Pagan Food Restrictions

May 6, 2011 by Categorized: Earth Matters.

Since moving to New Hampshire from my native Massachusetts a decade ago, I’ve been on a journey of self-discovery.

The journey, like all journeys, requires daily sustenance. And over the last decade I’ve really cleaned up my diet. Still, however, I am overweight. My doctor considers me obese though I don’t consider myself so. The last time I went to see my primary she mentioned me losing some weight, of which I heartily agree. She and I have different ideas on how to do such though. She believes I should be eating low fat foods, low calorie diet food like Weight Watchers. I told my primary I would rather be fat than have cancer. She looked at me with an odd expression so I asked her if she read the ingredients in processed diet food. When she said she hadn’t I said “When you do you’ll know why I won’t eat those foods.”

Wolf and I strive to eat as healthy as possible. There are very few processed foods in our home. Wolf makes most meals we eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Sometimes, however, we do go out to eat. And we don’t always make the best choices. We are, after all, not perfect.

Organic food is better than conventional but there are problems with organic foods. First, organic labeling cannot always be trusted. Second, it’s not in with the principles of organic to be trucked halfway around the world to my cabinet from China (in the case of the organic pumpkin seeds I bought at the grocery store). Doing so negates the organic status, in my mind anyways.

Local is always good. But you have to know your farming neighbors and how they farm to know how “natural” their food is. For instance, I can go to the cow farm in Boscawen to get beef but I’ve never seen their cows outside. Rather, the fields are planted with corn. I know the closed in cows are eating corn which is not what cows evolved to eat. So despite the farm in Boscawen being close to home I won’t eat the beef. And I feel bad about that.

Over the last few weeks I’ve been thinking more and more about food prohibitions. Jews and Muslims don’t eat pork, Catholics don’t eat meat on Fridays. Buddhists are vegetarian. Pagans don’t have those prohibitions. But maybe it would be a good idea for Paganism to have some food rules.

Local, seasonal, organic* foods could be what our spirituality requires for Oneness with Mother Earth. Cutting down on our consumption of foods trekked from long distances will cut back on the carbon emissions. Supporting your local farmer will slow the elimination of farm land from into poison filled suburban homes.

Yes our diets will change. Getting avocados in New Hampshire isn’t likely and I’ll miss them like you wouldn’t believe. But I’ll live without them (I won’t live without fancy cheese and tea though). It’ll be a process that’ll take a lone time to develop. But eventually we can have a deeper relationship to our communities, our bodies, and our spirituality if we start committing to Mother Earth with our forks.

*I know there are plenty of farmers who use organic principles to farm but don’t have the label to put on because they did not wish to go through the violating and expensive process of becoming certified organic. I respect this by buying their food and eating it.

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47 Responses

  1. Well, if you have the space, you can grow your own avocados. The last place I worked was a law firm downtown, and in a lawyer’s office was an avocado tree that started out as a seed – a project his son started in Kindergarten. It was quite an impressive tree, even though it was just in a pot, and it got sunlight from a high rise, east-facing window. Imagine how much better of a job *you* could do!

    Now granted, he would need /two/ trees in order to bear fruit, but I don’t see that as an improbability for someone who really wants avocados but without the baggage. I’m sure you could get a couple organic pits from friends or neighbors, or order a pair of starter trees. These days, they’re even selling dwarf banana trees on TV for indoor growers.

    In other words, I believe you can have your avocados (or oranges, or lemons, or bananas, or mangoes, or…) and eat them, too. I don’t believe in restrictions on anything. ;)

  2. I absolutely agree that eating local, organic, and sustainably should be a goal in pagans’ lives. (Added benefit – one becomes much more present and aware of what one’s consuming when starting to examine everything, even if the changes take a longer time.)

    While at first it may seem like you’re giving up a lot, in fact I think many of the supposed drawbacks become benefits. For instance, the deprivation of not eating out-of-season produce becomes the joy of truly appreciating the food when it IS in season, of eating it at its absolute best. After years of eating more and more this way, I don’t even want asparagus in winter anymore, and junk food mostly just tastes like junk.

