Taboo food and drink
Taboo food and drink are food and beverages which people abstain from consuming because of a religious or cultural prohibition. Many food taboos forbid the meat of a particular animal, including mammals, rodents, reptiles, amphibians, bony fish, mollusks and crustaceans. Some taboos are specific to a particular part or excretion of an animal, while other taboos forgo the consumption of plants, fungi, or insects.
Food taboos can be defined as rules, codified or otherwise, about which foods, or combinations of foods, may not be eaten and how animals are to be slaughtered. The origins of these prohibitions and commandments are varied. In some cases, these taboos are a result of health considerations or other practical reasons, in others, they are a result of human symbolic systems. Some foods may be prohibited during certain religious periods (e.g., Lent), at certain stages of life (e.g., pregnancy), or to certain classes of people (e.g., priests), even though the food is otherwise permissible.
- 1 Causes
- 2 Taboo foods
- 2.1 Amphibians and reptiles
- 2.2 Bats
- 2.3 Bears
- 2.4 Birds
- 2.5 Camels
- 2.6 Cats
- 2.7 Cattle
- 2.8 Crustaceans and other seafood
- 2.9 Dogs
- 2.10 Fish
- 2.11 Fungi and plants
- 2.12 Guinea pig and related rodents
- 2.13 Horses and other equines
- 2.14 Humans
- 2.15 Insects
- 2.16 Living animals
- 2.17 Offal
- 2.18 Pigs/pork
- 2.19 Rabbit
- 2.20 Rats and mice
- 2.21 Sharks
- 2.22 Snails
- 2.23 Squirrel
- 2.24 Turtles
- 2.25 Vegetables
- 2.26 Whales
- 3 Taboo drinks
- 4 See also
- 5 Notes
- 6 References
- 7 External links
Various religions forbid the consumption of certain types of food. For example, Judaism prescribes a strict set of rules, called Kashrut, regarding what may and may not be eaten, and notably forbidding the mingling of meat with dairy products. Islam has similar laws, dividing foods into haraam (forbidden) and halal (permitted). Jains often follow religious directives to observe vegetarianism. Hindus do not eat beef, and some Hindus apply the concept of ahimsa (non-violence) to their diet and consider vegetarianism as ideal, and practice forms of vegetarianism. In some cases, the process of preparation rather than the food itself was under scrutiny. For instance, in early medieval Christianity certain uncooked foods were of dubious status; a penitential ascribed to Bede outlined a (mild) penance for those who ate uncooked foods, and Saint Boniface wrote to Pope Zachary (in a letter preserved in the Boniface correspondence, no. 87) asking him how long bacon would have to be cured to be proper for consumption.
Aside from formal rules, there are cultural taboos against the consumption of some animals. One cause is the classification of a food as famine food – the association of a food with famine, and hence association of the food with hardship. In other cases, certain animals are categorized as working and/or companion animals; or are considered to be particularly intelligent or human-like and in both cases consuming such animals would invoke emotional aversions against cannibalism (e.g. in the United States, dogs, cats, guinea pigs and horses are all considered either working or companion animals and are not eaten; primates and whales are considered intelligent or human-like and are not eaten; cattle, pigs, and chickens are not generally considered working and/or companion animals nor are they considered particularly intelligent and are often eaten). Within a given society, some meats will be considered taboo simply because they are outside the range of the generally accepted definition of a foodstuff, not necessarily because the meat is considered repulsive in flavor, aroma, texture or appearance. Dog meat is eaten, in certain circumstances, in Korea, Vietnam, and China, although it is nowhere a common dish. Similarly, horse meat is rarely eaten in the Anglosphere, although it is part of the national cuisine of countries as widespread as Kazakhstan, Japan, Italy, and France. Guinea pigs are a common part of the diet in parts of South America (especially Peru and Bolivia), but are rarely eaten in the western world.
In some instances, a food taboo may only apply to certain parts of an animal.
Sometimes food taboos enter national or local law, as with the ban on cattle abattoirs in most of India, and horse slaughter in the United States. Even after reversion to Chinese rule, Hong Kong has not lifted its ban on supplying meat from dogs and cats, imposed in colonial times.
Environmentalism, ethical consumerism and other activist movements are giving rise to new taboos and eating guidelines. A fairly recent addition to cultural food taboos is the meat and eggs of endangered species or animals that are otherwise protected by law or international treaty. Examples of such protected species include some species of whales, sea turtles, and migratory birds.
Similarly, sustainable seafood advisory lists and certification discourage the consumption of certain seafoods due to unsustainable fishing. Organic certification prohibits most synthetic chemical inputs during food production, or genetically modified organisms, irradiation, and the use of sewage sludge. The Fair Trade movement and certification discourage the consumption of food and other goods produced in exploitative working conditions. Other social movements generating taboos include Local Food and The 100-Mile Diet, both of which encourage abstinence from non-locally produced food, and veganism, in which adherents endeavour not to use or consume animal products of any kind.
