discipline through fasting. Judaism, Islam, and Hinduism are just a few faiths in which food plays a significant role.
Growing up in a Jewish family, I have experienced first-hand the importance and significance of food. Our large family gatherings were associated with a wide variety of food. My grandmother used to joke that I was not allowed to leave anything on my plate at dinner. Although I do not follow a Kosher diet, I am still accustomed to traditional Jewish foods. The bagel, oh yes the bagel, originated in Poland and is often associated with the Jewish people. Challah, a braided egg bread, is also a traditional Jewish bread. Yom Kippur or The Day of Atonement is the most holy day of the Jewish calendar. Jewish people traditionally fast from sunrise to sunset. In my family, we would always gather at my grandparent’s house for “Break Fast”. There would be bagels, lox, whitefish, challah, chicken, and chopped liver. Typically Jewish cuisine isn’t the healthiest so as my brother and I got older, and health became more important, we would shift recipes around. I have not found any classic Jewish deli’s in London, however there is one bagel shop in Brick Lane.
The Islamic faith also provides specific dietary guidelines; forbidden foods are outlined in the Koran. Foods that are allowed to be consumed are called halal and those that are prohibited are called haram. Similar to the Jewish Kosher guidelines, beef, lamb and chicken are only allowed if the animal has been killed using the halal method. Muslims are allowed to consume meat slaughtered by Jews as well because the Kosher butchering process is similar to the halal process. Foods considered haram are pork, blood and alcohol. BBC.co.uk states that Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar in which Muslims refrain from eating or drinking from sunrise to sunset. While studying in London, I was pleased to find such a diverse community. There are restaurants all over London that offer halal cuisine.
Hindus follow the dietary belief of ahisma, or non-injury to living creatures. The cow is held in high regard and is a symbol of abundance which is why Hindus do not eat beef. Strict Hindus follow a vegetarian diet. Fasting occurs in Hinduism as well. Fasting on special occasions demonstrates ones respect to personal Gods.
There are numerous religious areas in London with varieties of food. Brick Lane is the heart of the city’s Bangladeshi-Sylheti community and is famous for the Indian food and curry houses. I have been to Brick Lane three times and the cultural diversity is eye-opening. If you want delicious Indian food then Brick Lane is the place to go.
Two years ago I took a class at Cal Poly called “Food and Nutrition: Customs and Culture“. The class focused on traditional and contemporary food customs. It was so interesting learning about how food plays important roles in different cultures. Understanding the traditional food customs has been very beneficial because London is such a cultural and religiously diverse area. I have been able to dine at a wide variety of restaurants and utilize proper dining etiquette for each. Understanding the role of rood in cultural and religious practices is necessary in order to respect the different religious communities.
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2 thoughts on “Food and Religion

  1. Very interesting Malorie! It’s so neat to see how other religious cultures consume and don’t consume certain foods! I now understand Kosher when I hear or see it. In general I think it is a great concept, especially with all the terrible mass-producing meat companies, it’s nice to know the animals were killed humanely.

  2. Great post Malori! I was raised similarly in that many of my family’s gatherings and Jewish celebrations revolve around food. From what I’ve noticed in other religions as well, Judaism is a religion where food is an important, traditional aspect in most social situations. I think it is a great way for people to come together and discuss their cultures and religious beliefs. I love cooking and eating traditional Jewish foods like latkes, matzo brei, challah, and Israeli salad with my family!

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