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To Eat or Not to Eat: Towards a Functional Definition of ‘Food Taboo’

Alexander Hackman-Aidoo
Constantine K.M. Kudzedzi


Several studies have explored the close affinity between religion and food. It is evident from such studies that food plays a ritual role in most world religions. On the social level, food creates group identity and offers reasons for group interaction. Studies have also shown that food preferences are culture-specific. As a result, nearly all societies have rules on what may or may not be consumed. This selection and/or rejection of food substances have been described by many as ‘food taboo’. Nonetheless, the term in its strictest sense may present some conceptual challenges, and thus require some considerable review. This paper reviews the shades of meaning of the concept of ‘food taboo’ and the difficulty it poses in food discourse within the broad spectrum of religion. In the main, the paper provides a functional definition of ‘food taboo’ but proposes a shift in paradigm from merely considering the prohibitions associated with food to an exploration of the guiding principles underlying food conduct which may be termed ‘food ethics.’

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eISSN: 2616-1591
print ISSN: 0855-7942