Matzah, meat, milk, and mana: Psychological influences on religio-cultural food practices

Kathryn Johnson, Andrew E. White, Brenna M. Boyd, Adam Cohen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


Religio-cultural groups endorse an astounding diversity of beliefs and rituals regarding food. The authors theorize that such practices in part originate and persist because they (a) mark in-group membership through the consumption of unique foods and the establishment of common food rituals, (b) signal status through fasting or ingesting certain foods or large quantities of food, and (c) help individuals avoid disease by promoting or prohibiting specific foods that were historically available. Moreover, the authors theorize that these sociofunctional motives are grounded in essentialist beliefs about the discreteness of biological kinds and/or beliefs about unseen spiritual essences, transmitted through food or food preparation. They consider how psychological explanations of religio-cultural food prescriptions and prohibitions may or may not map onto religious explanations. The authors also offer testable hypotheses about where and why certain food practices may originate and persist, and they hope that this analysis is the kind that provides insight into factors that may have shaped a wider range of religio-cultural beliefs and practices.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1421-1436
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Cross-Cultural Psychology
Issue number8
StatePublished - Nov 2011


  • essentialism
  • evolutionary psychology
  • food
  • religion
  • rituals

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Cultural Studies
  • Anthropology


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