I consider myself fortunate to live in a city, Bologna, nicknamed 'la Grassa', the Fat one. The variety of food and cooking styles in Italy is almost unbelievable to the uninitiated, and Bologna is certainly considered one of the international capitals of cuisine. I am actually doubly fortunate as I was born down the road from here, in what to me remains 'the' capital of good food: Rimini, the centre of the universe when it comes to genuine, tasty and nutritious gastronomy. The thing is, though, I am not religious nor do I follow any peculiar dietary practice, nor do I suffer from alimentary allergies or chronic ailments of the intestine. Otherwise, say for example that I was a vegetarian or Muslim or celiac for instance, I definitely would have a much more limited choice in a country where meat, prosciutto and pasta/pizza/bread are at the basis of most menus.
Food, like and perhaps to a certain extent more than other human needs and expectations, has been pulled right, left and centre by most religions as well as political systems. Nourishment is not only a physiologic demand; our choice of food is also dictated by culture, tradition, and social conventions. My purpose here is to explore this diversity of options and preferences, with the aim of stimulating curiosity more than that of offering judgments or providing an exhaustive list of forbidden foods.
Let's start with some stereotypical religious limitations. It's quite reductive to say simply that Muslims and Jews can't eat pork. In the Bible for instance, there are interminable listings of what's kosher or tref, otherwise which foods are allowed or prohibited to the Elected people:
“These are the animals you may eat: the ox, the sheep, the goat, 5 the deer, the gazelle, the roe deer, the wild goat, the ibex, the antelope and the mountain sheep. 6 You may eat any animal that has a split hoof divided in two and that chews the cud. 7 However, of those that chew the cud or that have a split hoof completely divided you may not eat the camel, the rabbit or the coney. Although they chew the cud, they do not have a split hoof; they are ceremonially unclean for you. 8 The pig is also unclean; although it has a split hoof, it does not chew the cud. […] 9 Of all the creatures living in the water, you may eat any that has fins and scales. […] 11 You may eat any clean bird. 12 But these you may not eat: the eagle, the vulture, the black vulture, ,sup>13 the red kite, the black kite, any kind of falcon, 14 any kind of raven, 15 the horned owl, the screech owl, the gull, any kind of hawk, 16 the little owl, the great owl, the white owl, 17 the desert owl, the osprey, the cormorant, 18 the stork, any kind of heron, the hoopoe and the bat. 19 All flying insects that swarm are unclean to you; do not eat them. 20 But any winged creature that is clean you may eat.” [Deuteronomy 14].
And it is not only the shopping list that needs a careful revision, also the slaughtering of animals or the cooking conventions are strictly regulated. When it comes to animal proteins for instance, seemingly kosher meat is the most healthy you can find, as the animals are carefully selected, through the processes of shechita (butchering) and b'dikath (sanitary control), and treated so that you can be sure that infected beasts never make it to your plate. Another classic rule is that by which Jews cannot mix meat and milk in the same meal. One of my mother's favourite dishes, pork loin in milk sauce, would therefore be stamped out with a double scandal in a Jewish household! Seafood is limited to fish with scales and fins, and even the intake of fruit is regulated, in that it is prohibited to eat fruits of a tree for the first three years.
Strict dietary rules can be also found in the Qur'an, the sacred book of the Muslims:
“Forbidden to you (for food) are: dead meat, blood, the flesh of swine, and that on which hath been invoked the name of other than Allah. that which hath been killed by strangling, or by a violent blow, or by a headlong fall, or by being gored to death; that which hath been (partly) eaten by a wild animal; unless ye are able to slaughter it (in due form); that which is sacrificed on stone (altars); (forbidden) also is the division (of meat) by raffling with arrows: that is impiety.” [005:3]
“It is He Who produceth gardens, with trellises and without, and dates, and tilth with produce of all kinds, and olives and pomegranates, similar (in kind) and different (in variety): eat of their fruit in their season, but render the dues that are proper on the day that the harvest is gathered. But waste not by excess: for Allah loveth not the wasters.” [006:141]
In Emilia-Romagna, Muslim Palestinians and practicing Israelis would have to share – yet again – the same destiny: they'd both miss out on most specialities, including crescentine, tortellini, cotechino, zampone, Parma ham and the fantastic parade of the local cold cuts: salami, mortadella, cured bacon, etc., but at least Jews would be allowed to wash down their meal with a glass of bubbling Lambrusco – given the assurance that it was produced and handled only by other Jews – while the Muslims would have to stick to non-alcoholic beverages.