The word “taboo” (also spelled “tabu”) is Polynesian and means “sacred” or “forbidden”; it has a 1)quasi-magical or religious 2)overtone. The term was introduced to 3)anthropological literature in the second half of the nineteenth century. When you dig out what is hidden behind the forbidden, we can see people deal with “taboo” for many reasons, from culture to religion.
In the field of food and nutrition, food taboos are not necessarily connected with magical-religious 4)practices, and some nutritionists prefer to speak of “food avoidance.” Food is a culturally specific concept. In general, anything can function as food if it is not immediately toxic. But what is 5)edible in one culture may not be in another. The concept of food is determined by three factors: biology, geography, and culture.
Certain plants and animals are not consumed because they are indigestible. Geography also plays a role. For example, 6)dairy products are not part of the food culture of the humid tropical regions since the geographical conditions for keeping cattle are unfavorable. Milk is often a taboo food in such cultures. Insects are not considered food in Europe and most of the United States despite attempts to introduce them in the late twentieth century. This is because there are few edible insects in regions with 7)temperate climates. In Mexico, by contrast, insects are packaged in plastic 8)sachets, cans, or jars for sale.
Meanwhile we also have permanent food taboos. For example, in Western society cats and dogs are not consumed because of the emotional relationships developed with these pets. Increasingly pets are being “humanized” in such a way that eating them is seen as an act of 9)anthropophagy or 10)cannibalism. The feeling of closeness to certain animals can also be found in the 11)savannah regions of West Africa. Certain West African 12)clans consider dogs clan animals, based on the fact that they have been beneficial to the clan in the past; as clan animals they are unfit for consumption. Hippocrates regarded dog meat favorably as a 13)light meal, but in later 14)antiquity, dogs were considered unclean and unfit to eat. This is still the case in the Mediterranean area and the Middle East. By contrast, dog meat is popular in China and the mountainous regions of the Philippines. Actually, from a nutritional point of view, dog meat is an excellent source of animal protein, and dogs do not require the 15)grazing area demanded by cattle or other large 16)ruminants.