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.

Keeping Kosher

Kosher Meat

Kosher vs. Non Kosher

Do all Jews keep kosher?

Although I grew up in a Jewish family, I did not follow all the customs and traditions that most Jews follow. One of the customs I did not  follow is the kosher diet. My mom never pushed keeping kosher on my brother or I. I learned the basics of what it meant and why it was done but never grasped the full importance.

Kashrut is the part of Jewish law dealing with diet. Kashrut explains what can and cannot be eaten and how foods should be prepared. The term Kosher is used to describe foods that meet the standards of Kashrut. Judaism 101 is one of many websites that explains the details of Jewish dietary laws.

So why keep kosher? Modern Jews feel that kosher dietary guidelines can provide health benefits, especially with modern food preparations techniques. As a food science major, I have studied a wide range of cooking and slaughtering methods. Kosher laws can be more sanitary and more humane for the animals. The laws regarding kosher slaughter are so sanitary that the butchers are exempt from numerous USDA regulations. Although there are health benefits, those do not play a role in why Jews keep kosher. Most Jews that keep kosher, do because the Torah says so. The laws of kashrut often fall into the category of “chukkim“, or laws that have no reason. I think I chose not to keep kosher growing up because it was such a foreign concept which is why I decided that I would embrace keeping kosher for a week for my adventure blog.

Kashrut rules are extensive and detailed so I chose to follow the basic rules. According to koshercertification.org, some of those rules include not eating pork, not mixing meat and dairy, only consuming kosher meats, and only  consuming fish with scales and fins. Now these are only four basic rules. In orthodox homes that follow all laws of kashrut, separate utensils and cookware are used for dairy and meat products, separate sinks are used, and separate refrigerators are used to store dairy and animals products.

Living in an apartment with nine other individuals, who do not keep kosher, made it nearly impossible to follow all the orthodox rules. There was no way I would be able to clear out the refrigerators and cabinets in order to separate meat and dairy so I decided to follow the more conservative laws. Personally, I found that keeping kosher was easier than I expected. I refrained from eating meat products and dairy for the week and only purchased foods with the kosher food label. Overall I was successful in completing my kosher week. I may try to continue to keep a more kosher diet but do not see myself following all the laws in the future.

Kosher Food Symbol

According to the 2000 National Jewish Population Survey, only 21% of American Jews keep kosher in their home. I had a few friends who kept kosher growing up but met more coming into college. Keeping kosher on a college campus is very challenging. Campus dining does not label if foods are kosher which makes it difficult for many students. In San Luis Obispo, kosher delis are not common. One of my friends keeps a vegetarian diet at school because kosher meats are difficult to find. I have found that there are places to find kosher foods while staying in London. There are a wide variety of kosher products sold at supermarkets and kosher butchers are available.

I think that it is important to branch out and experience the customs of different religions. Keeping kosher was an eye opening experience and I would like to try different religious practices in the future.

Football Firms

20120623-172524.jpg

What is religion anyway? According to dictionary.com, religion is “the body of persons adhering to a particular set of beliefs and practices”. In that case, the secular aspect of supporting football clubs within the British culture should be considered a religion!
Religions are based on specific morals and values; people gathering together in community to celebrate. A religious structure provides individuals with support, connection, higher purpose, and a sense of community.

One of my favorite movies of all time is Green Street Hooligans which portrays the lifestyles of individuals living in Europe, specifically the football firms in England. After watching the film many times I realized that the devotion and commitment these individuals have towards their specific team is truly remarkable. Their passion and dedication is like a faith-based religion.

Football firms are no different. Each football team is associated with a firm. The firms gather for every match and cheer on the team together, in community. These communities are based on similar ideals and a dedication to a team.

Football firms are everywhere; the passion the fans express toward a particular team is endless. Football games and the violence surrounding them provide the members of the firm with a place to escape from the problems of life. Similar to a religious group, firms are about loyalty and dedication to something larger than just one individual. The connections made create a community, a family.