    • Giving up foods has been a slow process. Each day though I notice changes in my body and in my brain. Just yesterday I said to Wolf how hungry I was. He suggested we go out to eat instead of making dinner but I declined. I didn’t want to feel like crap after I ate. I wanted to feel good for nourishing my body.

  3. Very thought-provoking post.

    My wife and I also consume local, organic, seasonal foods as much as possible. This is a sacred obligation for us.

    I balk, however, at the language of “food restrictions”. This is not because I’m undisciplined or don’t like giving things up. I *know* I’m giving up certain things by making the food choices I do; Winter in Minnesota can be a bleak foodscape.

    No, my reticence is because one thing that I love most about Paganism is its celebratory, life-embracing attitude. Paganism, for me, is the religion of “Yes!”

    I grew up in a mixed-faith household: one Jewish parent and one Protestant Christian. I saw what the food restrictions of the kashrut and fast days and Lent, all meant to improve character through suffering, do to people, and to their joy, and to their relationship with the world and the Divine.

    Why is it necessary that Pagans embrace that worldview? Why can we not speak of what we embrace–local, seasonal, organic, that which sustains the life of the planet and celebrates our connection to it–and leave the confinement of “food restrictions”?

  4. Thanks, Eli.

    I wasn’t too crazy about the word “restriction” either but it’s the word that kept popping into my head as I was writing this post during the week.

    What I want, personally, is to be a little more “orthodox” in my Paganism. I’ve considered a head covering but I don’t feel my body needs to be covered in any way. Food was the next thing that came to mind.

    • I’m sorry, but what on earth would be pagan about a head covering exactly? Paganism isn’t exactly a religion that screams “orthodox” anything, since it’s not even a clearly defined religion in the first place. I hope i’m not coming across as rude, I just found this a little odd.

      • Mimi you’re coming off as rude.

        Orthodox wasn’t the best word, nor was “restriction” in the title of this post. My head is clogged due to allergies so please forgive.

        What I’m trying to say is I’d like an outward manifestation of Paganism so when someone looks at me (or sees me eat, or spends time at my home or whatever) knows I’m Pagan. And a pentacle necklace isn’t want I’m looking for.

        • My wife discovered, and I confirmed, that head coverings have interesting energetic properties (probably just drawing your attention to the energies around the crown). So when she dresses for work (as a psychic reader) or for the Temple, she ties a homemade hijab on. I make do with dorags or a hood. We don’t especially “paganize” ours but it might not be hard. One of mine is snakeskin patterned; you could have stars or a forest …

      • Actually it is a very defined religion and is recognized as such around the world. Most people just don’t agree with our view points.

  5. Hmmm, very thought-provoking. I think it partly depends on how we define “restrictions”. They could be guidelines that we use to shape our lives for a particular reason (in this case, to express our values in how we eat), or they could refer to religious mandates that define “good” and “bad” behavior. I think the latter are what constitute “orthodoxy” (as I define it), namely a set of rigid rules that are imposed on people from outside themselves vs. guidelines that people can adjust depending on their particular situation.

    I agree with you that eating local, seasonal, organic food is an important way pagans can (and should) express their spiritual values. I like how James Endredy puts it in his excellent book Ecoshamanism:

    “Food is a sacrament… When you put something in your mouth and swallow it, you have now allowed it to become part of you and to penetrate the barrier between what is “me” and what is “not me”.”

    He advocates eating with the understanding that food “has spirit and a meaningful and tangible connection to the life and lifestyle of the person eating it.”

  6. On a different note, regarding weight loss, I think your story illustrates just how ignorant most medical professionals are concerning healthy eating. I remember that a doctor I used to have told me that medical students only receive TWO WEEKS of training on nutrition!!!

    The “low fat” strategy has been proven to be a major CONTRIBUTOR to obesity and heart disease. The idea that saturated fat = high cholesterol and heart disease is one of the biggest, and most damaging, myths ever perpetrated by big business (in this case, to sell statin drugs).

