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Religious Dietary Laws


Tonyfinch
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Obviously there were good health/hygiene reasons for many of the original religious dietry laws but at what point in history did they stop applying? Why do people still maintain them and why do the authorities of the various religions not revoke them?

I read yesterday that 4.1 million Jains in India will not eat root vegetables for fear of harming mites and insects when pulling them up. Whose interests do these laws serve? Wouldn't the world be a better place if everyone just ignored them?

Edited by Tonyfinch (log)
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While dietry laws, I would imagine, have their roots in the pragmatism of the times in which they were formulated, over time they come to be part of what defines a religious group as a culture as much as a spititual group

Such laws are seen as being "demanded" by the deity of the religion and are monitored by the priestly elite in all cases.

Adherence to such does not harm anyone and in fact can have a very positive effect of creating social adhesion.

Far worse are some of the other laws that religion has placed on people. Just ask all the impoverished mothers of 11 in latin america.

S

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Obviously there were good health/hygiene reasons for many of the original religious dietry laws

I'm not sure the evidence is conclusive on that point. There are a few competing theories of why various dietary laws were enacted in so many religions: Health/hygiene, social separation, ethical objections to eating certain foods, and of course some (perhaps most people in the world, actually) believe there really is a god or gods behind these laws. Regardless of the explanation, though, the existence of dietary laws in so many religions certainly demonstrates the centrality of cuisine to society.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Far worse are some of the other laws that religion has placed on people.

Likewise, some of the most ridiculous dietary laws -- those of fruitarianism, the Atkins diet, etc. -- don't stem from religion at all. Most people I know follow dietary laws of one kind of another, be they societally or individually imposed, religiously or secularly derived. And by far the secular dietary laws are the quirkiest. Indeed, I have to wonder if there isn't some sort of universal human need to create dietary regulations and rituals.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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And the use of cuisine to subjegate

What happened to "Adherence to such does not harm anyone"?

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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It almost seems reasonable to speculate that the dietary laws of any religion had origin in concerns for health/hygiene, but I'd find it as reasonable to say that over the years people have managed to find creative excuses for dietary laws by speculating about possible health and hygiene issues. I'd be more convinced that the laws weren't the result of powerful agricultural lobbies of the day. The cattlemen's lobby was far more influential than that of those who shot wild deer. This need for an animal to chew it's cud it rather absurd and animals without cloven hoofs is both too broad a category to make a convincing argument that they are less clean a type of animal.

Control is a more likely issue, but the strongest arguments could probably be made for the use of this sort of control to support a group identity rather than just to subjugate them. The subjugation may have come at the onset, or later.

Fat Guy wonders "if there isn't some sort of universal human need to create dietary regulations and rituals." I think people have great needs for rules, regulations and most certainly for rituals in their life and what is as central as eating? Our whole pattern of living is centered on a schedule of meals. Do we just eat all day or pick up a piece of food every time we're a bit hungry? Hmm, maybe this is the worst argument I could make. Here in America, where we lead the way to new horizons in eating, we just pull off the highway for a chain meal waiting for us in a Styrofoam box. And in the cities where deprived Americans must walk to get to their ultimate destination it's hard to pass many blocks without the chance to stop for a slice of life sustaining pizza. The percentage of people walking down the street with food or beverage in their hands is growing by the minute. The new social gesture of offering someone a bit of the food you're holding may replace handshakes and there will be yet another food ritual.

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Adherence to such does not harm anyone and in fact can have a very positive effect of creating social adhesion.

I think that's a really moot point. Recently we discussed on another thread the refusal of an Iranian Presdential delegation to attend a dinner with the King of Spain on the grounds that wine was to be served.

Whether any "harm" could result directly from that incident one doesn't know but it seems reasonable to ask that at a time of tension between Islam and the West do we need such "laws" getting in the way of anything which attempts to promote mutual understanding and accord?

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Is it possible that Jews do not eat pork because originally non-Jews controlled pig farming in a region and the price was too high? Any situation you could imagine where, a competing religion controlled the item, or there wasn't enough of it to go around to feed everyone, or the cost was too high so not everyone in the congregation couldn't afford it, those types of situations would give a religion impetus to create a law forbidding it. Then there are health reasons. If a certain food group was more likely to be tainted and cause sickness. Finally there is the means of control. If Jews came from a part of the world that didn't have pigs, and migrated to a part that did, the religion would have an impetus to impose dining restrictions to keep Jews segregated and to prevent people from dining with non-Jews so as to prevent defections from the religion. But I don't understand Fat Guy's point about diets like Atkins. Those aren't dietary laws, those are rules of a dietary regimen with no theological concequence.

