in Collapse, Jared Diamond discusses reasons for the extinction of various societies. The Greenlanders, descendants of Eric the Red, lived next to abundant species of fish, yet the archeological remans show almost a complete absence of fish bones. The Greenlanders, evidently, had a cultural taboo against eating fish, although their Inuit neighbors used fish as a mainstay of their diet and survived with no problem.
In an essay in the New Yorker, Elizabeth Kolbert wrote about some of the food taboos of various cultures. Some may be familiar. Jews don’t eat pork and shellfish. They are also forbidden to eat reptiles, amphibians, and most insects, although, evidently, some species of kosher locusts are allowed.
Islam divides food in halal and haram. Haram includes pork, dog, cat, and monkey. Hindus don’t eat beef. The Moru of South Sudan allow only children and old people to eat chicken and eggs. The Yazidis, who have been in the news lately because of ISIS repression, don’t allow lettuce. Jains don’t eat onions.
If you think those restrictions are strange, and I do, consider the last time you saw horse meat on any menu, although I understand you can eat horse in France. When I lived in California, the legislature passed a law making it illegal to eat cat, which, I believe, was directed at a racist idea that Vietnamese were eating cat meat.
It seems to me there are only three reasons to forbid certain kinds of food. First, I don’t think we should ever eat an endangered species. Second, I don’t think we should eat any food that is a result of obvious cruelty. That eliminates veal and most pork. (Before you eat pork, know how the hogs were raised.) Also eliminate lobsters that are boiled alive.
Finally, there are occasions when a food causes us health problems. Try to buy locally grown chickens to avoid salmonella. Wash your lettuce thoroughly. And if you live in Guinea, do not eat bat soup. There’s a good chance you might contact Ebola, which is why bat soup has been banned in that country.