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Taboo food and drinks are food and drink which people abstain from consuming for religious or cultural reasons.

Food taboos can be defined as a codified set of rules about which foods or combinations of foods may not be eaten and how animals are to be slaughter. The origin of these prohibitions and commandments is 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 festivals (e.g. Lent), at certain times of life (e.g. pregnancy), or to certain classes of people (e.g. priests), although the food is in general permissible.


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. Islam has similar laws, dividing foods into haram (forbidden) and halal (permitted). Jains often follow religious directives to observe vegetarianism. Hinduism has no specific proscriptions against eating meat, but Hindus who apply the concept of "ahimsa" (non-violence) to their diet practice forms of vegetarianism.

Aside from overt rules, there are cultural taboos against the consumption of some animals. These usually appear to be based on unconscious emotions such as revulsion and are rarely justified by logical argument. 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. 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. For example, even though there is no law against eating dog meat in the United States and Europe, it is widely considered unacceptable. (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, and France.

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 resumption 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 that of eating the meat or 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 bird.

Similarly, sustainable seafood advisory lists and certification consider certain seafood taboo 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 progressive 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.

Taboo food

Amphibians and reptiles

Judaism and Islam strictly forbid the consumption of amphibianssuch as frogs and reptiles such as crocodiles and snakes. In other cultures, foods such as frog legs and alligator are treasured as delicacies, and the animals are raised commercially.


In Islam "birds of prey" are haram. In Judaism, most of the laws of Kashrut pertain to animals. The Torah explicitly states which animals are permitted or forbidden. In regard to birds, the Torah provides no general rule, and instead the Deuteronomic Code and Priestly Code explicitly list the prohibited birds, using names that have uncertain translations; the list seems to mainly consist of birds of prey, fish-eating water-birds, and the bat. Bat meat is known to be a prized delicacy within the Batak and Minahasa minority communities of Indonesia.


Bears are not considered kosher in Judaism whileall predatory terrestrial animals are forbidden in Islam. Observant Jews and Muslims would therefore abstain from eating bear meat.Bear meat must be cooked thoroughly as it can often be infectedwith trichinosis.


The Hebrew Bible (Leviticus ) 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 .

In North America, while pigeons (as doves) are a hunted game bird urban pigeons are considered unfit for consumption.

Swan was at one time a dish reserved for royalty. The English custom of Swan upping derives from this period. In more modern times, swans have been protected in parts of Europe and America, making swan unavailable. Reports about the eating of swans are seen from time to time.

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 London restaurant.

In Western cultures today, most people regard songbirds as backyard wildlife rather than as food. In addition, some migratory birds are protected by international treaty.

In Islam the birds that are halal must have feathers (which presumably excludes bats) and not be a bird of prey (which follows from Islam's general prohibition on eating carnivores). Moreover it must be the kind of bird that when it flies, if so, it must flap its wings to fly more than just simply gliding. This includes fowls, pigeons, ducks, etc.


The eating of a camel is strictly prohibited by the Torah in Deuteronomy 14:6-7. Although the camel is a cud-chewer, the Levites still considered it "unclean". While the foot of a camel is split into two toe-like structures, this passage explicitly states that the camel does not meet the cloven hoof criterion.

The eating of camel is allowed in Islam.


In desperate times, people have been known to resort to cooking and eating cats, but under normal conditions there is no cuisine that chooses to do so, except in China and Vietnam. 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 Rosariomarker, but in fact the meal had been set up by media from Buenos Airesmarker.

In 2008, it was reported that cats were a staple part of the local diet Guangdong, Chinamarker, 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 Guangzhou 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 pest (or pet) used as a source of meat. Subtracting the skin, feet, head and tail, hares and cats are practically identical. 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". More specifically, in Brazil, cat meat is seen as repulsive and people often shun barbecue establishments suspected of selling cat meat. 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 conditions and the fact that the source of the meat is mostly unknown. Cases of passing off cat meat as lamb shish kabab in less reputable shops, are also regularly reported in Egyptmarker. "Kitten cakes" and "buy three shawarma - assemble a kitten" are common Russian urban jokes about the suspect origin of food from street vendors' stalls.

The inhabitants of Vicenzamarker in northern Italymarker are reputed to eat cats, although the practice has been out of use for decades.

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.

Some restaurants in the Haiphong and Halong Bay area in north Vietnam advertise cat meat hot pot as "little tiger", and cats in cages can be seen inside.