I'd like to say that the big question here is why people still adhere to dietary rules that do not make sense anymore? I mean there should be sufficient evidence to everyone that pigs aren't dirty. But the real question is why do people believe in god? Because clearly there is no other reason then theology that people can't eat pork, shellfish, beef, meat on Friday etc. And I'm not buying Simon's answer about dietary laws keeping people together. There are no dietary laws that create a difference in what the French and Italians both eat. Yet there are two distinct cuisines with different dining traditions that go with them.

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Control and eating are closely linked. Food is life or death. To the degree that a person or organization can impose restrictions or mandates over diet, they literally control one's life.

It is widely believed that anorexia is brought on by desire to exert control or wrest it away from excessively controlling parents. It's very difficult to defeat someone who refuses to eat or eats so sparingly or, in fact, so grossly, that their life is threatened.

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I'd like to say that the big question here is why people still adhere to dietary rules that do not make sense anymore?

To answer that you have to know what need or needs are being met by the behaviour. I suspect there are different needs being met among different people. Orthodox do it because they buy into the whole way of life. It defines them. Some secular Jews I know do it because of a desire to retain contact with a part of their lives that has gone; their parents or dead relatives. Others I know do it because of guilt inculcated in them from childhood.

I have Jewish friends who will eat shrimp and lobster in a restaurant but not in someone's home. Go figure.

But the real question is why do people believe in god?

Is that a rhetorical question?

Most people have a need to believe something controls their lives and the world that is bigger and more powerful than they. The idea that there is no such power scares the shit out of a lot of people. They think chaos, war, mass starvation, cruelty, man's inhumanity to man would result. Or that they would be unable to stop drinking copious amounts of strawberry diet Yoohoo. :wink:

Edited by Max (log)
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Is it in Leviticus that the laws of what foods are clean or unclean are first set down in the Bible?

There's a pretty terrifying passage near the end of the book (which also lists all other ways people can be unclean), in which god says, "If in spite of this you do not listen to me and still defy me, I will defy you in anger, and I myself will punish you seven times over for your sins. Instead of meat you shall eat your sons and your daughters. . . . I will pile your rotting carcasses on the rotting logs that were your idols, and I will spurn you. . . . I will scatter you among the heathen, and I will pursue you with the naked sword; your land shall be desolate and your cities heaps of rubble. . . . And I shall make those of you who are left in the land of your enemies so ridden with fear that, when a leaf flutters behind them in the wind, they shall run as if it were the sword behind them; they shall fall with no one in pursuit."

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"If in spite of this you do not listen to me and still defy me, I will defy you in anger, and I myself will punish you seven times over for your sins. Instead of meat you shall eat your sons and your daughters. . . . I will pile your rotting carcasses on the rotting logs that were your idols, and I will spurn you. . . . I will scatter you among the heathen, and I will pursue you with the naked sword; your land shall be desolate and your cities heaps of rubble. . . . And I shall make those of you who are left in the land of your enemies so ridden with fear that, when a leaf flutters behind them in the wind, they shall run as if it were the sword behind them; they shall fall with no one in pursuit."

Man oh man, I would keep really really kosher if I believed someone could do that to me.

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I know many people who eat traif outside of their home but keep kosher at home. It's really funny. If you were to make a list of the ways people maintained a kosher tradition it would be both baffling and hysterical. I have a friend who is a gigantic wine collector. You can go out to dinner with him and his wife and they will show up with something like a magnum of 1962 La Tache (traif) and the chef can serve us loin of pork which they will eat. But they keep a kosher home! Unbelieveable. Anyway, my question is not rhetorical. Because I don't see how one keeps kosher without holding open the idea that god exists in some form. There isn't a single thing in the world they would believe without seeing physical evidence with their own two eyes except this. That god would impose nonsensical rules on them only makes their belief that more unbelievable to me when looking at it from the perspective of sheer logic.

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I can understand why people believe in God. The Universe is so huge and complex, so beyond the understanding of mankind in so many ways, so awesome in its scope and possibilities, that it is not that difficult to believe that it was created. What is the alternative theory? That it is all the result of accident? Why is that easier to believe?

But the so called God quoted above comes across as a demented lunatic whose sole purpose is to be worshipped and revered. Why people still believe in THAT God, I do not know as he is clearly an anthropomorphic invention.

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I don't see how one keeps kosher without holding open the idea that god exists in some form.

Why are you having so much trouble seeing this? Surely, if you performed an analysis of the crowd at any given church, synagogue, mosque, or temple of any kind you'd find a percentage of atheists in the group. Atheists attend religious services, they have bar mitzvahs/confirmations/christenings/whatever performed on their children, they celebrate religious holidays, etc. Why should it be different when it comes to dietary practices? Do you not know many, many Jewish atheists who refuse to eat pork? Do you not know lapsed Catholics who refuse to eat meat on Fridays?