Amphibians and reptiles
Judaism strictly forbids the consumption of amphibians, such as frogs. Consumption of reptiles, such as crocodiles and snakes, is also forbidden. In other cultures, foods such as frog legs and alligator are treasured as delicacies, and the animals are raised commercially.
In Judaism, the Deuteronomic Code and Priestly Code explicitly prohibit the bat. Likewise, Islamic Sharia forbids their consumption. (However, in the predominantly-Muslim nation of Indonesia, bat meat is known to be a prized delicacy, especially within the Batak and Minahasa minority communities, both of which are largely non-Muslim.)
The Torah (Leviticus 11:13) explicitly states that the eagle, vulture, and osprey are not to be eaten. A bird now commonly raised for meat in some areas, the ostrich, is explicitly banned as food in some versions of Leviticus 11:16.
In North America, while pigeons (as doves), sometimes known as squab, are a hunted game bird, urban pigeons are avoided due to the presumption of uncleanness and the parasites which they may carry. Swan was at one time a dish reserved for royalty.
Scavengers and carrion-eaters such as vultures and crows are avoided as food in many cultures because they are perceived as carriers of disease and unclean, and associated with death. An exception is the rook which was a recognised country dish, and which has in more recent times been served in a Scottish restaurant in London. In Western cultures today, most people regard songbirds as backyard wildlife rather than as food.
The eating of camels is strictly prohibited by the Torah in Deuteronomy 14:7 and Leviticus 11:4. The Torah considers the camel unclean because even though it chews the cud, or regurgitates, the way bovines, sheep, goats, deer, antelope, and giraffes (all of which are kosher) do, it does not meet the cloven hoof criterion. Like these animals, camels (and llamas) are ruminants with a multi-chambered stomach. Camels and llamas are tylopods and have a three-chambered stomach, while these other species are true ruminantians, with a four-chambered stomach. Like the aforementioned ungulates, camels are even-toed ungulates, with feet split in two. However, unlike them, camels' feet form not hard hooves but rather soft pads.
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There is a strong taboo against eating cats in many Western parts of the world, including most of the Americas and Europe. Cat meat is forbidden by Jewish and Islamic law  as both religions forbid the eating of carnivores. Cat meat is eaten as part of uncommon cuisines of China, Vietnam and Switzerland. Cats are commonly regarded as pets in Western countries, or as working animals, kept to control vermin, not as a food animal, and consumption of cats is thus seen as a barbaric act by a large part of the population in those countries. Cat meat was eaten, for example, during the famine in the Siege of Leningrad. In 1996, a place that served cat meat was supposedly discovered by the Argentine press in a shanty town in Rosario, but in fact the meal had been set up by media from Buenos Aires.
In 2008, it was reported that cats were a staple part of the local diet in Guangdong, China, with many cats being shipped down from the north and one Guangzhou-based business receiving up to 10,000 cats per day from different parts of China. Protesters in other parts of China have urged the Guangdong provincial government to crack down on cat traders and restaurants that serve cat meat, although no law says it is illegal to eat cats.
The term "roof-hare" (roof-rabbit, German Dachhase) applies to cat meat presented as that of a hare, another small mammal used as a source of meat. Subtracting the skin, feet, head and tail, hare and cat carcasses appear similar. The only way to distinguish them is by looking at the processus hamatus of the feline scapula, which should have a processus suprahamatus. Dar gato por liebre ("to pass off a cat as a hare") is an expression common to many Spanish-speaking countries, equivalent to "to pull the wool over someone's eyes" derived from this basic scam. There is an equivalent Portuguese expression Comprar gato por lebre, meaning "to buy a cat as a hare". The expression churrasco de gato ("cat barbecue") is largely used in Brazil with a humorous note, especially for roadside stands that offer grilled meat on a stick (often coated with farofa), due to their poor hygiene and that the source of the meat is mostly unknown. Also, in the Philippines, there is an urban legend and a joke that the some vendors use cat meat to make siopao (steamed bun), leading some Filipinos to name their pet cats "Siopao". Meanwhile "kitten cakes" and "buy three shawarma - assemble a kitten" are common Russian urban jokes about the suspect origin of food from street vendors' stalls. In English, the common expression refers to what the victim of the trick thinks is happening: "Buy a pig in a poke."
The inhabitants of Vicenza in northern Italy are reputed to eat cats, although the practice has been out of use for decades. In February 2010, a popular Italian gastronome was criticized and suspended from a show for talking about the former practice of eating cat stew in Tuscany.
During the so-called "Bad Times" of hunger in Europe during and after World War I and World War II "roof-rabbit" was a common food. Those who thought that they were eating Australian rabbits were really eating European cats.