Many Hindus, particularly Brahmins, are vegetarian, abstaining from eating the flesh of any living creature. Even those Hindus who do eat meat abstain from the consumption of beef, as the cow holds a sacred place in Hinduism. The taboo does not extend to dairy products, since their preparation does not involve harming the animal in any way. Quite the contrary, dairy items such as milk, yoghurt and ghee (particularly the latter) are highly revered and used in holy ceremony.

It is assumed that the largely pastoral Vedic people and subsequent generations of Hindus throughout the centuries relied so heavily on the cow for all sorts of dairy products (including ghee), the tilling of fields, and fuel or fertiliser that its status as a willing "caretaker" of humanity grew to identifying it as an almost maternal figure. In addition, in Hindu law, slaughtering cows is considered "anyaya" (the antonym of nyaya in the Proto-Indo-European alpha negative). Nyaya, in the original Vedic Sanskrit, was a term referring to "Syllogism" or "logic". Therefore, Hindu law considered slaughtering cows to be illogical since cows were regarded as more useful alive than dead.

There are some places in India where even in modern times buffaloes are sacrificed and the meat is eaten as ritual. In the Vedic Period, almost all of India was dependent on subsistence agriculture. Eating of cows was not taboo, so during periods of low rainfall or drought, people used to slaughter the animals and eat them, leaving themselves helpless when finally the rain used to come. Also, at this time in history, the priests slaughtered many animals to make food to distribute to the people in MahaBhoj (a grand feast). This started to cause concern in reformers and thinkers, such as Madhvacharya, who convinced kings and clergy to prohibit eating beef. The kings understood the economic reasoning behind this idea, and religious leaders added it to their practice. As it was hard to convince people to give up meat without facing resistance, they added it to religion, which helped them to suppress any revolt or disobedience in following this practice. Thus within few generations, the beef taboo became part of religion, and the slaughtering of cows ended in India.

Traditionally people from lower castes, like Dalit, ate beef and carabeef (water buffalo). In modern times, beef-eating has gained some acceptance in various parts of India, despite the opposition of most Hindus. By Indian law, the slaughter of cattle is banned in almost all Indian states except the states of Keralamarker and Arunachal Pradeshmarker . Slaughter of cows is an extremely provocative issue for Hindus. The vast majority of beef consumed in India is by Muslims, to which the pig is forbidden, and Christians who have no dietary laws whatsoever.

One of Hinduism's central concepts is ahimsa or non-violence. This is non-injury in thought, word and deed. This, of course, extends to the animal kingdom for, in Hinduism, all life is considered of God, as most Hindu sects are panentheistic. The cow exemplifies key moral qualities such as tenderness, strength, industriousness, and altruism. The cow is a gentle being yet extremely powerful. (See article: Nandibull Cattle have also provided man with an incomparable labor force throughout history. Altruism is unfailing in the cow. She provides so much for man. Her milk has been used by Hindus throughout Indian history and to this very day in forms such as the milk itself for nourishment, making ghee which is used as a long-lasting cooking oil as well as lamp oil. Ghee's place in Indian, particularly Hindu, history is paramount. All of the thousands of lamps within the massive and innumerable Hindu temples throughout India are fueled daily with millions of gallons of this sacred oil from cow's milk.

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.

Many Zoroastrians do not eat beef, because of the cow that saved Zoroaster's life, from the evil murderers when Zoroaster was a baby. Actual Pahlavi texts state that Zoroastrians should be fully vegetarian. However, many Parsis after coming to North America are eating beef.

Crustaceans and other seafood

Almost all types of non-piscine seafood, such as shellfish, lobster, shrimp or crawfish, are forbidden by Judaism because such animals live in water but do not have both fins and scale (Leviticus 11:10-12).

As a general rule, all seafood is permissible in Sunni Islam except the Hanafi school. In the Hanafite school, non-piscine seafood is regarded as reprehensible though not forbidden. In Shia Islam, only scaled fish and shrimp are allowed.

Deer and ungulates

Deer meat or venison is a dish with a long association with royalty and aristocracy. These days, several species of deer are farmed for their meat. Caribou or reindeer is popular as a dish in Alaskamarker, Norwaymarker, Swedenmarker, Finlandmarker (especially sautéed reindeer), Russiamarker and Canadamarker, but is unusual in the United Kingdommarker and Irelandmarker. This may relate to the popular culture myth of the reindeer as assistant to Father Christmas ("eating Rudolph"), as opposed to the "cows of the north" vision of the Northern countries.

