Food taboo and food preference among the rural and urban lactating mothers of Paschim Medinipur district of West Bengal


  • Shreyosi Mitra Department of Anthropology, Vivekananda College for Women, Kolkata, West Bengal, India



Food taboo, Lactation, Caste, Tribe


Background: Food taboo is a prohibition against consuming certain foods and food preference refers to the way in which people choose from among available comestibles on the basis of biological or economic perceptions including taste, value, purity, ease or difficulty of preparation, and the availability of fuel and other preparation tools.  This cultural practice can be studied from different theoretical perspectives.

Methods: For the present study total number of 948 [Hindu rural caste (347), Hindu urban caste (356), Lodha (245) rural areas] lactating mothers were chosen for collecting data regarding their socio-demographic features and the cultural practices (food taboo and food preferences during the period of lactation) followed by them. Both interview and case study method was applied for collecting data. SPSS 16.0 was used to entry and analyse the data.

Results: Reveals that hindu caste rural participants showed significantly higher preference for certain food items compared to their urban counterpart and the Lodha participants. Significantly, more number of HCR participants showed preference towards certain food items during lactation to improve the quality of breast milk. Result also shows that there were significant differences across hindu caste rural than their urban counterpart and the Lodha participants with respect to all the variables related to food taboo.

Conclusions: Cultural practices have influenced the health behaviour like breastfeeding practices of the lactating mothers.


Harris M. Good to eat- Riddles of food and culture. New York, Simonand Schuster; 1985.

Erickson PA, Murphy LD, eds. Readings for a history of anthropological theory. University of Toronto Press; 2013.

Douglas M. Purity and danger: an analysis of concepts of pollution and taboo. London, UK: Routledge and Kegan Paul; 1966.

Sahlins M. Culture and practical reason. University of Chicago Press; 2013.

Jaffé WG. Selection and acceptability of food. Arch Latinoam Nutr. 1976;26:381-400.

Manderson A, Megan Mathews B. Vietnamese behavioral and dietary precautions during pregnancy. Ecol Food Nutr. 1981;11:1-8.

Odebiyi AI. Food taboos in maternal and child health: the views of traditional healers in Ife-Ife, Nigeria. Soc Sci Med. 1989;28:985-96.

Trigo M, Roncada MJ, Stewien GT, Pereira IM. Food taboos in the northern region of Brazil. Rev Saude Publica 1989;23:455-64.

Kapil U, Sood AK, Gaur DR. Nutritional beliefs among Anganwadi workers. Ind Pediatr. 1992;29:67-71.

Begossi A. Food taboos at Buzios Island (Brazil): their significance and relation to folk medicine. J Ethnobiol. 1992;12:117-39.

Poh BK, Wong YP, Karim NA. Postpartum dietary intakes and food taboos among Chinese women attending maternal and child health clinics and maternity hospital, Kuala Lumpur. Malay J Nutr. 2005;11(1):1-21.

Santos-Torres MI, Vasquez-Garibay E. Food taboos among nursing mothers of Mexico. J Health Popul Nutr. 2003;21:142-9.

Bandyopadhyay M. Impact of ritual pollution on lactation and breastfeeding practices in rural West Bengal, India. Int Breastfed J. 2009;4:2.

Mudiraj GN. Spatial differentiation of castes: analysis of a regional pattern. Man India. 1973;33(1):13-8.

Katona-Apte J. The relevance of nourishment to the reproductive cycle of the female in India. Physiol Morphol Adapt Evol. 2011:363.

Manderson L. Roasting, smoking and dieting in response to birth: Malay confinement in cross-cultural perspective. Soc Sci Med. 1981;15(4):509-20.

Thompson C. The power to pollute and the power to preserve: perceptions of female power in a Hindu village. Soc Sci Med. 1985;21(6):701-11.

Reissland N, Burghart R. The quality of a mother’s milk and the health of her child: Beliefs and practices of the women of Mithila. Soc Sci Med. 1988;27(5):461-9.

Piasecki AM, Alexandra M. Maternal nutrition practices and perceptions in Bihar, India, 2013. Available at: Accessed on 24 December 2014.

Catherin N, Rock B, Roger V, Ankita C, Ashish G, Delwin P, et al. Beliefs and practices regarding nutrition during pregnancy and lactation in a rural area in Karnataka, India: a qualitative study. Int J Community Med Public Health. 2015;2(5):116-20.

