Food taboos

A few peoples appreciates food items that other peoples hate. Which are food taboos in the different countries of the world?

Humans are omnivores and, like pigs, mice and many other animals they can eat and digest both vegetables and meat. The quantity of edible foods is basically infinite. So, why the vast majority of people consume few varieties of food products?


Biological limits explain how humans avoid the foods that are less suitable for their physiological characteristics. For instance, we don’t eat leaves, blades of grass and bark because our intestines can’t assimilate great amounts of cellulose and we take in more than one meal daily, rather than one abundant meal, to ease digestion.


But, considering the countries’ diverse culinary traditions, biological differences don’t explain why people have so different food habits. What is good and inviting for some people is disgusting for others. Grasshoppers, earthworms and crickets are delicious for millions of people; there are 42 peoples that eat rats while others avoid to consume milk because it is secreted through animal glands, such as saliva.


People’s food habits also depend on practical reasons. The products employed in a certain area, in fact, are generally the most nutritious foods available there. The environmental characteristics of the different geographic areas influenced humans’ food production choices; the products “selected” in all cultures are the easiest to be obtained and those that use local resources better.


For example, countries with low population density and a land not suitable for farming have developed a diet richer in meat; on the contrary, countries with a high population density and with soil suitable for farming, based their food habits on vegetables, mainly if their habitat cannot support the energy costs of cattle breeding.


An emblematic example is the ban on eating pork for Jewish and Muslim. Pigs need shadow and water to freshen up because they don’t have sweat glands and, so, they can’t regulate the body temperature through sweat; in addition, they can’t bear long displacements. No surprise that this taboo originated among originally nomadic people and in an arid and hot environment like desert.


If you also consider that pork is one of the most appreciated types of meat, you can understand how necessary was this taboo to divert the community members to adopt such a food practice that threatened their lives, since they should ration their energy to the lack of resources of these places.


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