Swedish astronaut Christer Fuglesang was not allowed to bring dried reindeer with him on-board a shuttle mission as it was unthinkable for the Americans so soon before Christmas. He had to go with moose instead.


Generally in all Western countries eating the meat of any type of animal commonly kept as pets or companion animals (i.e. dogs and cats) is considered taboo, though that taboo has been broken under threat of starvation in the past. However, in some rural areas of Polandmarker, dog fat is by tradition believed to have medicinal properties - being good for the lungs for instance. In 2009 a scandal erupted when a farm near Czestochowamarker was discovered rearing dogs to be rendered down into smalec - lard.

According to the ancient Hindu scriptures (cf. Manusmriti and medicinal texts like Sushrut-Samhita), dog's meat was regarded as the most unclean (and rather poisonous) food possible.In Mexico during the pre-Columbian era a hairless dog named xoloitzcuintle was commonly eaten.After colonization, this custom stopped.

In Southeast Asia, most countries excluding Vietnam rarely consume dog meat either because of Islamic or Buddhist values or animal rights as in the Philippinesmarker.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 Western societies, elephants have often been associated with circuses and used for entertaining purposes. However, inCentral and West Africa, elephants are hunted for their meat. Some people in Thailand also believe that eating elephant meatimproves their sex lives and elephants are sometimes hunted specifically for this.

Judaism prohibits consumption of elephant meat as an unfit for consumption land animal, a taboo similar to the prohibition on camel meat.


Among the Somali people, most clans have a taboo against the consumption of fish, and do not intermarry with the few occupational clans that do eat it. This abhorrence of fish is a trademark of other such Hamitic peoples of Northeast Africa, although it can now also be observed amongst a few tribes in Southeast Africa through a process of cultural diffusion.

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).Sunni Muslim laws are more flexible in this and catfishes and sharks are generally seen as halal as they are special types of fish; eel is considered permitted in the majority of the Islamic schools while Shia Muslims forbid it.A common interpretation regarding some of the Islamic prohibitions is that animals that "live in both worlds" may not be consumed . This applies to primarily aquatic animals that nest or breed on land.


Members of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness abstain from fungi and all vegetables of the onion family (Alliaceae). They believe that these excite damaging passions. Fungi are eschewed as they grow at night. The spice asafoetida (hing) is used instead of onion or garlic and provides a somewhat similar taste in their vegetarian cookery.In Iceland and rural parts of Sweden, although not taboo, fungi were not widely eaten before the second world war. It was considered a food for cows and was also associated with the stigma of being a wartime and famine food.

Guinea pig and related rodents

Roast guinea pig (Cavia porcellus) in Peru
Guinea pigs, or cuy, are a significant part of the diet in Perumarker and among some populations in the highlands of Ecuadormarker, mostly in the Andes Mountains highlands. However, cuyes can be found on the menu of most restaurants in Lima and other cities in Peru. 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 Ecuadorianmarker festival in Flushing Meadows Parkmarker. New York Statemarker allows for the consumption of guinea pigs, but New York Citymarker 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 early missionaries gave a faulty description to the Pope, leading him to declare it a fish.

Horses and other equines

Smoked and salted horse meat on a sandwich.

Horse meat is part of the cuisine of countries as widespread as Japan, France, Germany, and 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. In Islamic law, horses are generally considered makruh, i.e. the meat is not haram (forbidden) but the eating of it is strongly discouraged . It is forbidden in Hinduism.

Horse meat is forbidden by some sects of Christianity. The Battle of Tours in 732 AD showed the emergent importance of cavalry, so Pope Gregory III began an effort to stop the practice of horse eating, calling it "abominable". Horses were far more necessary to stop the Muslim cavalry, which was defeating Christian armies in Europe. His edicts are based on the same scripture as the Jewish prohibitions and this ban remained until the 18th century (see also Biblical law in Christianity). The Christianisation of Iceland in 1000 CE 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.

Horse meat is generally taboo in the Anglosphere. In Canada, horse meat is legal, but there is only really a market—and that a small one—in the French-speaking province of Quebec, where the taboo is not so strong, and in a few (mostly French) restaurants elsewhere. Most Canadian horse meat is exported to Continental Europe or Japan. 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. In the UK, this strong taboo includes banning horsemeat from commercial pet food and DNA testing of some types of salami suspected of containing donkey meat.

