Why Religion Matters to the Sustainable Food Movement


halal food stand in new york city

The connections between religious traditions and food usually come to us as proscriptions: Jews and Muslims can’t eat pork, Hindus can’t eat beef and other meats, and Catholics should avoid meat on Fridays during Lent. Dr. Rachel Kohn, a radio host on Australia’s ABC network recently discussed Sydney’s FoodFaith event which considered why religion matters in the context of sustainability, both in terms of production and consumption. It turns out there’s a lot we can learn for the world’s religions.

Kohn notes that while we usually think about the “thou shalt nots” of faith and food, most religions have a broader ethic about food handling, preparation, and cultivation in which these rules exist. Generally – especially in monotheistic cultures – this takes the form of seeing food as a gift/creation of God. As such, it must be treated with respect and reverence.

Speakers at the event addressed ways in which these traditional approaches to food might be used as methods for addressing current health and environmental challenges. For instance,

  • Jewish proscriptions against gluttony might serve as a means for addressing obesity;
  • Muslim commands concerning wasting food could come into play for our own waste challenges;
  • The environmental degradation produced by heavy meat consumption might be discussed through the lens of Hinduism.

This doesn’t mean that we simply recreate the proscriptions above, but rather consider their historical and cultural contexts, and determine whether they have relevance for us. It also means that we consider the broader practices employed by the world’s faiths, such as kosher and halal, and what they bring to our relationship with food. Finally, we may also want to consider mindfulness about food, specifically in a religious context: not just conscious awareness of our eating, but also gratitude and reverence demonstrated by the interfaith tradition of giving thanks prior to a meal.

Take a look at the details Kohn provides from the speakers at FoodFaith, and then let us know how religious conviction plays into your relationship with food, and perhaps points you in more sustainable directions.

Photo credit: ChameleonsEye / Shutterstock.com

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About the Author

Jeff McIntire-Strasburg is the founder and editor of sustainablog. You can keep up with all of his writing at Facebook, and at