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Because the need for food is about as universal as it gets, every religion must carefully consider the proper ways to engage with food. Each religion has its own sets of restricted and forbidden foods. The dietary codes that make sense to one religion may not make sense to another and vice versa. And yet all religions have something to say on the subject. Fasting—refraining from food for specified amounts of time—is a common form of spiritual practice that uses the body to cultivate certain inner states of mind and self.

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Quotations

The New Testament
Christian scripture
Christianity

“Then Jesus declared, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.’"

The New Testament
Christian scripture
Christianity

“But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do."

C.S. Lewis
Christian theologian and writer
Christianity

“One of the marks of a certain type of bad man is that he cannot give up a thing himself without wanting every one else to give it up. That is not the Christian way. An individual Christian may see fit to give up all sorts of things for special reasons — marriage, or meat, or beer, or the cinema; but the moment he starts saying the things are bad in themselves, or looking down his nose at other people who do use them, he has taken the wrong turning."

Saba Mahmood
Anthropologist
Islam

“‘Fasting is not simply abstaining from food,’ she explained to me, ‘but it is a condition through which a Muslim comes to train herself in the virtues[fada’il] of patience [sabr], trust in God [tawakkul] , asceticism from worldly pleasures[zuhd], etc.’ In Fatma's view, therefore, an act of fasting that does not enable one to acquire these virtues transforms fasting from a religious act to a folkloric custom.”

The Hebrew Bible
Jewish scripture
Judaism

“One who is full loathes honey from the comb, but to the hungry even what is bitter tastes sweet.”

The Hebrew Bible
Jewish scripture
Judaism

 “Moses was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights without eating bread or drinking water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant—the Ten Commandments."

Universal House of Justice
Baha'i governing body
Baha'i

“In matters of diet, as in medicine, the Universal House of Justice feels that the believers should be aware that a huge body of scientific knowledge has been accumulated as a guide to our habits and practices. But it must be clearly understood that no specific school of nutrition or medicine has been associated with the Bahá’í teachings."

Shoghi Effendi
Baha'i leader
Baha'i

“In regard to the question as to whether people ought to kill animals for food of not, there is no explicit statement in the Bahá’í Sacred Scriptures (as far as I know) in favor or against it. It is certain, however, that if man can live on a purely vegetarian diet and thus avoid killing animals, it would be much preferable. This is, however, a very controversial question and the Bahá’ís are free to express their views on it.”

‘Abdu’l-Bahá
Baha'i leader
Baha'i

“Some people lay stress on fasting. They affirm that in augmenting the weakness of the body they develop a spiritual sensibility and thus they think to approach God. Weakening one's self physically does not necessarily contribute to spiritual progress. Humility, kindness, resignation, and all these spiritual attributes emanating from great physical strength are acceptable to God[…]Exaggerated fasting destroys the divine forces.”

Baha’u’llah
Baha'i prophet
Baha'i

“Verily, I say, fasting is the supreme remedy and the most great healing for the disease of self and passion.”

Shoghi Effendi
Baha'i leader
Baha'i

“Fasting is essentially a period of meditation and prayer, of spiritual recuperation, during which the believer must strive to make the necessary readjustments in his inner life, and to refresh and reinvigorate the spiritual forces latent in his soul. Its significance and purpose are, therefore, fundamentally spiritual in character. Fasting is symbolic, and a reminder of abstinence from selfish and carnal desires."

Shunryu Suzuki
Zen master
Buddhism

“To cook is not just to prepare food for someone or for yourself; it is to express your sincerity. So when you cook you should express yourself in your activity in the kitchen. You should allow yourself plenty of time; you should work on it with nothing in your mind, and without expecting anything. You should just cook! That is also an expression of our sincerity, a part of our practice. It is necessary to sit in zazen, in this way, but sitting is not our only way. Whatever you do, it should be an expression of the same deep activity. We should appreciate what we are doing. There is no preparation for something else."

Chuang Tzu
Daoist sage
Daoism

“Confucius said, ‘Go away and fast, then I will tell you what to do. While still plotting, do you think you can really be guided in what to do? The one who thinks he has it will not easily be guided by the Light of Heaven.’
‘The Hui family is poor,’ said Yen Hui, ‘and we have not drunk wine or eaten meat for months. In this instance, will this count as having fasted?’
‘This is fasting for the sacrifice, but not fasting of the heart.’
‘Then what is fasting of the heart?’
‘Your mind must become one, do not try to understand with your ears but with your heart. Indeed, not with your heart but with your soul. Listening blocks the ears, set your heart on what is right, but let your soul be open to receive in true sincerity. The Way is found in emptiness. Emptiness is the fasting of the heart.’
Yen Hui said, ‘Previously, when I fasted, but not with the fast of the heart, I felt I was Hui; when I went on to the fast of the heart, I found I was not Hui. Is this what is called emptiness?’
The great Master said, ‘Precisely!'"

Confucius
Founder of Confucianism
Confucianism

“In periods of purification, [Confucius] invariably wore a house robe made of the cheaper sort of material. In periods of purification, he invariably changed to a more austere diet and, when at home, did not sit in his usual place."

Pascal Boyer
Cognitive anthropologist and evolutionary psychologist
Science, Psychology, & Philosophy

“Suppose you were a Martian anthropologist and observed that all human beings sustain themselves by eating food. You could compare the different tastes of food the world over and try and find common features. That would take lots of effort without any very clear results. It would seem that there are many, many different foods on Earth and no simple way of finding the common elements. But now imagine you were a good Martian anthropologist. You would study the chemistry of cooking, which would reveal that there are only a few ways to process food(marinating, salting, roasting, smoking, boiling, grilling, etc.) and a large but limited number of ingredients. You would soon be able to report that the apparently unlimited variety of human cuisine is explained by combinations of a limited set of techniques and a limited set of materials. This is precisely what we can do with religious concepts, moving from the table to the kitchen and observing how the concepts are concocted in human minds."

Jeffrey J. Kripal
Historian of religions
Science, Psychology, & Philosophy

“From a comparativist perspective, the truth is that it does not matter what the dietary rules are, as long as there are dietary rules. Put a bit differently, what the dietary codes are about is not the content of the codes themselves, but their functions. And these functions boil down to two: (1) the formation of an individual religious identity and of a set of emotions (purity, pollution, shame, guilt, disgust, and so on) through a necessarily repeated daily act; and(2) the subsequent segregation or separation of a community around these identities, biological acts, and emotions. In short, eating regulations not only help shape and maintain a very particular religious identity; they also form and police a very particular community. They help make a world."

Jeffrey J. Kripal
Historian of religions
Science, Psychology, & Philosophy

“The comparative method, in short, effortlessly reveals the arbitrary nature of dietary rules. What is a horrific impurity or a devastating pollution in one cultural arena is an expensive delicacy in another. The simple truth is that human beings, as a species now, will eat practically anything that provides nourishment (and a large number of things that do not). From a comparative perspective, it is clear that dietary codes are historically constructed and culturally relative."