Petra Nyman
is a devoted vegetarian who occasionally enjoys
a plate full of fish or chicken.

We all eat – Duh! But what do we consider acceptable to eat? Every indivual has his or her unique likes and dislikes. In addition, our eating habits are affected by culture, religion, economic circumstances and where we live.

Or perhaps what we choose to eat goes merely in passing phases, as my grandmother still keeps telling herself about my vegetarianism. It has only been 12 years since I stopped eating meat, and no Nana, I still won’t eat even ”a little bit of ham.” We are often quick to criticise what others eat, but how do we define what is acceptable?

Certainly all cultures have delicacies that others frown upon. For example, guinea pig is considered a delicacy in Peru, but over on this side of the world we would be horrified at the very idea of eating our furry childhood friend. Another meat we could hardly think of eating is that of man’s best friend. Dog meat is traditionally eaten in Korea. But no, Koreans do not eat their pet dogs when they get hungry. Then again, who are we to judge? In this Nordic country we value reindeer meat , but I do wonder if all other cultures approve of our love for a steaming dish of Rudolf

We are often quick to
criticise what others eat,
but how do we define
what is acceptable?

When it comes to religion, things get a bit more complicated. We are not talking about matters of preference or basic ethics anymore, but the crucial part of a belief system which defines whether you are head up or down at the end of your life. Most of us are aware of the fact that beef, considered by many Finns as the most basic meat, is forbidden in Hinduism. Another widely recognised restriction is that of pork, which is a definite no-no for Muslims and Jews. Less widely known is the fact that shellfish is one of the strictly forbidden foods of the Jews as well.

How about economic circumstances, then? Not long ago I heard of a student who developed scurvy (the last cases of which were reported around a 100 years ago among sailors, due to their monotonous diet) as a result of consuming only bread, chips and beer for four months. Not the smartest idea, admittedly, but most certainly related in part to his economic situation. Or perhaps he was trying to be, er, ”cool.” I also have a friend who became a vegetarian, not merely for the ethical reasons as he would like to say, but for the mere fact that, as a student, he could not afford to buy meat.

Our geographic location certainly has its effects on our diet as well. People living near the coast are possibly more inclined to eat seafood than those living further inland. Possibly, someone from the middle of the Australian outback has never tasted such a thing as salmon, but may consider kangaroo meat a common dish. It is surely tough to try and make shark, a not uncommon ”fish” at the local fish ’n’ chip shop in New Zealand, your common dish in Finland, whereas finding a loaf of decent rye bread in Kiwiland is a mission impossible.

Petra Nyman