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Many Hindus, particularly Brahmins, are vegetarian, abstaining from eating meat. Those Hindus who do eat meat abstain from the consumption of beef, as the cow holds a sacred place in Hinduism. Consumption of beef is taboo out of respect for the cow. Dairy products such as milk, yogurt and particularly ghee are highly revered and used in holy ceremonies. Cow milk was the nearest substitute of mother's milk for orphaned new-born babies before the advent of modern medicine, when many pregnant women would die in the birthing process. Also, other products like cow dung and cow urine were found to be of use in Hindu culture. Cow dung (which in Indian climate quickly dries out hard) is used as a thermal insulator in mud buildings, as a fertilizer and as a fuel. Practitioners of Ayurveda, a form of alternative medicine associated with Hinduism, claim that cow urine possesses medicinal properties. Bullocks were the primary source of agricultural power and transportation in the early days, and as India adopted an agricultural lifestyle, the cow proved to be a very useful animal: this respect stemming out of necessity led to abstaining from killing cows for food; for example, if a famine-stricken village kills and eats its bullocks, they will not be available to pull the plough and the cart when next planting season comes. However, this hypothesis has found little data to support it. Areas suffering from famine may resort to consuming cattle in efforts to survive till the next season.
By Indian law, the slaughter of female cattle (i.e. cows) is banned in almost all Indian states except Kerala, West Bengal and the seven north eastern states. A person involved in either cow slaughter or its illegal transportation could be jailed in many states. Slaughter of cows is an extremely provocative issue for many Hindus.
Many Zoroastrians do not eat beef, because of the cow that saved Zoroaster's life from murderers when Zoroaster was a baby. Actual Pahlavi texts state that Zoroastrians should be fully vegetarian.
Some ethnic Chinese may also refrain from eating cow meat, because many of them feel that it is wrong to eat an animal that was so useful in agriculture. Some Chinese Buddhists discourage the consumption of beef, although it is not considered taboo. A similar taboo can be seen among Sinhalese Buddhists, who consider it to be ungrateful to kill the animal whose milk and labour provides livelihoods to many Sinhalese people.
Crustaceans and other seafood
As a general rule, all seafood is permissible in the 3 madh'hab of Sunni Islam except Hanafi school of thought. However, the Ja'fari school of Islamic jurisprudence, which is followed by most Shia Muslims, generally prohibits non-piscine seafood (with the exception of shrimp) on more or less the same grounds as (and possibly by analogy with) Kashrut.
Generally in all Western countries eating dog meat is considered taboo, though that taboo has been broken under threat of starvation in the past. Dog meat has been eaten in every major German crisis at least since the time of Frederick the Great, and is commonly referred to as "blockade mutton." In the early 20th century, consumption of dog meat in Germany was common. and suspicions about the provenance of Frankfurter meat sold by German immigrants in the United States led to the coinage of the term 'hot dog'. In 1937, a meat inspection law targeted against trichinella was introduced for pigs, dogs, boars, foxes, badgers, and other carnivores. Dog meat has been prohibited in Germany since 1986. In 2009 a scandal erupted when a farm near Częstochowa was discovered rearing dogs to be rendered down into smalec - lard. There are many (unsubstantiated) reports of dog meat being served by low grade Curry Houses and Chinese restaurants in both the UK and the USA, either as generic 'meat' or as a substitute for other meats.
According to the ancient Hindu scriptures (cf. Manusmṛti and medicinal texts like Sushruta Samhita), dog's meat was regarded as the most unclean (and rather poisonous) food possible. Dog's meat is also regarded as unclean under Jewish and Islamic dietary laws; therefore, both of those religious traditions also discourage its consumption.
In Irish mythology, legend recounts how Cú Chulainn, the great hero of Ulster, was presented with a Morton's fork, forcing him to either break his geis (taboo) about eating dog meat (his name means Culann's Hound) or break his taboo about declining hospitality; Cú Chulainn chose to eat the meat, leading ultimately to his death.
In Mexico during the pre-Columbian era a hairless dog named xoloitzcuintle was commonly eaten. After colonization, this custom stopped. Lewis & Clark plus the men in his expedition were recorded in Lewis's journals of having eaten and enjoyed dog meat which was common practice in Indians of the American Plains.
In East Asia, most countries excluding Vietnam, North and South Korea rarely consume dog meat either because of Islamic or Buddhist values or animal rights as in the Philippines. Manchus have a prohibition against the eating of dog meat, which is sometimes consumed by the Manchus' neighboring Northeastern Asian peoples. The Manchus also avoid the wearing of hats made of dog's fur. In addition to Manchus, Chinese Mongol, Miao, Muslims, Tibetan, Yao and Yi have a taboo against dog meat. In Indonesia, due to its majority Islamic population, consuming dog meat is prohibited, with exception of Christian Batak and Minahasan ethnic groups that traditionally consumed dog meat.