    Everyone I know that has switched to a paleo-type diet (no grains or sugar, more meat and animal fat) has lost weight (including myself, even eating very large amounts of fat and not exercising at all!) Its so much healthier in so many other ways too.

  7. If Pagan dietary “rules” were grounded in simply trying to eat in a way that reflected our theoretical love for the natural world–combined with a little information on what the different food choices we make do to that world– we’d be doing really well. I’d love to see us eating in a way that reflected our values, instead of simply pounding down as much Taco Bell as we can. (I know way too many Pagans who do this!)

    It is hard to manage weight, and part of that is how we live in a culture that so values plenty and choices that we can too easily feel “deprived” when we’re simply making rational decisions. Eating a seasonal, local diet isn’t enough to balance weight, perhaps, but neither is it deprivation, or contrary to the celebratory nature of Paganism.

    There’s really nothing celebratory about bland, dry, tasteless strawberries imported from South America in the middle of a North American winter. Waiting until June, when the real thing is mouth-wateringly available, is far more genuinely earth-loving.

    I have to admit, I’m no fan of the imported chocolate-dipped Beltane berry. If they’re ripe near you, you don’t need the chocolate on them. If they’re not, the chocolate won’t save them… it winds up being just a celebration of the idea of sensuality, not the reality of it.

    I think that eating within sustainable limits may well restore to us the understanding of what real sensuality in eating is.

  8. I have a strict set of rules I personally follow that I think of as religious, but they’re hardly universal to all Wiccans. I cannot afford at this point to eat only local organic food. However, I am a strict ova-lacto vegetarian, do not smoke, do drugs, or drink alcohol outside of religious ritual. I only wear leather if it is protective equipment, and I never wear fur. My point here, is that I do find that making promises to my God and Goddess and then keeping them does in fact make me feel closer to them. Restrictions are not necessarily as restricting as we often think.

  9. If you’re interested in a Heathen version of the Paleo diet, some of the diet guru’s are now talking about the Viking Diet. I’ve put together a blog post on what the Vikings ate:

    http://inthecompanyofstones.blogspot.com/2011/04/raw-barley-of-research-viking-diet.html

  10. The paleo diet (primal, ancestral, evolutionary, whatever you want to call it) satisfies on multiple levels: it’s the diet that humans ate for most our history as a species, so our bodies are suited for it; it emphasizes real food and is great for losing weight and achieving overall health; and emphasizes fresh, local foods. I shop farmers markets/CSA’s for the Northeast growing season and buy my meat from local ranchers.

    Basically you eat meat, fish, fruits and vegetables and nuts. You get to eat delicious, nourishing foods without deprivation but can tweak it with varying methods of discipline (like intermittent fasting).

    I also eat minimally on the day of the dark moon, and the day preceding it.

  11. Cheers to you for telling your doctor that! Especially given how much food currently labeled as “healthy” can cause a lot of long term damage to your body.

    I personally follow a traditional food diet, doing local food as much as I can (not easy during the winter in Connecticut), grass-fed meats and not just eating muscle, soaked and fermented foods, etc. One of my hopes is to see more pagan/polytheists adapt this kind of diet because I feel it’s both better for health and also connects us to our ancestors.

  12. hey, it doesn’t matter WHAT you eat, as long as you eat a low calorie diet. You could be eating cake all day, as long as you only eat about 1200 calories of cake. You could also eat an awesome fresh local produce but get completely fat off of it because you’re eating 3000 calories of it a day.

    REMEMBER…..just cuz it’s healthy doesn’t mean it won’t make you fat. Avocados are one of my FAVORITE foods and soooo good for you but they are extremely high in calories.

    Your body doesn’t distinguish between calories. Everything else (fat, nutrients, etc), yes your body does. But calories? No. A calorie is a calorie to your body and THAT is what is makes someone fat.

    Just something to keep in mind, most people overlook this and don’t understand why they aren’t really losing weight. You can eat healthy but every calorie counts.

  13. opps…. i should of clarified: it doesn’t matter what you eat to lose weight. it does matter for all other purposes of health and well being! :) you should try and combine the two.