Banu KK, Prathipa A, Anandarajan B, Sheriff AM, Muthukumar S, Selvakumar J. Food taboos during antenatal and postpartum period among the women of rural and urban areas of Tamil Nadu. Int J Biomed. 2016;7(8):393-6.

Patil R, Mittal A, Vedapriya DR, Khan MI, Raghavia M. Taboos and misconceptions about food during pregnancy among rural population of Pondicherry. Calicut Med J. 2010;8:4-9.

Ali U, Azim H. Taboos and Beliefs among Pregnant & Lactating Women. Saudi J Life Sci. 2016;1(April-June):70-1.

Doi T. The anatomy of dependence. Kodansha International, Tokyo; 2001.

Toennies F. Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft. In: Parsons T, Shils E, Maegele KD, eds. Theories of Society: Theories of Society: Foundations of Modern Sociological Theory. Free Press; 1961:191-210.

Kluckholn F, Strodtbeck FL. Variations in Value Orientations. New York, Harper and Row; 1961.

Mechanic D. Response factors in illness: the study of illness behavior. Soc Psychiatr.1966;1:11-20.

Hartog J, Hartog EA. Cultural aspects of health and illness behavior in hospitals. West J Med. 1983;139(6):910.

Kominiarek AM, Rajan P. Nutrition recommendations in pregnancy and lactation. Med Clin North Am. 2016;100:1199-215.

Pendse V, Giri I. pregnancy care practices in rural Rajasthan. J Fam Welfare. 1989;35:53-75.

Surekha R. Assessment of infant feeding practices, cost and attitude of mothers towards infant feeding in Hyderabad city. Andhra Pradesh Agricultural University. 1994.

Lakshmi G. Beliefs and practices about food during pregnancy among Savara and Jataputribes. Arch Pharm Bio Sci. 2013;1:21-5.

Sundararaj R, Pereira SM. Dietary intakes and food taboos of lactating women in a South Indian community. Trop Geogr Med. 1975;27:189-93.

Fernandez EL, Guthrie GM. Belief systems and breast feeding among Filipino urban poor. Soc Sci Med. 1984;19:991-5.

Fishman C, Evans R, Jenks E. Warm bodies, cool milk: conflicts in postpartum food choice for Indochinese women in California. Soc Sci Med. 1988;26:1125-32.

Ludman EK, Kang KJ, Lynn LL. Food beliefs and diets of pregnant Korean-American women. J Am Diet Assoc. 1992;92:1519-20.

Harrison GG, Zaghloul SS, Galal OM, Gabr A. Breastfeeding and weaning in a poor urban neighborhood in Cairo, Egypt: maternal beliefs and perceptions. Soc Sci Med. 1993;36:1063-9.

Castro R. The logic of a traditional health belief: solar eclipse and pregnancy in Ocuituco, México. Salud Pública Méx. 1995;37:329.

Gittelsohn J, Thapa M, Landman LT. Cultural factors, caloric intake and micronutrient sufficiency in rural Nepali households. Soc Sci Med. 1997;44:1739-49.

Mahmood S, Atif MF, Mujeeb SSA, Bano N, Mubasher H. Assessment of nutritional beliefs and practices in pregnant and lactating mothers in an urban and rural area of Pakistan. J Pak Med Assoc. 1997;47:60-2.

Santos-Torres MI, Vásquez-Garibay E. Food taboos among nursing mothers of Mexico. J Health Popul Nutr. 2003:142-9.

Banerjee M, Kumar H. Analyzing traditional birthing practices. In: Banerjee M, Kumar H, eds. A Report Submitted to WHO India. Issued 22. New Delhi: New Delhi Experiences; 2006.

Ramakrishnan U, Lowe A, Vir S. Public health interventions, barriers, and opportunities for improving maternal nutrition in India. Food Nutr Bull. 2012;33:71-92.

Shomya S. Taboos in food practices during pre and post-natal period: a comparative study between tribal and non-tribal women in Odisha. National Institute of Technology, Rourkela. 2015.




How to Cite

Mitra, S. (2024). Food taboo and food preference among the rural and urban lactating mothers of Paschim Medinipur district of West Bengal. International Journal Of Community Medicine And Public Health, 11(2), 807–814.



Original Research Articles