Jews don’t do swine. Or molluscs, or reptiles, or blood pudding if they’re keeping kosher. The halal rules of Islam agree with all that. Much of India is vegetarian, including the Jains who won’t eat allium varieties either. Many Chinese people are suspicious of uncooked food. North Americans by-and-large are squeamish on guinea pigs, insects, dogs and horses, which are important protien sources on other continents, even delicacies. Britian has a lot of vegans, who are often eating politically as much as spiritually. As a child in Newfoundland I loved stewed seal and onions on toast, but I expect that those vegans would be pretty unimpressed. Seaweed grows all over the island’s shores, but Newfoundlanders would never eat the stuff, and no doubt the Japanese wonder what our problem is. One of the world’s most widespread (if not most strictly-observed) prohibitions is on alcohol, and although I can’t imagine dining without it, I can see the logic in restricting it, too. What I don’t understand is why there aren’t more taboos about fungi, a alien-looking non-plant that lives off the dead and might kill you, too. After all, the world’s most widely-held food prohibition is about eating ourselves; except under great stress, we don’t do that.
Throughout the world are scattered people who abstain from gluten-bearing cereals for medical reasons. If they were all together on an island in the ocean, and if they stayed there long enough, they would develop traditions and festivals and food rituals and classic meals recognizable as from that island and no where else. Gastro-tourists would come and go and write blog posts about their exotic dining experiences. The island would export cookery celebrities and spawn restaurants in Queens. Now, this is all silly fantasy and conjecture, not to be taken seriously. But a food taboo established for medical reasons seems just as reasonable (and I think a lot more rational) than one established to please the deity or because we’re sentimental about Fluffy or because our neighbours don’t eat that stuff and grandma never cooked it. And consider how those all those aformentioned peoples get by just fine without eating the offending food, even when it’s all around them. Sure, there are practical problems, any of the those groups could give you a list, but I’m talking about attitude. I think asking a Jain how he or she lives without meat would be as foolish as it would be boorish. The world is full of people who will not eat any gluten today, not because it upsets their tummies or gives them hives, but because it just isn’t on the menu, not at the market, not in the cupboard. A Thai man with a bowl of fish curry and rice isn’t missing gluten, he’s having lunch. And it’s probably pretty tasty.