Often individuals become religious or more committed to their faith after experiencing a tragedy or life changing event. I have seen many friends explore religion after their parents divorced or the death of a friend or relative has occurred. Religion provides people with a sense of belonging. Firms are no different; football is more than just a way of being. Attending, drinking, and fighting at football games is how hooligans identify themselves. Firms provide the framework for people to feel part of a community.

The 2012 Euro Cup is currently taking place; I have had the opportunity to watch several games in the local pubs and experience the culture first hand. England played Spain last week; the game ended with a score of 1-0, England won! So many diehard fans were at the pub cheering on their team. Drinking with friends and yelling at the giant TV screens across the pub seemed completely normal. The fans were consumed with the game and had one thing on their minds, winning. The sense of connection and community were tangible in the pub; it was really amazing.

I am not saying that football firms provide a positive sense of community; connection to firms promotes violence, usually a great deal of violence. Firms are consumed with winning at all costs; they demolish other firms in both verbal and physical brawls. Like firms, not all religious communities provide a positive sense of community; violence exists in religious groups as well.

Some may say it’s a reach to say football firms and religions have a lot in common, yet both provide individuals with a strong sense of connection and community. They provide a structure for people to associate with, they share a common purpose or goal (some say morals and values) and both require dedication and commitment to belong.

20120623-172529.jpg

Religion and the Olympics

20120620-235546.jpg

London 2012

The Olympic Games are based on the foundation of equality and brotherhood. Yet religion has always played a huge role in the Olympic Games and 2012 is no exception. London has to prepare for the games in order to cater to athletes of nine different faiths. Religious issues taken into account include the obligations of Sikhs to wear daggers, Christians not participating in events on Sundays, and Muslims observing the Ramadan fast. Different religions have specific dietary restrictions; Kosher, halal, and vegetarian options must be available for athletes and spectators. Other issues include specific gender attire including head coverings, scheduling around sabbath days, and religious terrorism. The London Olympic committee has stated that athletes will be “heavily punished” if they choose not to participate for reasons other than injury.

According to the BBC, the Olympic venue will provide a prayer room at every venue as well as multi-faith center, managed by specific representatives from each faith. There has also been a faith services team developed that will have ‘break-a-fast’ meals for Muslims observing Ramadan during the Games. In addition to the packed meals, a specific dining facility will be accessible 24 hours a day.

The London Olympic committee has been preparing for more than just dietary needs. In prior games, religious terrorism has played a significant role. The committee this year must be prepared and have regulations and safety programs in place for all the athletes and spectators.

At the 1972 Olympics in Munich, 11 Israeli athletes were murdered by the Palestinian terrorist group Black September. The International Olympic Committee has been urged to honor the memory of the 11 Israeli athletes at the London summer games. The 2012 games will mark the 40 year anniversary of the murder.

A petition started by Ankie Spitzer, whose husband was killed, is asking for just a moment of silence to remember the eleven athletes, coaches, and referees murdered, in order to promote peace. The moment of silence would be a reminder that hate crimes have no place at the Games. Unfortunately the request was denied by the olympic committee.

The Jerusalem Post just released an article stating President Shimon Peres cancelled his trip to the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games because a hotel within walking distance of the ceremony was unavailable. Opening ceremonies will be held on a Friday evening, the Jewish Sabbath. Peres chose to refrain from attending the opening ceremonies rather than dishonor the Sabbath. The Sabbath is one of many religious practices the Olympic committee must consider when scheduling the Olympic events.

According to The Telegraph, religious symbols have been banned at the games this year in order to not offend people. The idea of a faith badge representing all faiths was even rejected for the fact that some religions would feel uncomfortable wearing symbols of other faiths.

Overall, religion has always played a significant role in the Olympic Games and the 2012 games are no are no exception. With diverse cultures come diverse customs, beliefs, and ideals. The Olympic Games are based on the foundation of equality and brotherhood and all groups deserve to feel safe participating.

