In many religions, a spiritual element is present in all foods, which translates to several food taboos. Taboo foods in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism have developed as a result of religious beliefs, the sanctity of life, resource conversation and preserving health.
Taboo Foods in Hinduism
In Hinduism, the concept of “you are what you eat” is a common theme, and followers believe that everything on earth, even plants, are a gift from God. While eating meat is not considered a sin by most, the animals used for meat must be killed in a traditional, sacrificial manner.
Some Hindu societies have food taboos related to social castes. The Vedic Hindu Society features four castes: Priestly, defence, agriculture and business, and menial labor. Members of the priestly caste, or Brahmin, never eat or handle meat, fish or eggs.
The other castes abstain from eating these foods during religious holidays, marriages, pilgrimages, times of mourning and other significant events.
Throughout all classes of Hindu society, milk and milk products are considered a gift because they originate from the cow. The cow, a sacred animal, is a protected animal in Hindu society and Hindus don’t eat beef.
Taboo Foods in Buddhism
A great deal of culinary diversity exists in Buddhism because dietary laws are not spelled out clearly like those in Judaism or Islam. In each region with Buddhist followers, the dietary restrictions are slightly different.
Many in the Theravada and Mahayana schools of Buddhism abstain from eating meat and fish, and many are vegans. Buddhists in China and Vietnam avoid eating the five pungent spices, such as garlic and onion, because they are believed to increase anger and sexual desire.
Tibetan Buddhists refuse to eat fish and fowl because these animals are believed to signify aggression and desire, respectively.
Reincarnation plays a major role in Buddhism, and as a result, many Buddhists choose to be vegetarian.
Taboo Foods in Jainism
Jainism may have the strictest list of food taboos. Followers are forbidden to eat meat, fish, eggs, honey and figs, due to one of the main tenets of the religion–nonviolence. Jains must avoid causing harm to any living creature.
Many strict followers also avoid eating root vegetables, garlic and onions to minimize violence against plants. In Jainism, it’s taboo to waste food and to eat after sunset or before sunrise.
If you know someone who practices Hinduism, Buddhism or Jainism, being respectful of other culture’s taboos is important, especially when cooking a meal for your friends.