Cultural and Religious Dietary Rules and Restrictions
By Sherri Ferris, President and CEO
Protocol Professionals, Inc.

It is always a good idea to discretely ask ahead of time if your visitors have any dietary specifications: i.e. religious restrictions, physical challenges, allergies to or dislike of certain foods. Technically it is, their obligation to provide this information to the host but don't assume they will offer the information without you inquiring.

In general, if a guest refuses an offering of food, offer it again, up to three times. In many cultures it is rude to accept food on the first or second offering.

Guests who visit the U.S. from abroad typically want American cuisine, not their own, which is probably a poor replication. Exception: Guests from the People’s Republic of China often dislike American food.

Here are some examples:

  • A guest from the Sichuan Province of the PRC, would sample many varieties of American food and promptly proclaim, “Not hot!” and pour copious amounts of Tabasco sauce on everything from hamburgers to cereal.

  • Seventh Day Adventists don't eat meat.

  • Navajo Indians don't eat fish.

  • Avoid serving guests from abroad large portions of meat, which are difficult to cut and appear gluttonous to foreigners. The one exception is serving the Japanese who covet good meat and are well known for their Kobe beef.

  • Islam - Moslems eat no pork (no ham, bacon, sausage, goats, no flesh of scavenger animals, birds or fish, lobster and crab to a lesser extent). No animal with a cloven hoof or anything that is cooked in oil from an animal, or prepared by using an animal byproduct (bacon grease, lard, pates, terrines, frankfurters). NOTHING cooked in alcohol, although alcohol is forbidden by religious law, many Moslems take exception. Saudi's are quite strict about abstaining; in fact at State dinners when a member of the royal families of Saudi Arabia or Kuwait is present, NO alcohol may be served period! Fruit juice should be served for toasts. During the month of Ramadan, Moslems may not eat, drink or smoke between sunrise and sunset.

  • Hinduism is practiced in India, Nepal and Sri Lanka. Customs vary widely so research or ask in advance. Most do not eat meat, fish or fowl, or drink alcohol.

  • Buddhism is practiced in Burma, Cambodia, Japan, Korea, Laos, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Vietnam, etc. Buddhism practiced in Southeast Asia is different from that in Northeast Asia (two sects). Since Buddhism is a personal and individualistic religion, Restrictions may be self-imposed. They abhor killing so some do not eat meat, other's don't drink alcohol. Those from India, Pakistan, & Bangladesh- are often vegetarians. Many don't eat root vegetables because it "kills living things". They would eat only those things where the mother plant is not destroyed.

  • Mormon restrictions - no caffeine nor alcohol, everything in moderation.

  • Judaism - Orthodox Jews do not eat pork or shellfish, nor do they eat certain parts of the cow. "Kosher" means, "ritually clean". Dairy and meat products should not be prepared, co-mingled or served together. Several hours must pass after the consumption of one and before the other. A kosher meal may be offered or a fresh fruit salad. Any wine offered must be from a US kosher vineyard or from Israel. This subject is an entire lecture or book in itself so we will not attempt to be all inclusive in this brief article. The important part is to ask in advance if your guests are kosher and if so, are they "strictly" kosher due to many variants. Senior level Israeli officials require another careful set of rules.

  • Japanese - welcome beef, and steak in particular. They also enjoy fresh melons because they are not indigenous to Japan.

  • The true meaning of the word "vegetarian" is no meat at all, not just red meat.
 

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