Many religions include dietary laws. Jewish and Muslim dietary laws are similar, one following the Law of Moses, the other keeping in step with the notion of clean and unclean. Hindus are mainly vegetarian, as are Buddhists, although meat and fish are allowed following strict guidelines.
Early Christian food rules banned the consumption of meat offered to idols, blood, and things that were strangled. Roman Catholics abstained from meat on Fridays until the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II) in the 1960s.
Kosher is the English word for kashrut, or the Hebrew dietary laws derived from the Torah’s book of Leviticus. Foods that are not kosher are treif. The only animals that may be eaten are those deemed clean, which include quadrupeds that chew their cud and have completely split hoofs, fish with both fins and scales, domesticated birds, locusts, and grasshoppers.
Kosher slaughter and preparation of food is strictly regulated. Animals must be killed in a clean and humane manner to limit the animal’s suffering and demonstrate the responsibility that comes with having power over life and death. In preparing meat, body fat and sinuous tendons must be removed, and the body must be drained completely of all fluids.
Specific food combinations are prohibited. An animal may not be seethed (boiled) in its mother’s milk. This act is seen as a symbolic combination of life and death and is interpreted in modern times as the prohibition of meat and milk in any form being cooked or eaten together. This includes food in the same dish or within the same meal. Fish and meat are also not to be consumed together, and there are certain holidays that require specific foods.
Following kosher law is an act of faith, although many scholars continue to explore the health benefits of the kosher diet. It appears to be a more hygienic, less toxic diet overall.
Kosher foods in the market are marked with a symbol that indicates they have been certified by a rabbi or rabbinical authority. Symbols include a U, OU, and K. In addition, foods containing specific ingredients are clearly labeled, including D for dairy, P for fish, M for meat, and Pareve, which means no meat or dairy.