20120620-235601.jpg

Country Flags

African Jews

20120620-162903.jpg

Member of an African Synagogue

Growing up in a predominately white Jewish community I often had friends ask me if there were ‘black’ Jews and my response was always Yes, just not many here in Danville, CA. There were a small handful of African families that attended the temple in my hometown as well as a local synagogue in San Luis Obispo where I worked. Yet, people in the United States do not always associate Africans with practicing Judaism, however, African Jews do exist and there are communities all over Africa that practice traditional Jewish customs.

Jewish communities in Africa date back more than 2700 years. They are some of the oldest Jewish communities in the world. African Jewish communities also have ethnic and religious diversity which contributes to the richness of the groups.

Some African groups have not maintained contact with the global Jewish community but rather descent from ancient Israel. The Beta Israel of Ethiopia is recognized as historically Jewish. Not all African Jews practice traditional Jewish customs but many of their practices are similar to Orthodox Jewish customs. The Jewish population in South Africa is run by many organizations. The United Communal Fund-Israel United Appear is a major fundraising body for the group. The Union of Orthodox Synagogues maintains the orthodox community and there are Reform and Zionist organizations involved as well. A Jewish educational system is in place and over 80 percent of Jewish children are enrolled in the Jewish day school. The Jewish day schools provide a similar structure as the Jewish day schools in the states.

African Jewish communities look different than the Jewish communities within Europe and North America. They use different languages, different music, and enjoy different traditional foods. However, Jewish communities all over the world share many of the traditional Jewish religious practices. The pray service itself is very similar, the language of prayer is similar, and the traditional clothing attire is the same as well (head covers, prayer shawls) in synagogues all over the world.

I have only been in London for one week yet have already been impressed by not only the size of the Jewish population but also the diversity. As I was leaving the airport I saw one family on the tube wearing traditional Hassid Jewish attire. The father was wearing a tallit and his tzit tzit were showing, all the boys were wearing kippot and the mother had her shoulders and knees covered. The 2001 UK Census 9% of the South African population in London is Jewish, only 2% of total Londoners associate with the Jewish faith. It was refreshing to see this diversity; the world is such a diverse place and it is easy for people to forget that, to become trapped in their own little world, afraid to venture out and experience how other ethnic groups and religions experience life.

After researching African Jews I came across the following article on The Jewish Federations of North America. The article written by Donna Halper discusses the complexity of being black and Jewish. There is so much bigotry involved. People are intolerant and ignorant towards African Jews. Being in one minority group can be challenging, let alone two.

I can relate to being a part of two minority groups; being a Jewish female. Although society has come a long way, females still face forms of discrimination. Between athletics and job opportunities, boys are still thought of to be better than girls.

Hopefully with more time and education, individuals will stop being afraid of people who are different.

20120620-162917.jpg

Introduction

20120620-004723.jpg

Hey! My name is Malori and I am a senior at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo majoring in Food Science, with a minor in Industrial Technology, Packaging. I was born in Turlock, CA and raised most of my life in Danville, CA. My mom was born and raised Jewish and my dad Catholic, but my parents decided to have a Jewish family. My brother and I grew up attending synagogue regularly and I had a Bat Mitzvah when I was 13.

Although I grew up in a religious setting, I would not consider myself a religious individual. Throughout high school I loved learning about different religions and cultures and talking with my friends about their customs and traditions. Growing up, I was not surrounded by a lot of Jews in my public schools or in my extracurricular activities. My closest friends were of different faiths. I struggled with finding my appropriate label, something that I was comfortable with, whether I was Jewish or an Agnostic Jew.

I was raised with morals and values that have most definitely shaped my life, and yes religion did play a small role in that. I truly believe that morals and values are what matters. Jewish, Catholic, Christian, Agnostic, Atheist, Muslim, those are all labels that help shape people but morals and values define character. If people treat others with respect and understanding than religion and cultural differences can be shared and celebrated.

This study abroad program is my first major trip outside of the United States. I am so grateful to have the opportunity to study in London and experience new and different cultures and customs. The next six weeks will provide me with an opportunity to grow and expand my perspective of the world around me.