The Urapmin people of the New Guinea Highlands do not kill or eat dogs, unlike some neighboring tribes, nor do they let dogs breathe on their food. (This contrasts with other groups— the Urapmin previously had no cannibalism taboo, and they may share food with them.) The taboo on eating dogs is one of the few traditional Urapmin taboos still widely observed.
Speak not to me with a mouth that eats fish—Somali nomad taunt
There are taboos on eating fish among many upland pastoralists and agriculturalists (and even some coastal peoples) inhabiting parts of southeastern Egypt, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia, Kenya, and northern Tanzania. This is sometimes referred to as the "Cushitic fish-taboo", as Cushitic speakers are believed to have been responsible for the introduction of fish avoidance to East Africa, though not all Cushitic groups avoid fish. The zone of the fish taboo roughly coincides with the area where Cushitic languages are spoken, and as a general rule, speakers of Nilo-Saharan and Semitic languages do not have this taboo, and indeed many are watermen. The few Bantu and Nilotic groups in East Africa that do practice fish avoidance also reside in areas where Cushites appear to have lived in earlier times. Within East Africa, the fish taboo is found no further than Tanzania. This is attributed to the local presence of the tsetse fly and in areas beyond, which likely acted as a barrier to further southern migrations by wandering pastoralists, the principal fish-avoiders. Zambia and Mozambique's Bantus were therefore spared subjugation by pastoral groups, and they consequently nearly all consume fish.
There is also another center of fish avoidance in Southern Africa, among mainly Bantu speakers. It is not clear whether this disinclination developed independently or whether it was introduced. It is certain, however, that no avoidance of fish occurs among southern Africa's earliest inhabitants, the Khoisan. Nevertheless, since the Bantu of southern Africa also share various cultural traits with the pastoralists further north in East Africa, it is believed that, at an unknown date, the taboo against the consumption of fish was similarly introduced from East Africa by cattle-herding peoples who somehow managed to get their livestock past the aforementioned tsetse fly endemic regions.
Certain species of fish are also forbidden in Judaism such as the freshwater eel (Anguillidae) and all species of catfish. Although they live in water, they appear to have no fins or scales (except under a microscope) (see Leviticus 11:10-13). Sunni Muslim laws are more flexible in this and catfish and shark are generally seen as halal as they are special types of fish. Eel is generally considered permissible in the four Sunni madh'hab. The Ja'fari jurisprudence followed by most Shia Muslims forbid all species of fish that does not have scales, it also forbid all shell fish species except prawns.
Norse settlers in Greenland (10th–15th centuries AD) developed a taboo against fish consumption, as recounted in Jared Diamond's Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. This is unusual, as Norsemen did not generally have a taboo against fish, Diamond noting that "Fish bones account for much less than 0.1% of animal bones recovered at Greenland Norse archeological sites, compared to between 50 and 95% at most contemporary Iceland, northern Norway, and Shetland sites."
Fungi and plants
Vedic Brahmins, Gaudiya Vaishnavas, tantriks and some Buddhist priests abstain from fungi and all vegetables of the onion family (Alliaceae). They believe that these excite damaging passions. In North Indian traditions, plants of the onion family, and effectively all overwintering plants are considered taboo. This is possibly due to the influence of Jain traditions. In Jain traditions, bad karma is generated with all forms killing, including that of plants. Hierarchy of living creatures is based on the number of senses they possess. In this hierarchy, overwintering plants such as onions are ranked higher than other food crops such as wheat and rice. The ability of onions to observe the changing of the seasons and bloom in spring is believed to be an additional 'sense' absent in lower plants. The amount of bad karma generated depends on the number of senses the creature possesses. Therefore, it is thought best to avoid eating onions. Fungi are eschewed as they grow at night.
In Iceland, rural parts of Sweden and Western Finland, although not taboo, mushrooms were not widely eaten before the Second World War. They were viewed as a food for cows and were also associated with the stigma of being a wartime and poverty food. This is a marked contrast to the ancient Romans, who considered the mushroom a delicacy of the highest order and held it in high regard as food fit for emperors.
Guinea pigs, or cuy, are a significant part of the diet in Peru, in the southwestern cities and villages of Colombia, and among some populations in the highlands of Ecuador, mostly in the Andes highlands. Cuyes can be found on the menu of restaurants in Lima and other cities in Peru, as well as in Pasto, Colombia. Guinea pig meat is exported to the United States and European nations.
In 2004, the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation took legal action to stop vendors serving cuy at an Ecuadorian festival in Flushing Meadows Park. New York State allows for the consumption of guinea pigs, but New York City prohibits it. Accusations of cultural persecution have since been leveled.
