Christianity

Early Christians observed Mosaic dietary laws. However, the concept of uncleanliness described in Leviticus was rejected by St. Paul and, as Christianity spread across cultural and geographical boundaries, dietary laws largely disappeared (except in the Eastern Orthodox Church). Food, rather than being a way of marking separateness, became a symbol of the communality of religious experience. The celebration of the Eucharist, or Communion, with ritual sharing of bread and wine, though it varies in form

Table 2 Worldwide adherents of all religions by six continental areas, mid-1995

Africa

Asia

Europe

Latin America

Northern America

Oceania

World

%

Number of countries

Christians

348176000

306762 000

551 892 000

448006000

249277 000

23840000

1 927 953000

33.7

260

Roman Catholics

122108000

90041 000

270677 000

402 691 000

74 243000

8265000

968025000

16.9

249

Protestants

109726000

42 836000

80000000

31 684000

123257 000

8364 000

395867 000

6.9

236

Orthodox

29645000

14 881 000

165795000

481 000

6480000

666000

217 948000

3.8

105

Anglicans

25362 000

707 000

30625000

1 153000

6819000

5864 000

70530000

1.2

158

Other Christians

61 335000

158297 000

4 795000

11 997000

38478000

681 000

275583000

4.8

118

Atheists

427 000

174174 000

40085000

2 977000

1 670000

592 000

219925000

3.8

139

Baha'is

1 851 000

3010000

93000

719000

356000

75000

6104 000

0.1

210

Buddhists

36000

320691 000

1 478000

569000

920000

200000

323894 000

5.7

92

Chinese folk religionists

12 000

224 828000

116000

66000

98000

17 000

225137 000

3.9

60

Confucians

1000

5220000

4000

2000

26000

1000

5254 000

0.1

12

Ethnic religionists

72 777 000

36579000

1 200000

1 061 000

47 000

113000

111 777 000

2.0

104

Hindus

1 535000

775252 000

1 522 000

748000

1 185000

305000

780547 000

13.7

94

Jains

58000

4 804 000

15000

4000

4000

1000

4 886000

0.1

11

Jews

163000

4 294 000

2 529000

1 098000

5942 000

91 000

14117000

0.2

134

Mandeans

0

44 000

0

0

0

0

44 000

0.0

2

Muslims

300317 000

760181 000

31 975000

1 329000

5450000

382 000

1 099634 000

19.2

184

New-Religionists

19000

118591 000

808000

913000

956000

10000

121 297 000

2.1

27

Nonreligious

2 573000

701 175000

94 330000

15551000

25050000

2 870000

841 549000

14.7

226

Parsees

1000

184 000

1000

1000

1000

1000

189000

0.0

3

Sikhs

36000

18130000

490000

8000

490000

7000

19161 000

0.3

21

Shintoists

0

2 840000

1000

1000

1000

1000

2 844 000

0.0

4

Spiritists

4000

1 100000

17 000

8768000

300000

1000

10190000

0.2

30

Other religionists

88000

98000

443000

184000

1 068000

42 000

1 923000

0.0

182

Total population

728074 000

3457 957 000

726999000

482 005000

292841 000

28549000

5716425000

100.0

262

from the austere to the elaborate, has retained an underlying significance as a meal shared by the followers of Jesus. The saying of a short prayer before and after eating, establishing a direct connection between God and good food, is also common amongst Christian groups.

Notwithstanding the general deemphasis of dietary laws, certain strictures persisted. Until 1966, Roman Catholics were required to abstain from eating meat on Fridays (since applied only to Fridays during Lent) in symbolic remembrance of the death of Christ. The historic consequence of meat avoidance on Fridays was the regular consumption of fish; fish on Fridays became identified with Roman Catholicism and sometimes fish was deliberately avoided by some other Christian sects who did not wish to be mistaken for Catholics.

In modern times, some Christian sects have established new dietary rules. Seventh Day Adventists are a Protestant sect who emphasize healthful living through eating the right foods and taking exercise and rest. Most Adventists are lacto-ovo-vegetarians. Tea, coffee, alcohol, and tobacco are also avoided. Eating between meals is discouraged on the grounds that the body needs sufficient time to assimilate what is eaten at mealtimes. The religiously inspired food practices, which emphasize cereals, fruits, vegetables, and pulses, has conferred nutritional benefits on the Seventh Day Adventists, who, as a group, have a lower prevelence of chronic diet-related diseases such as heart disease than the general population.

Like the Seventh Day Adventists, members of the Church of the Latter Day Saints (Mormons) assert the importance of eating a well-balanced diet in order to nourish the body as the temple in which the soul resides. Vegetables and herbs are emphasized while meat should be used sparingly. Tobacco, alcohol, and caffeine are avoided. A 24-h fast for those in sound health occurs once a month, and money or food saved is contributed to the welfare of the poor. The fast is a religious discipline and is not a dietary requirement.

In contrast to Western Christianity, Eastern Orthodoxy imposes substantial dietary strictures on its adherents. Dietary laws revolve around fasting. There are two 40-day fasts at Lent and Advent, two shorter summer fasts, and regular fasts on every Wednesday and Friday in the year, excepting the two preceding Ascension Day. Fasts do not require total abstinence but rather prohibit the consumption of all animal products and fish except shellfish. The avoidance of olive oil (historically stored in casks lined with calf stomach) during fast periods is a symbol of true sacrifice and devoutness.

The Great Lent fast commemorates Christ's 40-day fast in the desert and is replete with symbolism. In preparation for the resurrection feast following the fast, hard-boiled eggs are dyed red to symbolize Christ's blood. These eggs are considered to be tokens of good luck and are broken open on Easter morning, representing the opening of Christ's tomb. On Good Friday, lentil soup is eaten to symbolize the tears of the Virgin Mary; often it is flavoured with vinegar as a reminder of Christ's ordeal on the cross. The Great Lent fast is broken after a midnight service on Easter Saturday with a lamb-based soup, olives, bread, and fruit.

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