  14. Rev. MorriganMay 9, 2011 @ 12:45 pm

    This type of diet is all well and good, and while I can see the spiritual side of it, a lot of pagans can’t afford to eat like this. We grow what we can, but currently live in a neighborhood where a patio garden is all we can do. Out food budget is $300 a month for 5 people. While we live in a fairly rural town, there is no farmer’s market or road side stands. We can barely afford fresh fruit for the kids, let alone “organic”. So be these standards, does that mean we are not spiritually closer to our deities? No it does not. It is not the foods we eat that make us Pagan.

    • Thank you!! I completely agree. Plus this post started with a bit about needing to lose weight, and eating local/organic/macrobiotic have NOTHING to do with losing weight! A person is overweight/obese because they consume far more calories than you are burning off.

      Just because it’s “organic and local” doesn’t mean it’s healthy. An organic steak cooked in organic butter, all from a local farm with good practices, is still horrible for you to eat on a daily basis.

      • I can’t afford to eat 100% organic either but I make a concerted effort.

        Also, this post wasn’t about losing weight. It was about food choices. I added as a side note how my (western) doctor and I disagree about how weight loss should be done. I believe in eating foods with ingredients I recognize. I don’t care about the fat or calorie contents.

    • Then start those types of programs in your area. Every journey begins with a first step. If you live where there are a lot of farms, or at least access to farms there’s no stopping you!

  15. Actually Catholics only have to not eat meat on Fridays during lent now after the second vatican council. Just thought I would point that out.

  16. I’ve tried food restricted diets (vegan, gluten-free, vegetarian) and I actually gained weight as a vegan (three words: vegan chocolate brownies!). The way I lost my weight was talking to a fitness expert/nutritionist who told me to eat only complex carbs before 4 pm (i.e. breakfast and lunch) and eat only veggies and protein after 4 pm. I went from a size 18 to a size 6 in about 8 months (I was also doing bootcamps). Basically, my biggest meal was breakfast, and as the day went on, each meal got smaller. I found that it was my portion sizes that was the problem when I was eating vegetarian. Healthy food can still pack on pounds if our portions are large, especially when eating brown rice and beans.

  17. I eliminated meat as a way to be healthy but found a vegetarian diet wasn’t for me. That’s when I put all the weight on. That’s when I learned being vegetarian wasn’t healthy for me.

  18. Hey! This is a really great post. Very well written and thought out. I enjoyed it greatly.

    You wrote in the comments “What I want, personally, is to be a little more “orthodox” in my Paganism. I’ve considered a head covering but I don’t feel my body needs to be covered in any way.”

    I understand this. I am Pagan and cover my head with a shawl from time to time. It has nothing to do with being modest or feeling the “need” to do so. It has everything to do with the fact that when I am covering my head I feel, at least in MY case, more in-tuned with my magick and the spiritual side of me. When I am trying to get into the zone for magick working or trying to understand something on that level I tend to cover my head. It in a sense, reminds me of what I need to be reminded of and blocks out the white noise.

    Also, not to nitpick so I hope it doesn’t come off this way, but you wrote that Buddhists are vegetarians. This isn’t totally true. Tibetan Buddhists are not and there is no declaration to be vegetarian in the Buddhas teachings. Most Buddhists practice vegetarianism as a way to live out non-violence. In fact the Buddha was said to have died from eating spoiled pork and he also stated to always take gladly what is given to you (food wise)

    But, getting back to the blog post- I really think you have something here. I hope it works out well for you!

  19. In terms of diet to help the planet in specifics- going local is great, but going vegan is best and can allow you to eat a broader range of foods without worrying about much of that other stuff.

    Seventy percent of the leveled rain forest in the Amazon is used to raise animals for meat consumption. According to the United Nations, raising animals for food generates more greenhouse-gas emissions than all the cars, planes, ships, trucks, and trains in the world combined.

    Knowing I can help the planet by skipping the meats, means I can be ok with eating other things, like veggies that arent necessarily local. Since that has the biggest impact on the planet, I think Mama Earth will let me go with other things that are less harmful to both me and her.