The guinea pig's close rodent cousins, capybara and paca, are consumed as food in South America. The Catholic Church's restriction on eating meat during Lent does not apply to the capybara, as it is specifically exempted from this rule.
Horses and other equines
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Horse meat is part of the cuisine of countries as widespread as Italy, with 900 g per person per year; Belgium, France, Spain and Switzerland, where horse meat is common in supermarkets; Germany with only 50 g per person per year. It is still sold in some specialized butcher shops in eastern Austria, and also eaten in Polynesia, Serbia, Slovenia, Kazakhstan, but is taboo in some religions and many countries. It is forbidden by Jewish law, because the horse is not a ruminant, nor does it have cloven hooves. Similarly to dogs, eating horses was a taboo for the Castro culture in Northwestern Portugal, and it is still a counter-cultural practice in the region.
Horse meat is forbidden by some sects of Christianity. In 732, Pope Gregory III instructed Saint Boniface to suppress the pagan practice of eating horses, calling it a "filthy and abominable custom". The Christianisation of Iceland in 1000 AD was achieved only when the Church promised that Icelanders could continue to eat horsemeat; once the Church had consolidated its power, the allowance was discontinued. Horsemeat is still popular in Iceland and is sold and consumed in the same way as beef, lamb and pork.
In Islam, opinions vary as to the permissibility of horse meat. Some cite a hadith forbidding it to Muslims, but others doubt its validity and authority. Wild horses are generally seen as halal while domesticated horses and asses are viewed as forbidden. Various Muslim cultures have differed in the attitude in eating the meat. Historically, Turks and Persians have eaten the meat, while in North Africa this is rare.
Horse meat consumption is modestly counter-cultural in the Anglosphere. In Canada, horse meat is legal. Most Canadian horse meat is exported to Continental Europe or Japan. The consumer protection show "Kassensturz" of Swiss television SRF discovered the bad treatment and brutal animal husbandry in Canadian horse meat farms, consequently the import from such farms has been boycotted. In the United States, sale and consumption of horse meat is illegal in California and Illinois. However, it was sold in the US during WW II, since beef was expensive, rationed and destined for the troops. The last horse meat slaughterhouse in USA was closed in 2007. Nevertheless, discarded leisure, sport and work horses are collected and sold at auctions. They are shipped across the country by transporters to the borders of Canada in the north and Mexico in the south to be sold to horse meat butchers. The handling of the animals at the collection points and during the hours of transport is brutal. Some animals do not survive the hours long transports. The issue of horse consumption in the UK and Ireland was raised in 2013 with regards to the 2013 horse meat contamination scandal.
Although generally horse meat is also avoided in the Balkans, though not Slovenia, as horse is considered to be a noble animal, or because eating horse meat is associated with war-time famine, it has a small niche market in Serbia.
Of all the taboo meat, human flesh ranks as the most heavily proscribed. In recent times humans have consumed the flesh of fellow humans in rituals and out of insanity, hatred, or overriding hunger — never as a common part of their diet, but it is thought that the practice was once widespread among all humans. The consumption of human flesh is forbidden by Hinduism. Cannibalism used to be required in certain tribes; the Fore people of Papua New Guinea were particularly well-studied in their eating of the dead, because it led to kuru, a disease believed to be transmitted by prions. In the book Daily life in China, on the eve of the Mongol invasion, 1250-1276 Jacques Gernet refers to restaurants that specialized in human flesh. From the context, it does not appear that this was a freak event associated with famine.
Catholics and Orthodox Christians do not view themselves as engaging in cannibalism when taking communion, as it is believed that although the bread and wine become of the same substance as the body and blood of Christ before being consumed, they remain bread and wine in all ways to the senses. Catholics refer to this as transubstantiation; the Orthodox believe the change occurs, but hesitate to attempt a description of the mechanism, believing it to be a sacred mystery. In most Lutheran denominations it is believed to be a form of consubstantiation, where the consumption is described as all four being physically present, but only two being detectable to the senses. Most Protestants and other Christian denominations do not believe that transubstantiation (or any actual physical presence of Jesus in any form) occurs at all.
Islam also forbids cannibalism.
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In Judaism and within other groups following the Hebrew Torah certain locusts are allowed as food (Leviticus 11:22 and Matthew 3:4). Except for certain locusts and related species, insects are not considered Kosher foods; dietary laws also require that practitioners check food carefully for insects. In Islam locusts are considered lawful food along with fish that do not require ritual slaughtering.
Western taboos against insects as a food source generally do not apply to honey (concentrated nectar and honeydew which has been regurgitated by bees). For example, honey is considered kosher even though honey bees are not, an apparent exception to the normal rule that products of an unclean animal are also unclean. This topic is covered in the Talmud and is explained to be permissible on the grounds that the bee does not make the honey, the flower does, and it is only stored in bees.
Some vegans also avoid honey as they would any other animal product.
