Crazy-Fascinating Food Traditions From Religions Around The World

Food and religion have an interesting relationship. From religious diets to ritual eating, some cultures and religions have food-based beliefs that might feel a little odd. In fact, when you get right down to it, thinking about eating Jesus's body and drinking his blood seems a little weird, doesn't it? Well, if you think that sounds strange, then you obviously haven't heard of some of these really unusual religious food traditions from around the world. 

To be clear, just because a religion or culture is different doesn't make it wrong. The history and belief behind some of these religion-based diets can actually be quite touching, fascinating, and spiritual. Sure, you may not want to try some of these faith-based diets yourself, but learning about them is still a great way to get to know religions and cultures other than your own.

So if you're itching to learn more, then get to know a few unusual diets in religion that you may have never heard of before. And if you find yourself getting hungry, don't say you weren't warned.

  • The Maasai People Drink Blood Directly from the Veins of Cows

    The Maasai People Drink Blood Directly from the Veins of Cows
    Photo: sakkewiik / flickr / CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

    There are about 500,000 Maasai people, who live mainly in Kenya and Tanzania. Cattle tend to be their livelihood and are incredibly important in their lives. They're so important, in fact, that cow blood plays a religious role for them in many ways. They use blood, fresh from the veins of their cows, to heal the sick, mix with milk in rituals, and even just to drink in celebration.

    The twist to all this? They do so without killing the cow! That's right, they simply nick an artery, drain some blood, and leave the animal alive so it can continue to make milk and blood for the future. It's a really responsible way to integrate religion and sustainability. 

  • The Yezidis Believe in Meat for Everyone

    The Yezidis Believe in Meat for Everyone
    Photo: DFID - UK Department for International Development / flickr / CC-BY 2.0

    Yezidis (or Yazidis) quite often get a bad rap. Followers of the Yezidi religion, which is most prominent in Northern Iraq, have been referred to as "devil worshipers," but that label is inaccurate and a harmful stereotype. They do perform rituals and ceremonies for a Devil-like deity, but it is to appease him, not to worship him. Their religion does not seem to stem off of just one belief; instead, it incorporates elements from many others, including items from Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Zoroastrian, and more. They also have some very specific rules about diet. 

    One such belief is that during the first week of April there is a holy day that celebrates the new year. On that day, no family is to be without meat. That means if you're wealthy, you have to slaughter an animal and share it with others who are not as well-off. In short, at least one day a year, no one goes hungry. 

  • Torajans Feed Dead Bodies for Weeks After They've Passed

    Torajans Feed Dead Bodies for Weeks After They've Passed
    Photo: Arian Zwegers / flickr / CC-BY 2.0

    In the Torajan culture in Indonesia, the dead are not quite considered dead right away. For them, death is a gradual process that takes days, weeks, and sometimes even years after a person dies. The dead are mummified in the home, rather than being buried, and are treated very much as if they are still alive. And during this time, they continue to feed the corpse. After enough time has passed, there are days-long funerals, always involving lots of food for everyone. It's kind of beautiful, isn't it?

  • The Yanomami Will Eat Your Ashes to Preserve Your Soul

    The Yanomami Will Eat Your Ashes to Preserve Your Soul
    Photo: Arch_Sam / flickr / CC-BY 2.0

    The Yanomami people live on the shores of the Amazon river in Brazil and Venezuela and believe very firmly that life is important. It's so important, in fact, that they believe the soul must be preserved at all costs, even after death. To do this, they burn the body entirely, grind the ashes, and keep them in a pot. Then they mix the ashes with banana and serve it to the tribe.

    From there, they believe you are reabsorbed into the tribe, living on in every single person even after you're gone. Your soul is then saved and free. When you get right down to it, there's a sort of bittersweet poetry to it. 

  • The Chaga People Eat the Placenta After Birth

    The Chaga People Eat the Placenta After Birth
    Photo: Mike McHolm / flickr / CC-BY-ND 2.0

    The Chaga tribe from Tanzania has a practice that might seem a little gross at first but is actually quite beautiful. The Chaga people take the placenta after a woman gives birth, put it in a receptacle, and then dry it for a while. It is then ground with other herbs and drunk as a porridge by old women of the village. Why? Because this is supposed to preserve and extend the child's life. The emphasis on community and family is touching.

  • The Aztecs Ate Their Enemies

    These rituals aren't practiced anymore, and you should probably thank your lucky stars for that. If the Aztecs decided that you were to be sacrificed, either because you were their enemy or just a chosen one, they would stage a bloody, brutal ritual in your honor. They would dance and celebrate, then lay you down before a stone altar. From there, a priest would cut open your chest with a stone knife, take out your still-beating heart, and offer it to the gods as a sacrifice. It can't get much more brutal than that, right?

    Well, not quite. After this sacrifice, the Aztecs would then cut your body apart and eat it. The elite, sacrificers, captors, and even local animals would all get a shot at some of your body parts. Thus, your flesh would nourish the gods as well as the people. Waste not, want not?