Although many societies deem some foods inedible, the reasons behind those consumption prohibitions are usually rooted in two distinct thoughts. Cultural and religious food taboos often ban the eating of certain foods for very different reasons.
The Root of Cultural Food Taboos
Cultural food taboos vary across the world. What some people find as normal cuisine is deemed inedible in other cultures, and vice versa.
Shellfish, for example, is loved in Europe and North American, while most African and Asian communities find it revolting. Horsemeat is sometimes consumed in France, while English and Americans usually revere these animals and refuse to eat them.
Unwritten social rules governing the acceptable consumption of food exist in nearly every society on earth. Although most origins are unclear, many food taboos are believed to have started as a way to protect humans from real or imagined health hazards.
Tribes in Papua New Guinea have some of the strictest prohibitions, believing that the wrong food intake causes most illnesses. Women aren’t allowed to eat any fruits with a red color, fresh meat or bananas because of recurring menstruation.
Cultural Cuisine That Americans May Find Taboo
Americans have a widely accepted set of acceptable foods to be consumed. Hamburgers and pork, deemed inedible in other cultures, are regularly found on menus in the U.S.
Many cultures have their own foods that would take the appetite out of many Americans:
• Animal organs: Many foods around the world are revered for their supposed medicinal properties, like cheeks, lungs, hearts and livers.
• Insects: These protein-packed snacks are major parts of cuisine in many African, Asian, Australian and Latin American cultures.
• Sheep’s head: The people of Iceland celebrate their Viking heritage each February at a festival where they eat sheep’s heads, rotting shark and ram testicles.
Taboo Foods and Religious Principles
Food taboos deemed as decrees from God are believed to keep a religion’s followers pure and safe from evil. Many religions find any doubt or questioning of such prohibitions blasphemous.
Some tribes, particularly those with totem beliefs, highly regard animals on the totems and eating those creatures is strongly forbidden.
Islam, Judaism, Hinduism and other mainstream religions ban the consumption of certain creatures, like pigs and cows. Although these restrictions are thousands of years old, many anthropologists believe that these dietary laws began as ways to protect followers from unknown food borne illnesses or to exercise control over followers.
Other food taboos pertaining to dogs and other creatures are observed by religions and non-religious societies for different reasons.