In the story of creation God has fashioned everything humanity will consume. So it’s not surprising that among God’s first communications to Adam and Eve come rules about eating. Judaism’s approach to food begins with gratitude, humility and a sense of control. As the Talmud says, one is forbidden to enjoy anything without first reciting a blessing that acknowledges God’s bounty.* But it’s so easy to take it all for granted. Complex though they are, Judaism’s dietary laws can help to reinforce this fragile sense of mindfulness about how and what we eat. “The earth is the Lord’s and all that it holds . . .” (Psalms 24:1).
Given how essential food and drink are to human survival, their significance in religious imagination and practice is unsurprising. Much of Jesus’ teaching takes place “at table.” The gospels also provide accounts of his feeding thousands of people at a time with a few loaves and fish, yet he also teaches that “one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”* Paul’s letters discuss controversies about how members of the early church should treat one another when they gather to eat and drink. The Eucharist, the community meal of Christians that developed out of the Last Supper, is a sharing of bread and wine in memory of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
All deeds and actions of a Muslim are part of worship in Islam. Even the act of eating and drinking is an act of worship when the Islamic requirements of Halal (allowed) and Haram (forbidden) are observed. The Qur’an stresses the importance of healthy eating, a balanced diet and hygiene. Muslims are allowed to eat what is good and lawful, what is pure, clean, wholesome, nourishing and pleasing to the taste (Qur’an 2:168). The Qur’an constantly reminds Muslims to eat and drink, but waste not in extravagance. Certainly God does not like those who waste in extravagance (7:31). Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) promoted clean and healthy eating habits among his followers. He asked his companions to wash their hands before and after eating. He also taught to eat with the name of God and end eating by praising Him. Eat using the right hand, but do not eat until you truly are hungry and do not eat and drink excessively. He preferred the hungry to eat first while he would be the last to eat, though he himself would be very hungry. He advised Muslims to continue this practice.