  20. I really hate the “word diet” When it comes to weight loss I feel it is a mindset. For me I lost 110 lbs not going by a diet or paying money for programs. I simply cut out all sodas, all fried foods, all fast foods, red meat, White bread but had whole grain instead. Lots of water! I walked every day( i started with two blocks and each day went further and now up to 3 hour walks) Juices you have to watch sugar and Sports Water drinks. Wheat pasta not white, Red sauce not white. and when i craved sweets I did allow myself a common sense piece of cake or pie. You can do it if you really want to :) and if you eat fried food its ok, just be smart about your intake but do not keep on eating it. If craving soda one cup is fine too just not every day

  21. I find it very difficult to shop in the grocery store. I do my best to not get very much processed stuff, and organic in the grocery is outrageous!When I can I grow my own or visit the local farmers market. I also order from local growers with green houses for year round fresh stuff. But restrictions? Nah, but making the best efforts we can will always be helpful. Ive never been very big to begin with, but for my heart health, I cut out fastfood, chips, sodas and snack cakes, and I lost weight. So, side bonus. Not eating at all at least an hour before bed is helpful as well.

  22. Thelemic WavesMay 16, 2011 @ 2:33 pm

    I break so many food and health rules it’s just funny.

    Seen my picture lately? http://i45.photobucket.com/albums/f51/Baccus93/MySpace/MyFortune.jpg

    Doctor says I’m in perfect health – I personally feel I could use ten pounds and that will happen when I quit smoking (always does). It’s not about what you eat and how much you exercise, it’s about what genetics gave you and how willing you are to live with that (for example, native Americans should not eat bread, they should eat fish and corn and meat as they like it – their bodies do not handle wheat). Plus, there’s only so much difference you can make against your families body shapes. You were born with a shape, love that shape and not the shape they sell you at the malls.

    Eat to live, not “Live to eat.” But then again, maybe that’s wrong.

  23. Thelemic WavesMay 16, 2011 @ 2:34 pm

    “The word of Sin is Restriction.”

  24. Cathleen WallaceMay 16, 2011 @ 2:36 pm

    Let’s see Paganism is going back to a time when we ate what was available, took only what was needed, and offered a portion to the Gods. All things were done with respect to the land, the sea and all the living things on the planet. So growing what you can and shopping locally when possible is good.

  25. As a kitchen witch – the only rule I have about food is that you make it with love, fill it with good intentions and serve and eat it with much appreciation and gratitude. I try to use the best ingredients we can afford and grow what I can

  26. When you cover your head, it has the effect of drawing in and protecting your energy body. If you are working through issues with obesity, and changing diet, it may feel good to you to cover your head. I think that’s one of the reasons we use hoods on robes, in fact. But I don’t think we can look at that as a requirement or telling the world “I’m Pagan” or adopt that as some sort of universal symbol. Likewise, I don’t think we can introduce Pagan food “rules” because then we introduce (a) the concept of a Diety who gets pissed off because we’re eating a certain thing; and that divorces us further from the Diety *within*; and then we introduce food guilt or food “sin,” and that is absolutely useless.

    It’s useless even in terms of our own personal diet. Structure and discipline are necessary but won’t work if done with the attitude of “this is wrong,” “this is bad,” “shame on me/you/us.” Nothing good ever comes out of a sense of shame or guilt, and more often than not, that is what food rules impose.

    I buy local whenever I can, non-pesticide/non-herbicide when I can, organic rarely (not available much locally, too costly otherwise). I do it not out of a sense of guilt, but because it brings such joy to know I am eat delicious food that is helping and healing me, my husband, the people growing it, and the Earth.

    • FYI, not all pagans subscribe to the “deity within” line of thinking (which is relatively new compared to animism/polytheism). Plenty of us (especially Recon types) believe in deities external to us, who in fact may have something to say about what we do and how we do it (although not usually in the same antagonistic tone as the Christian god tends to use). While it may not be a sin in the Christian sense, it certainly doesn’t bring me any closer to my gods to destroy things they hold sacred in order to satisfy my eating whims.