Horsemeat is also avoided by most people from the Balkans, mostly for ethical reasons, as horse is considered to be a noble animal, or because eating horsemeat is associated with war time famine. A similar taboo exists in Polandmarker.

In Sunni Islam, Al-Bukhari reports that Muhammad forbade the eating of a donkey, but the general applicability of this hadith is unclear.


Except for certain locusts and related species, insects are not considered kosher; 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 which has been regurgitated by bees). For example, honey is considered kosher even though honeybees 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.

Many vegans avoid honey as they would any other animal product. Some vegans disagree with avoiding honey, on the grounds that nearly all plants are propagated by insects or birds, and the harvesting of them would be similarly exploitative.

Living animals

Raw oysters, which are still alive, presented on a plate.

Islamic and Judaic law (including Noahide Law) forbids any portion that is cut from a live animal. (Genesis 9:4)

Examples of the eating of animals that are still alive include raw oyster on the half shell (also called shooters) and ikizukuri (live fish). Sashimi using live animals has been banned in some countries.

Another example occurs in Shanghai, China, and surrounding areas, 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, see also Drunken shrimp. Local belief is that live shrimp are "healthier" than those served "already dead" or cooked, see also raw foodism.


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 Kingdommarker. Haggis has been Scotlandmarker's national dish since the time of Robbie Burns and black pudding is a traditional sausage in northern England and in Ireland. In northeast Brazilmarker there is a similar dish to haggis called "buchada", made with goats intestine. The French eat calves brains. The Irish and French enjoy Tripe (cow stomach).

In countries such as Australia, Canadamarker and the United Statesmarker, 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 specialties; for example, tripe as menudo or mondongo among Latinos, chitterlings in the southern states, scrapple in the Mid-Atlantic region, and beef testicles called Rocky Mountain oysters or "prairie oysters" in the west.

In some regions, such as the EU, brain and other organs which can transmit bovine spongiform encephalopathy ("mad cow disease") and similar diseases have now been banned from the foodchain as specified risk materials.


USDA data reports pork as the most widely eaten meat in the world. Consumption of pigs is forbidden among Muslims, Jews, Seventh-day Adventists, and others. There are various theories concerning the origins of this taboo (e.g. Qur'an 16:115, Biblical injunctions in Leviticus 11,7-8 and Deuteronomy 14,8), but none have been universally accepted.

In the 19th century some people attributed the pig taboo in the Middle East to the danger of the parasite trichina. This theory still circulates outside scientific circles, but is now rejected by most anthropologists.

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 far 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.

A common explanation to the fact that pigs are widely considered unclean in the Middle East is that they 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 (cows, horses, goats, etc.) who would naturally eat only plants.

The Vietnamese bred pot bellied pigs for meat and lard; however, in the United States they are kept as pets, and there is a stigma on eating them.

A culture-based pork taboo was attributed to Scottish highlanders until approximately 1800.


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 (often loosely translated "chew the cud" in English). 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 (specifically rabbit) coupled with a lack of other sources of nutrients. The consumption of rabbit is allowed in Sunni Islam but forbidden for Shia Islam.

Rats and mice

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 Thailandmarker, Vietnammarker 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 Ghanamarker, 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 an outbreak 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 Battle of Vicksburgmarker 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 Francemarker, rats bred in the wine stores of Girondemarker 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.


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 seen as a delicacy in Chinamarker and in several Asian countries along with Francemarker, Greecemarker and other Mediterranean countries. However, in Britain, Ireland, and America, eating them may be seen as disgusting. Some English-speaking commentators have used the French word for snails, escargot, as an alternative word for snails, particularly snails for consumption.

As they are molluscs, snails are not kosher.


In certain versions of Buddhism and Hinduism, vegetables of the onion genus are taboo. Specifically, 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 Jainism, any kind of roots are considered taboo, since the process of uprooting causes the organisms associated with the root in the soil to die.

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 Mosulmarker 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 (in fact, "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 can not be cleaned thoroughly enough without destroying the fruit.

