Religious & Cultural Practices

There are many religions with dietary restrictions and food customs. Some are more well know than others, but all must be respected, observed and provided for as closely as we are able when creating menus for events. This is your Thrive! guide to religious dietary restrictions.  This isn’t comprehensive, and there are some differences in food rules across denominations. Plus, individuals within each religion may follow these rules differently and with varied commitment. The best habit for us as HR professionals, caterers, chefs, and menu planners is to

  • Ask the attendee or employee what their requirements are prior to the event.
  • Plan on accommodating as if the attendee or employee is a strict observer.
  • Consult a professional who can help you plan your menus to ensure every meal will be delicious and respectful.

This religion does not specifically restrict any particular food or food preparation, but it does have tenets that are interpreted and followed in many aspects of daily life, including food consumption. Buddhists follow the principle guide to do no harm. This has been interpreted into the vegetarian dietary practice. Lacto-vegetarianism is most common for Buddhists, which includes dairy and animal products, but does not allow meat. Theravada, a branch of Buddhism does allow pork, chicken, and fish if the animal was not slaughtered for consumption, but consumption ends up being the best way to respectfully utilize the entire animal after death.

While there are many types of Christianity, a few, in particular, have religious dietary restrictions to be aware of:

  • Catholicism– there are holy days and periods on which devout Catholics will fast. For example, meat is not allowed on Fridays during Lent. And fasting is expected on Good Friday and Ash Wednesday.
  • Eastern Orthodox Christians– if practicing, there will be weekly fasts that require abstention from alcohol, eggs, dairy, fish, meat, and olive oil. There are other fasts that are longer and are more exclusionary in their food choices.
  • Seventh-Day Adventists – are what’s called lacto-ovo-vegetarians. This means they avoid alcohol, fish, poultry, and other meat, but will eat some animal products, such as eggs and dairy.

Hindus do not eat eggs, fish, meat, or poultry, but do eat dairy. For this, they are considered lacto-vegetarians. Brahmins, a class of Hinduism, have special restrictions on who and how their food is prepared and stored. All practicing Hindus have several fasting periods, some of which are limited to plant foods and others that are more strict. While some Hindus will fast weekly, there are also New Moon days, holy days, and festivals that require fasting. Diwali is perhaps the most famous Hindu holy period, lasting five days, the last two of which, many Hindus will fast.

Halal is what is considered permissible under traditional Islamic law and is the guide under which we understand dietary restrictions. There are a number of restrictions, but in general, foods that are kosher are also acceptable under Halal. The largest exception is alcohol, which Halal does not permit. Ramadan is a particularly holy period with associated dietary restrictions and food traditions. For more about Ramadan, this Primer can be helpful as can this guide to fasting and fast-breaking.

Jainism practices non-violence and has strict rules for the protection of all life. For this reason, they do not eat eggs, fish, meat or poultry. They also avoid most root vegetables because the entire plant is usually killed when harvesting the root. Honey is also prohibited because it is eating off the labor of honeybees and the collection of honey often results in violence to the bees. There are holy days where fasting is observed. Paryushan is the largest and most well-known, lasting eight days. These fasts will often call for the elimination of green and raw vegetables, because they are considered more alive than simple grains, and they will only eat before sunset.

The religious dietary restrictions guide regarding what can be consumed by practicing Jews is called kosher. Foods labeled kosher are prepared under strict guidelines to the entire supply chain, from harvest and slaughter to preparation, packaging, and food combinations. Pork and shellfish are famously not allowed. Religious holidays have additional restrictions and also food traditions. Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Passover are some of the more famous Jewish holy days. Food traditions and restrictions are very important on these and other holy days throughout the year. It’s best to purchase pre-packaged kosher meals and leave them unopened to ensure the attendee can see there hasn’t been any contamination. For more about this, please see this article about kosher and meal planning for events.

Specific religious dietary restrictions are coffee, tea, alcohol, tobacco, and illegal drugs. The idea for Mormons is to avoid mind-altering substances. However, Mormons are also advised to eat respectfully and with appreciation through portion control, zero waste, and by avoiding overindulgence. In addition, Mormons participate in a show of self-control and humility through a monthly fast, equating to missing two meals, on the first Sunday of each month. Sundays are also considered a time of rest and avoid doing work or requiring the work of others. This can be helpful when planning an event that should be inclusive in an area or with a guest list featuring Mormons.

Rastafarians have dietary restrictions relating to clean eating. Their rule is l-tal, which means eating natural and clean. Lightly cooked meals are okay, and fish is permitted as long as it is less than 12 inches long. Pork, scavengers, and shellfish are prohibited, although meat, in general, is not a common food. Salt, alcohol, milk, and coffee are also on the restricted list. There are Rastafarian holy days throughout the year, and in general, a Rastafarian diet will not change; however, most holy meals will be strictly vegetarian or vegan. Most holidays are marked by a large feast and celebratory gathering.