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Islamic, Judaic law (including Noahide Law), and some the laws of some Christians forbids any portion that is cut from a live animal (Genesis 9:4, as interpreted in the Talmud, Sanhedrin 59a). Judaism restricts this prohibition to land animals and birds; fish does not require kosher slaughter, but must first be killed before being eaten.
Examples of the eating of animals that are still alive include eating live seafood, such as "raw oyster on the half shell" (also called "shooters") and ikizukuri (live fish). Sashimi using live animals has been banned in some countries. Ikizukuri of fish with scales would be acceptable under this law of kashrut, but prohibited under the law forbidding unnecessary pain to animals.
Another example occurs in Shanghai, China, and surrounding areas, where live shrimp is a common dish served both in homes and restaurants. The shrimp are usually served in a bowl of alcohol, which makes the shrimp sluggish and complacent.
Related may be the revulsion in western cultures around eating fertilized partly developed eggs (balut) consumed in parts of Southeast Asia.
Offal is the internal organs of butchered animals, and may refer to parts of the carcass such as the head and feet ("trotters") in addition to organ meats such as sweetbreads and kidney. Offal is a traditional part of many European and Asian cuisines, including such dishes as the well-known steak and kidney pie in the United Kingdom or callos a la madrileña in Spain. Haggis has been Scotland's national dish since the time of Robert Burns. In northeast Brazil, there is a similar dish to haggis called "buchada", made with goats' stomach. In France and Spain, eating calf's brains is common. In Western Norway, lamb head, known as smalahove, is a considered a delicacy and traditionally consumed before Christmas. A similar dish of lamb's head, "svið", is today commonly eaten in Iceland, although it was originally only consumed during the lean times of late winter/early spring in Iceland, known as Þorrablót. Magaj, an offal dish containing cow, goat or sheep brain is considered to be a delicacy in South Asia, while Paya, a traditional breakfast dish of Pakistan, Bangladesh and India made with cow, goat or lamb hooves is also popular.
In Australia, Canada and the United States and in Britain itself, on the other hand, many people are squeamish about eating offal. In these countries, organ meats that are considered edible in other cultures are more often regarded as fit only for processing into pet food under the euphemism "meat by-products". Except for heart, tongue (beef), liver (chicken, beef, or pork), and intestines used as natural sausage casings, organ meats consumed in the U.S. tend to be regional or ethnic specialities; for example, tripe as menudo or mondongo among Latinos, chitterlings in the Southern United States, scrapple on the Eastern Seaboard, fried-brain sandwiches in the Midwest, and beef testicles called Rocky Mountain oysters or "prairie oysters" in the west.
In some regions, such as the European Union, brains and other organs which can transmit bovine spongiform encephalopathy ("mad cow disease") and similar diseases have now been banned from the food chain as specified risk materials.
Although eating the stomach of a goat, cow, sheep, or buffalo might be taboo, ancient cheesemaking techniques utilize stomachs (which contain rennet) for turning milk into cheese, a potentially taboo process. Newer techniques for making cheese include a chemical process with artificial rennet. This means that the process by which cheese is made (and not the cheese itself) is a factor in determining whether it is forbidden or allowed by strict vegetarians.
United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) data reports pork as the most widely eaten meat in the world. Consumption of pigs is forbidden in Islam, Judaism and certain Christian denominations, such as Seventh-day Adventists. This prohibition is set out in the holy texts of the religions concerned, e.g. Qur'an 16:115, Leviticus 11:7-8 and Deuteronomy 14:8. Pigs were also taboo in at least three other cultures of the ancient Middle East: the Phoenicians, Egyptians and Babylonians. In some instances, the taboo extended beyond eating pork, and it was also taboo to touch or even look at pigs.
The original reason for this taboo is debated. Maimonides seems to have thought the uncleanness of pigs was self-evident, but mentions with particular aversion their propensity to eat feces. In the 19th century some people attributed the pig taboo in the Middle East to the danger of the parasite trichina, but this explanation is now out of favour. James George Frazer suggested that in ancient Israel, Egypt and Syria, the pig was originally a sacred animal, which for that reason could not be eaten or touched; the taboo survived to a time when the pig was no longer regarded as sacred, and was therefore explained by reference to its being unclean.
More recently, Marvin Harris posited that pigs are not suited for being kept in the Middle East on an ecological and socio-economical level; for example, pigs are not suited to living in arid climates and thus require more water than other animals to keep them cool, and instead of grazing they compete with humans for foods such as grains. As such, raising pigs was seen as a wasteful and decadent practice. Another explanation offered for the taboo is that pigs are omnivorous, not discerning between meat or vegetation in their natural dietary habits. The willingness to consume meat sets them apart from most other domesticated animals which are commonly eaten (cattle, horses, goats, etc.) who would naturally eat only plants. Mary Douglas has suggested that the reason for the taboo against the pig in Judaism is three-fold: (i) it trangresses the category of ungulates, because it has a split hoof but does not chew the cud, (ii) it eats carrion and (iii) it was eaten by non-Israelites.