Although it might not be a taboo in a strictest sense, older Germansmarker might not eat swede (Swedish turnip, rutabaga), as they see it as a "famine food", not for general consumption. This taboo existed from the 1916-17 famine Steckrübenwinter when Germany, already drained by World War I's endless Western Front, had one of the worst winters in memory, where often the only food available was Swedish turnips. This led a distaste to the vegetable which still continues today with the older generations having had experiences from World War II or having had a childhood with parents talking about the aforementioned famine. However, in recent years this taboo has been vanishing as Germans have re-discovered many traditional or local cooking recipes, including those including swede. One reason for this, is a trend to traditional and organic cuisine. Also for most Germans in 2008, the "Steckrübenwinter" famine from 1916-17 is history and has no more relevance on today's choice of food and dish.


Over the last couple of decades, the eating of whale has become increasingly taboo.The International Whaling Commission passed a moratorium on commercial whaling on July 23, 1982 that came into force for the 1985-86 season.

Norwaymarker resumed commercial whaling of minke whales in 1993 and it is still a popular meat, especially on Norway's western coast. Once considered an inexpensive substitute for beef, whale meat is now a highly priced delicacy. Icelandmarker resumed commercial whaling in 2006. Japanmarker's whaling is officially done for research purposes. This is specifically sanctioned under IWC regulations that also specifically require that whale meat be fully utilized upon the completion of research. Many international scientific and environmentalist groups, notably Greenpeace argue that the killing is not necessary to conduct the research.

The United States Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 prohibits, with certain exceptions, the taking of marine mammals in United States waters and by U.S. citizens on the high seas, and the importation of marine mammals and marine mammal products into the U.S. Despite the general ban on whale hunting in the United Statesmarker and Canadamarker, some indigenous groups are allowed to hunt for cultural reasons.

Whale meat was eaten in Britain during World War II, but it was never popular.


The consumption of monkeys and apes such as chimpanzees, gorillas, mandrills andguenons is quite common in rural areas of Sub-Saharan Africa.Bonobos (also known as pygmy chimpanzees), have been extensively huntedin Congomarker to the level that they are nowconsidered an endangered species.In certain parts of Congo the hands and feet of gorillas are regarded as a delicacy and are served to special guests.Monkeys are also eaten in southeast Asia (especially Indonesiamarker).The consumption of primates may be considered to be too close to human cannibalism due to the similarity of our own species. The similarity increases the danger of viruses. Most of it is "bushmeat" or caught from the wild, in areas of high primate populations such as Central Africa and southeast Asia. One of the major theories for the origin of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in humans is the butchering of primates infected with a similar virus

Human meat

Of all the taboo meat, human flesh ranks as the most proscribed. Historically, 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. This consumption of human flesh is forbidden in Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism, as well as most other religions. However, it used to be required in certain tribes; the Fore people of Papua New Guineamarker were particularly well-studied in their eating of the dead, because it led to kuru, a disease believed to be transmitted by prions.

Very few people customarily eat the placenta after the baby's birth, but those who advocate placentophagy in humans (mostly in modern America and Europe, Mexico, Hawaii, China, and the Pacific Islands) believe that eating the placenta prevents postpartum depression and other pregnancy complications.

Taboo drinks


Some religions—including Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Jainism, Sikhism, Rastafari Movement, the Bahá'í Faith, and various branches of Christianity such as the Methodists, the Baptists, the Latter-day Saints, Seventh Day Adventists and the Iglesia ni Cristo — forbid or discourage the consumption of alcoholic beverages. Although many claim they should be listed along with such groups, Jehovah's Witnessess only discourage the use of alcohol to the point of excess just as numerous doctors and health experts do.The Hebrew Bible describes a Nazarite vow ( ) that includes abstinence from alcohol (specifically wine and probably barley beer), although there is no general taboo against alcohol in Judaism. There are also cultural taboos against the consumption of alcohol, reflected for example in the Temperance movement. Drinking habits are well determined by each culture (as in European and American rules concerning alcoholic beverages) or religious group.


Drinking blood is a strong taboo in many countries, and is often vaguely associated with vampirism (the consumption of human blood) .
A bowl of dinuguan
Blood sausage, or blood made into cake form, is quite popular in many parts of the world. In the Philippines, and China there is a delicacy of pigs blood made into a square form and roasted. Dinuguan, is a pork blood stew—meat simmered in a rich, spicy gravy of pig blood, garlic, chili and vinegar. In Finlandmarker the blood patties and mustamakkara type blood sausage are seen as national cuisine.