      I don’t think there can be universal rules, because even within any one pagan tradition there are a hundred subsets with their own values (a devotee of Dionysos will have different personal rules than one of Athene), but I definitely do think that each individual pagan should be considering how every aspect of their daily lives ties in with their spiritual beliefs.

  27. Willow WindcallerMay 16, 2011 @ 5:47 pm

    Sorry but one of the various reasons I’m Pagan is that there ISN’T a religious hierarchy telling me what to do. I follow my beliefs my way (which happens to include organics & local whenever possible). If we start dictating what/how you have to eat to be Pagan, how long before we start dictating other things about practicing our faiths? i.e. how long before we become just like “organized” religions?

  28. I’m a Gardanian Wiccan with lots of food allergies. Vegetarianism is out of the question as legumes send me into shock. My list of allergies that do likewise takes up a full double-spaced one to a line page. I would like to eat more organically, but on my budget it just isn’t possible. Eating things that I’m not allergic , AND that I can afford, is as low-harm as I can get. I still agree with you in principle though.♥

  29. With today’s ecanomy, sometimes natural and organic is isn’t always more cost efficient. I shop at walmart to get the job done quickly and because of the low cost. Preparing most of my food, and my kids’ food is pretty much the best I can offer them and myself when there is so little money to work with and even less time. Throwing together a quick and nutritious meal for them gives me more time to spend with them playing or doing homework and less time agonizing over every little grain of rice. Or hunk of beef. Or avocado. Plus maybe cows didn’t evolve to eat corn, but humans evolved to be aware of others’ cultures and if I raise my kids feeding them what can only be grown locally, they would miss out on so much.

  30. As I develop and grow as a Pagan, I find myself eating more and more seasonally and locally. I even have lettuces and other food plants growing on my urban balcony. I try to buy local and/or organic when I can and I aim for unprocessed food whenever possible. We’re not perfect, either, but we’re aiming for something better than a typical American diet. Thanks for this post.

  31. No restrictions! On anything! :-)

    However, I do try to include organic foods, buy from local farmers, make slow food instead of eating fast food.

  32. The big food restriction I did a couple of years ago was to quit eating factory farmed meat and switch to only grass fed or pastured meat.

    I’ve tried to be vegetarian before and that was TOO restrictive. Besides, I don’t believe killing animals for food is inherently evil. I think it’s more important for an animal to have a happy, comfortable life, even if it ends up being eaten. I do think it’s important to honor the spirits of the animals I eat (taking a cue from the Native Americans here).

    So I started only buying meat from grass fed cattle, free range chickens, and feral hogs, and have not gone back. It’s more expensive, so I compensate by eating less meat overall and incorporating more vegetarian meals. Meat has become more of a “special occassion” thing for me (like at holiday feasts), or something added in small quantities and stretched with a lot of vegetables (like in stir fries and casseroles), rather than something eaten in large quantities at every meal.

    I try to buy the meat in bulk and store in my chest freezer to save money. I bought a side of beef last summer and still have more than half of it left.

    I’m also spoiled now because it this meat TASTES so much better than factory farmed meat. Corn-fed meat seems so bland and tasteless now that I don’t even want it.

    Eating grass fed meat also gets rid of some of the environmental problems associated with the usual way of raising meat. I live in an area that used to be grazed by buffalo. Having it grazed by cattle is the next-most-natural thing, while feeding cows corn is bad for the cows, bad for the humans who eat the cows, and bad for the Earth.

    Other than that, I do have my own vegetable garden which is supplemented by a CSA subscription, but I can’t really afford to buy only organic food at the grocery store. Maybe some day. One step at a time. The meat was just the most important thing to me, so that was the first thing I changed.

  33. hey your all very aware of what yuo ingest me im thakful for what is offered an and alway eat what you take but then i live on an old boat pnw and live a humble happy life im 62 and food is far away i know sea food alergies i make do pas the bowl please by

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