The book of Leviticus in the Bible classifies the rabbit as unclean because it does not have a split hoof, even though it does chew and reingest partially digested material (equivalent to "chewing the cud" among ruminants). Further possibilities against the consumption of rabbit may also include the phenomenon known as rabbit starvation, a form of acute malnutrition caused by excess consumption of any lean meat (most notably, rabbit) coupled with a lack of other sources of nutrients. The consumption of rabbit is allowed in Sunni Islam and is popular in several majority-Sunni countries (e.g. Egypt, where it is a traditional ingredient in molokheyya), but it is forbidden in the Ja'fari jurisprudence of Twelver Shia Islam.
Rats and mice
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In most Western cultures, rats and mice are considered either unclean vermin or pets and thus unfit for human consumption, traditionally being seen as carriers of plague. However, rats are commonly eaten in rural Thailand and Vietnam and other parts of Indochina. Cane rats (Thryonomys swinderianus and Thryonomys gregorianus) and some species of field mice are a rich source of protein in Africa. Bamboo rats are also commonly eaten in the poorer parts of Southeast Asia.
In Ghana, Thryonomys swinderianus locally referred to as "Akrantie", "Grasscutter" and (incorrectly) as "Bush rat" is a common food item. The proper common name for this rodent is "Greater Cane Rat", though actually it is not a rat at all and is a close relative of porcupines and guinea pigs that inhabit Africa, south of the Saharan Desert. In 2003, the U.S. barred the import of this and other rodents from Africa because of an outbreak of at least nine human cases of monkeypox, an illness never before been seen in the Western Hemisphere.
Historically, rats and mice have also been eaten in the West during times of shortage or emergency, such as during the Siege of Vicksburg and the Siege of Paris. Dormice were also domesticated and raised for food in Ancient Rome. In some Asian countries, mice are eaten, and go by the name of vole. In France, rats bred in the wine stores of Gironde were cooked with the fire of broken wine barrels and eaten, dubbed as cooper's entrecôte. In some communities the muskrat (which is not a rat at all) is hunted for its meat (and fur) (e.g. some parts of Flanders); see also under "Fish" for consumption of beaver tails. Nutria, another large rodent, has been hunted or raised for food in the United States.
Dried shark meat
Hákarl is the national dish of Iceland. It contains Greenland shark (Somniosus microcephalus) or other sleeper shark which has been cured with a particular fermentation process and hung to dry for four to five months.
Certain species of fish are also forbidden in Judaism such as the freshwater eel (Anguillidae) and all species of catfish. Although they live in water, they appear to have no fins or scales (except under a microscope) (see Leviticus 11:10-13). Sunni Muslim laws are more flexible in this and catfish and shark are generally seen as halal as they are special types of fish.
Land snails have been eaten for thousands of years, beginning in the Pleistocene. They are especially abundant in Capsian sites in North Africa, but are also found throughout the Mediterranean region in archaeological sites dating between 12,000 and 6,000 years ago. They are also considered a delicacy in China and in several Asian countries, as well as in Spain, France, Italy, Portugal, Morocco, Greece and other Mediterranean countries. Some English-speaking commentators have used the French word for snails, escargot, as an alternative word for snails, particularly snails for consumption. Snails are considered a delicacy in Northeastern India, in states like Manipur, Tripura etc.
As they are molluscs, snails are not kosher.
Many rural hunting families in Southern and Northeastern U.S. shoot and eat squirrels. As rodents, they fall under the small game category during hunting season. Recently, squirrel has been added to gourmet restaurant menus in countries such as France and Italy. It is neither Halal nor Kosher.
In certain versions of Jainism, Buddhism and Hinduism, vegetables of the onion genus are taboo. Among Hindus many people discourage eating onion and garlic along with non-vegetarian food during festivals or Hindu holy months of Shrawan and Kartik. However, shunning onion and garlic is not very popular among Hindus as compared to avoiding non-vegetarian foods, so many people do not follow this custom.
Chinese Buddhist cuisine traditionally prohibits garlic, Allium chinense, asafoetida, shallot, and Allium victorialis (victory onion or mountain leek), while Kashmiri Brahmins forbid "strong flavored" foods. This encompasses garlic, onion, and spices such as black pepper and chili pepper, believing that pungent flavors on the tongue inflame the baser emotions.
In Yazidism, the eating of lettuce and butter beans is taboo. The Muslim religious teacher and scholar, Falah Hassan Juma, links the sect's belief of evil found in lettuce to its long history of persecution by Muslims and Christians. Historical theory claims one ruthless potentate who controlled the city of Mosul in the 13th century ordered an early Yazidi saint executed. The enthusiastic crowd then pelted the corpse with heads of lettuce.
