How broadly do religious dietary edicts extend?
January 13, 2020 10:43 AM   Subscribe

To what extent do various religious (or other) prohibitions on the consumption of different animals apply to animal by-products that are not themselves food? I'm particularly interested in biogas that might be blended with utility gas used for cooking, but am interested in other cases as well.

Do prohibitions against eating pork or beef extend to the use of those animals' waste products? For example, suppose a hog farm collects manure from the pigs and produces biogas from it. Can food cooked with that biogas (either purely or blended with conventional gas) be eaten by observant members of a religion that prohibits pork? What about vegetables fertilized with manure from the animal in question?

Does it make a difference if the animal had to be killed in order to produce the biogas? For example: Would biogas from manure from a dairy herd be considered differently from biogas produced from the waste at a beef slaughterhouse?

What about gas produced from household organic wastes, where the specific content of the waste can't be easily identified?

I know some religious requirements apply just to the animal while others apply to the method of food preparation. I have to imagine the nature of the fuel used to cook a meal would be a concern only for the strictest of interpretations of various traditions, but as a non-observant person myself, I don't have a lot of resources to consult.

I recognize that I'm likely beanplating in the extreme here, but I'm trying to do so in as respectful and informed a way as possible. I'd love to hear the perspective of any observant MeFites who might have devoted any thought to this kind of question. Any links to rabbinical or other scholarly discussions of these topics would be fascinating; anything I could use to better educate myself. Also the perspective of folks with non-religious proscriptions on animal consumption or usage - would manure-derived fuel count as an animal product for you? (And what about non-food uses of the waste of prohibited animals? Can biogas from pigs be used to heat a home?)
posted by nickmark to Religion & Philosophy (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Observent Jews do not eat food that is not kosher, but there is no prohibition on other uses of non-kosher animals, including for fertilizer. Blood Meal Fertilizer; Can I wear pigskin shoes?; Picking Up Pigskin.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 10:56 AM on January 13, 2020 [2 favorites]

In Judaism, you can derive benefits from non-kosher animals: horses aren't kosher, but you can own a horse and derive a benefit from it by riding it. This apparently even extends to things like wearing leather from a non-kosher cow, or even if you really felt like it, wearing pigskin shoes

So, using biogas from pig manure or non-kosher cows should be a-ok.

This would actually get stickier for chametz; that is, stuff you can't eat during Passover, for which the rules are actually stricter compared to the normal laws of kashrut. You can feed your pet non-kosher food (as long as it's not a mix of kosher meat and dairy), but owning chametz during Passover is forbidden, and feeding your animal pet food with chametz during Passover would also be deriving a benefit.

This means that if the biogas had any stray bits of wheat, oats, barley, spelt, or rye in there that might actually cause an interesting halakhic debate about purchasing electricity produced by biogas during Passover.
posted by damayanti at 10:56 AM on January 13, 2020 [6 favorites]

It's not entirely a derail, but here in Minneapolis (hi Nick!) the HERC is busy burning pork scraps and stuff you can't eat during Passover every day and pumping that power onto the grid.
posted by advicepig at 11:36 AM on January 13, 2020 [3 favorites]

posted by advicepig

deriving a benefit, indeed.
posted by AgentRocket at 12:53 PM on January 13, 2020 [15 favorites]

Hindu Indians who consider eating beef to be a huge sin do use dried cowpats as fuel routinely, all over rural India.
posted by MiraK at 6:59 AM on January 14, 2020

There are Muslims who won't use soap that may have fat from pigs in it. Or touch anything with pigskin.
posted by bardophile at 11:49 AM on January 14, 2020

In my experience re Islam - it really depends on where you are. Part of this is that Sunni Islam itself has a bunch of different sects based on how orthodox their practice is, and those sects tend to be geographically distributed. But sometimes it gets weird.

Malaysia's conservative Muslim population tends to really go overboard with making sure literally everything is 100% halal to the point of ridiculousness. Most other Muslims tend to not care, that much, but given that JAKIM (the religious authority body) tends to enable a lot of these, it often gets way bigger than it really needs to.

My family's from Bangladesh, which already is primarily Hanafi and thus one of the more relaxed Sunni Muslim sects. (Malaysia being Shafiee is one of the more stricter ones.) I haven't necessarily seen an extreme level of halalness compared to Malaysia - if anything, I see the complete opposite. As an example, in Malaysia, Muslims owning dogs is such a taboo that people have had to go into hiding, but in Bangladesh having pet dogs is pretty common. There are ultra-conservative groups in Bangladesh of course but I don't see it as being nearly as culturally pervasive as Malaysia.

Muslims in the West seem (to me) to approach halal in ways that come off as a weird hybrid of traditional and progressive. They would not look down on people for having pet dogs or eating at non-halal establishments. But there's also a worrying tendency for orthodoxy in the name of "not being insensitive" that unwittingly throws a lot of other Muslims under the bus for not neatly conforming to surface-level standards. (For instance, people trying to claim that writing about Muslims having magical powers is offensive because Islam has a prohibition against witchcraft, forgetting that there are rich traditions of syncretism between Islam and pagan/witchcraft traditions.)

There's a book about this - it's meant to cover global halal issues but since the writers are Malaysian the content is Malaysia-heavy.
posted by divabat at 10:46 PM on January 14, 2020

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