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Diet and culture

Updated on August 19, 2016

In the world of food preferences, what is considered delicious and disgusting is more a matter of culture than most people think.

Food preferences and taboos are extremely emotional and value-laden. People tend to regard their own diet as sensible and the diets other cultures as bizarre or irrational. For example Weesterners cringe at the thought of some Asian cultures that eat dog meat, because dogs are sacred in their culture. But Hindus feel the same way about cows and are horrified by the 'dead animal' racks in our supermarkets.

People sometimes follow strict diets in terms of what they will and will not eat, for religious, health or other reasons. Some of these requirements are considered below :

(a) Vegetarianism

Vegetarianism is the practice of not consuming the flesh of any animal (including sea animals) with ot without also rejecting other animal derivatives, such as dairy products or eggs. Some vegetarians also choose to refrain from wearing clothing that has involved the death of animals, such as leather and fur.

(b) Halaal

Halaal is an Arabic term meaning "permissible". In the English language it most frequently refers to food that is permissiblke according to Islamic law. In the Arabic language it refers to anything that is permissible under Islam.

Followers of this philosophy mantain that in order for food to be considered halaal, it must not be a forbidden substance and any meat must have been slaughtered according to traditional guidelines set forth.

A variety of substances are considered forbidden (haraam) as per various Quaranic verses:

  • Pork, or any pig-based products (e.g. gelatin)
  • Blood
  • Animals slaughtered in the name of anyone but God
  • "fanged beasts or prey" Usually simplified to all carnivourous animal, with the exception of most fish and sea animals
  • All intoxicants (especially alcohol)


Food in according with halakha (Jewesh law) is termed kosher in English , from the Hebrew term kasher, meaning "fit" (in this context, fit for consumption by Jews according to traditional Jewish law). Jews may not eat non-kosher food (but there are no restrictions for non-dietary use, for example, injection of insulin of porcine origin)

The Islamic equivalent for Muslims is halaal food, which overlaps considerably with kosher, but is not identical. Food not in accord with Jewish law is termed trief. The Hebrew term refers to animals (from a kosher species such as cattle or sheep) which had been either incorrectly slaughtered or mortally wounded by wild bests and therefore were not fit for human consumption.


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