Some religions prohibit drinking or eating blood or food made from blood. In Judaism all mammal and bird meat (not fish) is salted to remove the blood. Jews and Jewish Proselytes follow the teaching in Leviticus , that since "the life of the animal is in the blood", no person may eat (or drink) the blood. However, they have no rules regarding blood transfusions since the blood is not consumed and because a transfusion is a medical procedure (Jews may break kosher laws, and Muslims may break harams, if it is for saving life). Iglesia ni Cristo also prohibits eating or drinking any blood. Jehovah's Witnesses, in addition, prohibit acceptance of blood transfusion based upon their sects interpretation of Judaeo-Christian teaching.

According to the Bible blood is only to be used for special/sacred purposes in connection with worship [Exodus chapters , , ; ; ]. 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 apostles decided that, among other things, it was necessary to abstain from consuming blood ( —King James Version):

These New Testament verses repeated certain elements of the Jewish law, and included the prohibition regarding blood, thus making it also binding upon the Early Christian church. See also Council of Jerusalem and Noahide Law. The Apostolic Decree is still observed today by the Greek Orthodox.

Coffee and tea

Hot drinks are taboo for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Most Mormons interpret this as referring exclusively to coffee and tea (e.g. not hot cocoa or herbal tea). The Word of Wisdom, a code of health used by church members, outlines prohibited and allowed substances. It is also sometimes extended as a taboo against caffeine in general, including cola drinks. Coffee is also taboo for Rastafarians and Seventh Day Adventists.

Originally, coffee was considered taboo among Roman Catholics as it was considered a Muslim wine until it was deemed acceptable by Pope Clement VIII. Supposedly, Pope Clement tried coffee and liked it so much that he was quoted as saying "This devil's drink is so good... we should cheat the devil by baptizing it." Whether this story is true is unknown.

Raw milk

Consumption of raw milk and raw milk products such as unpasteurized cheese, with the exception of breast milk, is opposed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and other government organizations in the United States. This opposition is met with the displeasure of foreign producers of dairy products, who find it difficult to sell in the United States and countries with similar regulations, and the displeasure of many domestic dairy producers, who feel that the pasteurization requirement makes it more difficult for American dairy products to compete with foreign ones.

Pasteurization was first used in the United States in the 1890s after the discovery of germ theory to control the hazards of highly contagious bacterial diseases including bovine tuberculosis and brucellosis that could be easily transmitted to humans through the drinking of raw milk. Initially after the scientific discovery of bacteria, no product testing was available to determine if a farmer's milk was safe or infected, so all milk had to be treated as potentially contagious. After the first test was developed, some farmers actively worked to prevent their infected animals from being killed and removed from food production, or would falsify the test results so that their animals would appear to be free of infection.

Pasteurization could make raw milk from any source safer to drink whether infected or not. Although farm sanitation has greatly improved and effective testing has been developed for tuberculosis and other diseases, pasteurization continues to be used as a stopgap measure in case infectious milk from a mismanaged farm with poor sanitation should enter the food supply.


While many people in the Western world now seek to reduce the salt content in their diet for health reasons, the Ital style of cooking, which originated among Rastafarians in Jamaicamarker, excludes all added salt in prepared food for religious reasons.

Genetically modified foods taboo

Attitudes concerning genetically modified food like genetically modified soya, maize or rapeseed (canola) vary from accepted to taboo in the U.S. and Canada, while many Europeans have a taboo on it as they are more concerned with eating natural food sources. This is believed to be due to the various food scares in Europe during the 1980s and 1990s, such as BSE/vCJD, salmonella and dioxin poisoning. In the UK, only 2% of Britons are said to be "happy to eat GM foods", and more than half of Britons are against genetically modified foods being available to the public, according to a 2003 study.

In Europe, regulations state that all food and animal feed containing more than 0.5 percent GM ingredients are required to have strict labelling and traceability, and many supermarkets proudly boast the fact that they don't sell GM foods.

Personal taboos

Australian Aborigines traditionally had personal totems. While religious practices varied from group to group, it was common that the eating of the totemic animal was considered taboo, either by the entire clan, or the individual with the personal totem . A similar custom once existed in pagan Irelandmarker. Legend recounts how Cuchulain the great hero of Ulster, was tricked into eating dog meat (his name means Little Hound) and thus breaking his personal taboo, leading ultimately to his death.