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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But I don't understand Fat Guy's point about diets like Atkins. Those aren't dietary laws, those are rules of a dietary regimen with no theological concequence.

So a law isn't a law unless breaking it has a theological consequence? What about the laws of alternate side of the street parking? The laws of nature?

Law = "a binding custom or practice of a community" (Merriam-Webster definition #1). If you're a fruitarian, a member of Weight Watchers, whatever, you're following laws just as sure as someone who keeps halal. They're just different types of laws, with different consequences or perceived consequences of violating them.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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That god would impose nonsensical rules on them only makes their belief that more unbelievable to me when looking at it from the perspective of sheer logic.

But that's the point. There is no logic to it. It is a totally irrational set of behaviours. Did you ever know an obsessive compulsive who has to repeat an act over and over until they feel able to move on? Like locking the front door thirty times befoe they can leave home. That is just an extreme extension of the same mind set you are describing.

The borderline between "extreme" religious observance and elements of mental illness is rather thin.

But the so called God quoted above comes across as a demented lunatic whose sole purpose is to be worshipped and revered. Why people still believe in THAT God, I do not know as he is clearly an anthropomorphic invention.

Bingo.

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Those who believe in any kind of deity and harm nobody else through that belief don't deserve to be insulted or to have their gods insulted. Nobody proceeds in life based only on evidence. We all believe some things that haven't been proven. We all have faith in something.

Look at the thread about eating dog. We've got all these seemingly rational users saying, essentially, "Eeeeeeeeeew, I wouldn't eat a dog!" How rational is that? Not very. But it doesn't have to be. It only has to be if you're trying to prove the truth of it. If you just want to believe it, as far as I'm concerned you can believe anything you want.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Why are you having so much trouble seeing this? Surely, if you performed an analysis of the crowd at any given church, synagogue, mosque, or temple of any kind you'd find a percentage of atheists in the group. Atheists attend religious services, they have bar mitzvahs/confirmations/christenings/whatever performed on their children, they celebrate religious holidays, etc. Why should it be different when it comes to dietary practices? Do you not know many, many Jewish atheists who refuse to eat pork? Do you not know lapsed Catholics who refuse to eat meat on Fridays?

Well this group of people you are describing are really split into two groups. The people who do it as a matter of custom, and the people who do it because the issue of god is an ambiguity to them. Many people who are confessed aetheists are really in the ambiguous camp. They profess to not believe in god but adhere to religious custom as a way of leaving the door open on this issue (whether consciously or subconsciously.)

So a law isn't a law unless breaking it has a theological consequence? What about the laws of alternate side of the street parking? The laws of nature?

Well it isn't the kind of dietary law that Tony raised in his original post. He was describing laws based in theology that had theological concequences to people who break them. I don't think he was talking about being shamed in fron of one's Weight Watchers meeting.

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In the Buddhist Vinaya it says that Bhiksuni Thullananda led a group of female novices to harvest garlic in a field owned by a lay patron. The patron permitted them to remove five heads of garlic a day but the novices became greedy and pulled them all up. The patron complained to the Buddha who mollified him by forbidding nuns to eat garlic from that day on. :shock:

"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

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Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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Those who believe in any kind of deity and harm nobody else through that belief don't deserve to be insulted or to have their gods insulted. Nobody proceeds in life based only on evidence. We all believe some things that haven't been proven. We all have faith in something.

I'm not buying this. First, how can one say that the laws of kashruth which promote segregation do not hurt anyone? Anything that promotes segregation hurts society. What you are really saying is that it is okay for that level of segregation to exist in our lives. That doesn't make any sense to me.

There is a diifference between the belief that man is ultimately good and believing in theology that was written by man but purported to be from a higher being. Fortunately, theology acts as a surrogate for morality and when it parallels morality to a sufficient extent we do not dispute the literal differences. We give it a pass that we wouldn't give to anything else because we want to believe. Because when the plain language of theology is something abhorant, like the passage that Toby posted, we are willing to overlook it. But if some political leader said the same thing about people he would be considered a pariah. But for some reason god gets a pass.

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Those who believe in any kind of deity and harm nobody else through that belief don't deserve to be insulted or to have their gods insulted.

Well I'm not sure who has insulted who. I find the threats dished out by the God quoted above pretty insulting in all honesty. But rhe real question begged by that sentence is whether believing in a deity and harming nobody else are compatible activities.

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Plotnicki: Let's say I'm Hindu and I don't eat beef. I'll go to a steakhouse with you, but I'll order a lobster instead of a steak. Please explain to me how that would promote segregation in any sense of the word.

In addition, surely you acknowledge that there's a difference between self-imposed segregation and segregation imposed from without.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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