8 Indian Beliefs Around Food and What They Could Possibly Mean
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Do this, don’t do that, eat this in a certain way at a certain time; It may seem like India has a whole bunch of food related rules. While they may be called superstitions or just personal belief at times, on many occasions these beliefs are passed on from one generation to the other. Some of these beliefs even apply to specific communities. For example, while many communities in India believe that fish and dairy products such as milk and yoghurt shouldn't be eaten together, some other communities use yoghurt in the preparation of their fish curry.

Sometimes each family has their unique belief system as well. For instance in some houses pickling is considered unlucky or something that brings ill fortune while others believe pickling should only be done at a particular time of day.

While many of these food-related superstitions may seem outdated in the context of modern science and understanding, they often have historical and practical roots. They reflect a blend of health advice, religious beliefs, and cultural values that have shaped Indian society over centuries. Understanding these superstitions provides insight into the ways ancient communities tried to maintain health, hygiene, and spiritual well-being. As with any cultural tradition, it is essential to appreciate the historical context while adapting practices to contemporary knowledge and lifestyles.Here’s a look at what the logic behind some of these practices could be.

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‘Don’t Eat Leafy Vegetables In The Monsoon’

While these days many fruits and vegetables are available round the year, that was not the case earlier. A lot of attention was paid to the kind the seasonality of produce. That practice seems to be making a comeback now and for good reason. 

During the monsoon, the damp and humid conditions can lead to a higher incidence of bacterial and fungal growth on leafy vegetables, making them more susceptible to contamination. Additionally, the increased presence of insects and pests during this season can result in more insecticides and pesticides being used on these vegetables, posing health risks. That’s probably why elders advise against eating leafy vegetables in the monsoon.

‘Eat Curd And Sugar Before Starting Something New’

This is probably one the most commonly practised customs in India that is followed across communities. It is considered auspicious to eat a spoonful of curd mixed with sugar before starting something new or embarking on a journey. Curd (yoghurt) is a probiotic and helps in digestion, while sugar provides a quick source of energy. Consuming this combination before travelling might have been a way to ensure travellers had a settled stomach and sufficient energy for their journey. This combination is also given to people going for the first day of a new job or giving an exam, possibly for the same reason.

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‘Don’t Eat During an Eclipse’

It is believed that food cooked or consumed during a solar or lunar eclipse can be harmful. Ancient texts suggest that harmful radiation during an eclipse could contaminate food. Although modern science has disproved this, the superstition likely persists from a time when people lacked a comprehensive understanding of celestial events and their effects. It could also be linked to conserving energy and focusing on meditation during such significant astronomical occurrences.

‘Don’t Leaving Food Unfinished On The Plate’

Leaving food unfinished on the plate is believed to bring bad luck or disrespect the food and the effort that went into preparing it. This belief helps promote the value of food and discourages wastage. In a country where food scarcity and famine were historically common, ensuring that all food served was consumed would have been a practical measure to avoid waste and show respect for the resources and labour involved in food production. Associating wastage with bad luck was probably a way to scare people and discourage them from doing so.

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'Feed The First Roti To The Cow’

In Indian culture, the cow is revered, called Gau Ma (mother) and often associated with various religious and cultural beliefs. One such belief is the practice of offering the first morsel of food to a cow. In agrarian societies, cows provide essential resources such as milk, dung (used as fuel and fertiliser), and labour (ploughing fields). Offering the first morsel of food to a cow was possibly an expression of gratitude for these contributions, reinforcing the bond between humans and their livestock.

‘Don’t Eat Certain Foods During Religious Fasts’

Specific foods are avoided during religious fasts, such as onions, garlic, grains, and certain spices. These dietary restrictions are often linked to Ayurvedic principles, which classify foods based on their effects on the body and mind. For example, onions and garlic are considered 'tamasic' (promoting lethargy and impurity) and 'rajasic' (stimulating) and are avoided to maintain purity and promote a calm, meditative state during fasting. This aligns with the goal of spiritual cleansing and heightened mindfulness during religious observances.

‘Place a Lemon And Green Chilies At The Entrance’

Hanging a lemon and green chilies at the entrance of homes, businesses and vehicles is believed to ward off evil spirits and bad luck. This is also widely practised across regions and communities in India. This practice might have originated from Ayurvedic principles. Lemons and chilies are known for their antimicrobial properties. Hanging them at the entrance could have served the dual purpose of repelling insects and pests and providing a symbolic gesture to protect against negative energies.

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‘Don’t Spill Milk’

In Indian culture, spilling milk is often considered an ill omen or a bad sign. Milk holds a special place in Indian culture and is considered a symbol of purity, nourishment, and abundance. It is used extensively in religious rituals and offerings to deities, signifying prosperity and well-being. Historically, milk was a valuable commodity. In rural, agrarian communities, cows and buffaloes were crucial assets, and milk was a primary source of nutrition. Wasting milk by spilling it would have been considered a significant loss. This practical concern likely evolved into a superstition to emphasise the importance of conserving valuable resources.