The followers of Pythagoras were vegetarians, and "Pythagorean" at one time came to mean "vegetarian". However, their creed prohibited the eating of beans. The reason is unclear: perhaps the flatulence they cause, perhaps as protection from potential favism, but most likely for magico-religious reasons.
Vegetables like broccoli, while not taboo, may be avoided by observant Jews and other religions due to the possibility of insects hiding within the numerous crevices. Likewise, fruits such as blackberries and raspberries are recommended by kashrut agencies to be avoided as they cannot be cleaned thoroughly enough without destroying the fruit.
The common Egyptian dish mulukhiyah, a soup whose primary ingredient is jute leaves (which leaves did not have any other culinary purpose), was banned by the Fatimid Caliph Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah sometime during his reign (996-1021 CE). The ban applied specifically to mulukhiyah, and also to other foodstuffs said to be eaten by Sunnis. While the ban was eventually lifted after the end of his reign, the Druze, who hold Al-Hakim in high regard and give him quasi-divine authority, continue to respect the ban, and do not eat mulukhiyah of any kind to this day.
Islam permits Muslims to consume the flesh of whales as there is a famous hadith which cites Muhammad's approval of such. Whale is also traditionally consumed in such countries as Japan, Norway, and Iceland, and among native peoples of the Northern Pacific. Whale meat is generally avoided in Western countries, such as America or Western Europe, and activists from these countries have been known to attempt to actively prevent whalers from killing whales in the wild.
Some religions—including Buddhism, Islam, Jainism, Rastafari movement, Bahá'í Faith, and various branches of Christianity such as the Baptists, the Church of God In Christ, Methodists, the Latter-day Saints, Seventh Day Adventists and the Iglesia ni Cristo — forbid or discourage the consumption of alcoholic beverages.
The Hebrew Bible describes a Nazirite vow (Numbers 6:1-21) that includes abstinence from alcohol, specifically wine and probably barley beer (according to the Septuagint translation and the Bauer lexicon: σικερα, from the Akkadian shikaru, for barley beer). The New JPS translation is: "wine and any other intoxicant". Other versions such as the NIV prohibit both alcohol and all alcohol derived products such as wine vinegar. There is no general taboo against alcohol in Judaism. In Islam there is a complete ban on all intoxicants, even in the smallest of amounts.
There are also cultural taboos against the consumption of alcohol, reflected for example in the Teetotalism or Temperance movement. There is also something of a cultural taboo in several Western countries, including the United States, against the consumption of alcohol by women during pregnancy for health reasons.
Some religions prohibit drinking or eating blood or food made from blood. In Islam the consumption of blood is prohibited (Haraam). Halal animals should be properly slaughtered to drain out the blood. Unlike in other traditions, this is not because blood is revered or holy, but simply because blood is considered ritually unclean or Najis, with certain narratives prescribing ablutions (in the case of no availability of water) if contact is made with it. In Judaism all mammal and bird meat (not fish) is salted to remove the blood. Jews follow the teaching in Leviticus, that since "the life of the animal is in the blood", no person may eat (or drink) the blood. Iglesia ni Cristo and Jehovah's Witnesses prohibit eating or drinking any blood.
According to the Bible, blood is only to be used for special or sacred purposes in connection with worship (Exodus chapters 12, 24, 29, Matthew 26:29 and Hebrews). In the first century, Christians, both former Jews (the Jewish Christians), and new Gentile converts, were in dispute as to which particular features of Mosaic law were to be retained and upheld by them. The Apostolic Decree suggested that, among other things, it was necessary to abstain from consuming blood:
For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things; That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well, Fare ye well.
Coffee and tea
"Hot drinks" are taboo for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The term is misleading as the ban is applied exclusively to coffee and tea (i.e. not hot cocoa or herbal teas). The Word of Wisdom, a code of health used by church members, outlines prohibited and allowed substances. While not banned, some Mormons avoid caffeine in general, including cola drinks. Seventh-day Adventists also generally avoid caffeinated drinks.
There is a widely reported story, possibly apocryphal, that some Catholics urged Pope Clement VII (1478 – 1534) to ban coffee, calling it "devil's beverage". After tasting the beverage, the Pope is said to have remarked that the drink was "... so delicious that it would be a sin to let only misbelievers drink it."  (See the History of coffee.)
Human breast milk
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Failing patristic authority, the pope was somewhat at a loss for an answer, finally deciding that it could be eaten smoked or roasted over the fire (presumably at any time) but, if eaten raw, only after Easter (that is, after curing for a minimum of three months, if the hogs had been slaughtered at the beginning of winter).
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The Roman Catholic View: Transubstantiation. According to the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, in the Eucharist, the bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Christ.
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