See also


  1. Harris, Marvin, Good to Eat, ISBN 0-04-306002-1
  2. Douglas, Mary, Purity and Danger, ISBN 0-415-28995-5
  3. So What's Kosher?, The Jewish Children's Learning Network.
  4. Barbara Demick, Chinese seek to pull cats from the menu, December 23, 2008, Los Angeles Times (page A-5).
  5. Protesters urge China province to stop eating cats, 18 December 2008, GMA News.
  6. A recipe for cat, in Vicentin dialect and Italian
  7. Polish couple accused of making dog meat delicacy , Telegraph
  8. Frederick J. Simoons, Northwest Ethiopia: peoples and economy‎, (University of Wisconsin Press: 1960), p.158
  9. Peter Matthiessen, The Tree Where Man Was Born, (Dutton: 1972), p.60
  10. Gwyn Jones, The North Atlantic Saga: Being the Norse Voyages of Discovery and Settlement to Iceland, Greenland, and North America, Oxford University Press, 1986, pp. 149-51.
  12. Prehistoric edible land snails in the circum-Mediterranean: the archaeological evidence., D. Lubell. In J-J. Brugal & J. Desse (eds.), Petits Animaux et Sociétés Humaines. Du Complément Alimentaire Aux Ressources Utilitaires. XXIVe rencontres internationales d'archéologie et d'histoire d'Antibes, pp. 77-98. Antibes: Éditions APDCA.
  13. Are land snails a signature for the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition? In, M. Budja (ed.), Neolithic Studies 11. Documenta Praehistorica XXXI: 1-24. D. Lubell.
  14. Gabrielle Hatfield, review of Frederick J. Simoons, Plants of Life, Plants of Death, University of Wisconsin Press, 1999. ISBN 0-299-15904-3. In Folklore 111:317-318 (2000). at JSTOR
  15. Riedweg, Christoph. Pythagoras: his life, teaching, and influence; translated by Steven Rendall in collaboration with Christoph Riedweg and Andreas Schatzmann, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, (2005), ISBN 0-8014-4240-0
  16. Harav Shlomo Gissinger Sh’lita, Keeping Vegetables Kosher.
  17. Baptists,
  18. 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".
  19. Jehova's Witnesses base their faith on the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, a translation of the Bible published in 1961 by the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society. Bible verses considered relevant to blood transfusions include Acts 15:20, 15:29, and 21:25.
  20. Karl Josef von Hefele's commentary on canon II of Gangra notes: "We further see that, at the time of the Synod of Gangra, the rule of the Apostolic Synod with regard to blood and things strangled was still in force. With the Greeks, indeed, it continued always in force as their Euchologies still show. Balsamon also, the well-known commentator on the canons of the Middle Ages, in his commentary on the sixty-third Apostolic Canon, expressly blames the Latins because they had ceased to observe this command. What the Latin Church, however, thought on this subject about the year 400, is shown by St. Augustine in his work Contra Faustum, where he states that the Apostles had given this command in order to unite the heathens and Jews in the one ark of Noah; but that then, when the barrier between Jewish and heathen converts had fallen, this command concerning things strangled and blood had lost its meaning, and was only observed by few. But still, as late as the eighth century, Pope Gregory the Third (731) forbade the eating of blood or things strangled under threat of a penance of forty days. No one will pretend that the disciplinary enactments of any council, even though it be one of the undisputed Ecumenical Synods, can be of greater and more unchanging force than the decree of that first council, held by the Holy Apostles at Jerusalem, and the fact that its decree has been obsolete for centuries in the West is proof that even Ecumenical canons may be of only temporary utility and may be repealed by disuse, like other laws."
  21. An Impossible Undertaking: The Eradication of Bovine Tuberculosis in the United States, ALAN L. OLMSTEAD AND PAUL W. RHODE, The Journal of Economic History (2004), 64 : 734-772 Cambridge University Press, Copyright © 2004 The Economic History Association, doi:10.1017/S0022050704002955
  22. Not on My Farm!: Resistance to Bovine Tuberculosis Eradication in the United States, Alan L. Olmstead and Paul W. Rhode, January 2005, The Journal of Economic History (2007), 67 : 768-809 Cambridge University Press, Copyright © 2007 The Economic History Association, doi:10.1017/S0022050707000307


  • Harris applies cultural materialism, looking for economical or ecological explanations behind the taboos.
  • Gidi Yahalom, "The Pig's Testimony", Antiguo Oriente 5 (2007): 195-204.

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