Friday, September 28, 2012

Thoughts from Beyond the Zion Curtain

Part of my training as a Registered Dietitian was to learn about different cultural/ethnic/religious food practices.  When I was an intern this involved a whirlwind tour through a variety of neighborhoods in Chicago ("Look, a Caribbean grocer, now back on the bus!"), and in practice I have found that sometimes a person just needs to live in a different county to have developed different food habits.  Since this part of our trip has taken us through Utah and now Idaho I have been thinking a lot about the dietary/lifestyle habits of those who are part of the Mormon religion.  Or, as a friend who grew up Mormon calls it, those who live "Beyond the Zion Curtain."

The assumptions that I had made from what I heard on the news was that Mormons didn't smoke/chew tobacco, consume alcohol, or consume caffeine.  Since my boyfriend and I haven't had any trouble finding decent iced tea or (for him) diet soda while traveling through hear, I decided to do a little digging like a Skeptic should.

Turns out that one of the things I was mistaken about was the caffeine.  Apparently the Mormon Word of Wisdom forbids "hot drinks" which apparently word-of-mouth somehow translated as "no caffeine" but it just means--"no hot drinks like tea and coffee as these were the only hot drinks known to the settlers in 1831."  As a matter of fact, within the past few weeks the Mormon church has actually released a statement clarifying the church's position on caffeine.  So even though they are not saying cola drinks are healthy, they are not forbidden. 

So other hot drinks like hot chocolate and hot cider are apparently OK because they weren't known in 1831 by the Mormon settlers, and herbal tea is OK because "the Lord" allows for use of herbs, and chocolate is OK in general even though it contains caffeine.  Confused yet?  I am too, probably because these laws are not based on evidence.

Take home message--never assume someone's cultural food practices; always ask and do research yourself.  And always be skeptical of dietary advice based on the dictates of a few people without evidence to back it up.

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