Food is a need we all have. Why has this become such a confusion and controversy? We need to remember we eat to live and survive and not really something that we need to obsess on, be it in the name of religion or anything else. This is the worst thing we can do to each other.
The fact is, religion has been formed as guidelines in every era. Some religions used books, some stories and many used diktats. It is often said “Hinduism is not a religion but a way of life”. The fact is this is true for all religions as every religion has evolved as a way of life in whichever region they were born.
As far as belief systems are concerned, we must remember that these happened because of the region and the conditions where the religions were born.
Food and religion
All religions have their own guidelines regarding food mainly because of anthropology.
For instance, both Islam and Judaism have the similar guidelines. Of utmost importance in both religions is the way in which an animal is killed for its meat. There are very strict guidelines that much be followed for each, and there are differences between the sets of guidelines.
In both practices, the animal’s throat is cut, and it is drained of blood. The spinal cord must not be severed. Death is said to occur within seconds, but animal rights groups worldwide have long campaigned to have the practice outlawed, or, alternately, stun the animal before it is killed. In both traditions, the animal needs to be alive, healthy, and uninjured when it is blessed and the slaughtering process begins. There is debate within Islamic law on whether or not stunning the animal first violates this rule, but Jewish law is very clear on the matter. Stunning methods cause injury to the animal, making the meat that ultimately comes from it non-kosher.
The fact is both halal and kosher meats are likely to decay later than the method where blood is not drained. They also believe in killing instantly and though the blood drains gradually, according to them, the animal does not feel this.
Christianity does not have any particular practice but it is believed that meat consumed by Christians should not retain any blood, just like Judaism and Islam.
The fact is as these came from an era where the climatic conditions made it more likely to decay this was a major parameter in the times where there were no refrigerators or ACs.
In the huge debate on whether or not this is cruel to the animals, we need to remember food is just food and meat is just meat, however one kills it.
Early Buddhist monks depended on food donated by supporters. Anything placed in their proffered bowls was to be accepted with gratitude and eaten, even if unpleasant. This included fish and meat. The modern sects of Buddhism have different rules regarding diet. While most practice nonviolence, many do consume meat. This again depends on the region in which they originated.
The basic tenet of Jainism is non-violence. Jains do not believe in killing anything, be it even plants hence do not recommend eating root vegetables. From a higher perspective, one needs to remember that non-violence actually means not offending others and not just about food. A Jain who truly understands this will never offend others about their food choices.
From the Hindu point of view, the killing of bulls was discouraged as Hinduism was born in an agrarian society. Swami Vivekananda often pointed out this obsession with food and had said “You will be astonished if I tell you that, according to the old ceremonials, he is not a good Hindu who does not eat beef.” We went on to aver that “The ancient sacrifices and the ancient gods, they are all gone; modern India belongs to the spiritual part of the Vedas.”
Food is not who we are
We must remember religion is about spirituality not about what we wear, what we speak and most certainly not about what we eat.
One’s food doesn’t make one clean or purified or sanctified. Definitely, we do a much greater wrong when we make unkind and harsh comments about those who make different dietary choices than we do. This is one of the basic tenets of freedom and yes, about bonding too. Let us make food a medium of bonding not growing apart.