The Rapidian

Ethics and Religion Talk - Dietary Restrictions

Traci asks, “Could you discuss any dietary restrictions your religions may have including alcohol?”

What is Ethics and Religion Talk?

“Ethics and Religion Talk,” answers questions of ethics or religion from a multi-faith perspective. Each post contains three or four responses to a reader question from a panel of nine diverse clergy from different religious perspectives, all based in the Grand Rapids area. It is the only column of its kind. No other news site, religious or otherwise, publishes a similar column.

The first five years of columns, published in the Grand Rapids Press and MLive, are archived at More recent columns can be found on by searching for the tag “ethics and religion talk.”

We’d love to hear about the ordinary ethical questions that come up on the course of your day as well as any questions of religion that you’ve wondered about. Tell us how you resolved an ethical dilemma and see how members of the Ethics and Religion Talk panel would have handled the same situation. Please send your questions to [email protected].

Linda Knieriemen, Senior Pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Holland, responds:

“Wine was a staple beverage in the ancient world. Jesus consumed wine, in fact at the wedding of Cana turned water into wine! If Christians want to live like Jesus, they should enjoy their Cabernets and Chardonnays! But there are also warnings about excess consumption of alcoholic beverages in the pages of the Bible, so thoughtful consideration is prudent and has been plentiful.

“In the PC(USA) there are no dietary restrictions, neither is alcohol prohibited. My congregation opens its doors to 12-step recovery group meetings for the community so the life altering effects of alcohol addiction are an omnipresent reality. Out of respect for those who choose to not consume alcohol we maintain an alcohol-free building. Similarly, out of respect for potential addictiveness, the Presbyterian Church requires that if a congregation serves wine for the Sacrament of Communion that we always provide the option of a non-fermented grapejuice. My congregation has long kept it simple by only serving Welch’s grape juice. (Welch’s is not specified, but it tastes the best of all the option!)

“Dr. Welch, by the way was a physician, dentist and Methodist minister in New Jersey in the  At the time, Methodists were strongly opposed to the consumption of alcohol which made the use of wine for communion problematic. Dr. Welch experimented and using the then new technique of pasteurization succeeded 1869 to preserve the juice of the grape without its fermenting. It wasn’t until the rise of the temperance movement more than 20 years later that the beverage took off both for residential and church use.

“I’d summarize our position on alcohol this way: 

  • respect abstinence; 
  • drink in moderation; 
  • provide alternatives.”

Dr Sahibzada, the Director of Islamic Center and Imam of the Mosque of Grand Rapids, responds:

“God is Creator of all things. Therefore, he also guides about the discipline of life. Food requirements are also regulated by God Himself in His words. Two terms are used in Islam for lawful and unlawful (halal & haram) food.

“Muslims will eat only permitted lawful food and will not eat or drink anything that is considered unlawful. Lawful food requires that God’s name is invoked at the time an animal is killed. Lamb, beef, goat, and chicken are lawful as long as they are killed by a believer invoking name of God.

“Following are some items which are unlawful and forbidden to be consumed:

Intoxicants, carrion, blood, pork, animal dedicated to other than God, prohibited methods of slaughtering: an animal whose meat is lawful must be slaughtered applying Islamic methodology by invoking name of God.”

Fred Stella, the Pracharak (Outreach Minister) for the West Michigan Hindu Temple, responds:

“There are no absolute hard and fast rules on diet in most of Hinduism. As with many religions, there is a spectrum of observance, and individuals may place themselves anywhere within it. The only thing that is pretty much universal is refraining from eating beef. I’ve never met a practicing Hindu who does. But consumption of fish, fowl, goat and lamb is not unpopular. Vegetarianism is considered the ideal, but many do not meet that high standard. There are some denominations where a plant-based diet is required for membership, but for the most part personal choice is honored.

“There are also those who follow an Ayurvedic diet, which encourages the intake of certain foods and avoidance of others depending on one’s constitution and body type. Ayurveda is the ancient science of healing within Hindu Dharma.”

Father Kevin Niehoff, O.P., a Dominican priest who serves as Adjutant Judicial Vicar, Diocese of Grand Rapids, responds:

“In the Roman Catholic Church, the only dietary restriction is abstinence from meat during the liturgical season of Lent. The action of not eating meat on Fridays in Lent is a spiritual discipline. From the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, ‘the norms concerning abstinence from meat are binding upon members of the Latin Catholic Church from age 14 onwards’ (”

My response:

Judaism is known for its complicated dietary laws known as kashrut, based on verses from the first five books of the Bible. To be kosher, poultry or meat must be killed by kosher slaughter, severing the carotid artery with a slicing motion with a very sharp knife. The meat must then be soaked and salted to remove the blood. Dairy products and meat products may not be cooked or eaten together, or even prepared using the same utensils. Products which are neither dairy nor meat are called parve, and can be eaten with either dairy or meat. Parve products include fish, eggs, fruits, vegetables, and grains. Many types of processed foods have a symbol on the label indicated that it contains no forbidden ingredients. In very traditional communities, open containers of grape juice and wine products may only be touched by Jews and bread must be prepared by Jews only. There are no other prohibitions on alcohol.


This column answers questions of Ethics and Religion by submitting them to a multi-faith panel of spiritual leaders in the Grand Rapids area. We’d love to hear about the ordinary ethical questions that come up in the course of your day as well as any questions of religion that you’ve wondered about. Tell us how you resolved an ethical dilemma and see how members of the Ethics and Religion Talk panel would have handled the same situation. Please send your questions to [email protected].

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