Food & Faith: Society, Meals, and Christianity

In December, Columbia University Press will publish Food & Faith in Christian Culture, a collection of essays edited by Ken Albala, professor of history at the University of the Pacific.

The centrality of meals in Christianity can be traced to the Passover Seder, celebrated to commemorate the events recounted in Exodus.  In the New Testament, Jesus arrives in Jerusalem for the week-long Passover festival; the Last Supper was a Passover Seder; and, ultimately, that meal became the basis for the Communion Sacrament.  Thus, food is demonstrably central to Christian narrative and 2000 years of Christian ritual and liturgy.

From these roots, Christianity and food have interacted in a variety of ways that touch upon socio-political issues, from the difference in diet between the Jewish underclass in Palestine and their Roman occupiers, early Christian agape meals, agricultural production through history, and contemporary questions regarding vegetarianism and the ethics of eating meat.  The essays in this volume explore these and a variety of related issues.

Proceed through the link to see Columbia University Press’ description of the collection.

Without a uniform dietary code, Christians around the world used food in strikingly different ways, developing widely divergent practices that spread, nurtured, and strengthened their religious beliefs and communities. These never-before published essays map the intersection of food and faith over the past five centuries, charting the complex relationship between religious eating habits and politics, social structure and culture.

Theoretically rich and full of engaging portraits, essays consider the rise of food buying and consumerism in the fourteenth century, the Reformation ideology of fasting and its resulting sanctions against sumptuous eating, the gender and racial politics of sacramental food production in colonial America, and the struggle to define “enlightened” Lenten dietary restrictions in early modern France. Essays on the nineteenth century explore the religious implications of wheat growing and breadmaking among New Zealand’s Maori population and the revival of the Agape meal, or love feast, among American brethren in Christ Church. Twentieth-century topics include the metaphysical significance of vegetarianism, the role of diet in Greek Orthodoxy, American Christian weight loss programs, and the practice of silent eating rituals among English Benedictine monks. Two essays introduce the volume, with one explaining the important themes tying all the essays together, and the other surveying food’s part in developing and disseminating the teachings of Christianity and its tangible embodiment of the experience of faith.

Should be a good read: a very unique perspective on religion and society.

—DRS, CLR Fellow

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