Food and Faith in Christian Culture

Food and Faith in Christian Culture

Ken Albala
Trudy Eden
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    Food and Faith in Christian Culture
    Book Description:

    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. Featuring never-before published essays, this anthology follows the intersection of food and faith from the fourteenth to the twenty-first century, charting the complex relationship among religious eating habits and politics, culture, and social structure.

    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 function of diet in Greek Orthodoxy, American Christian weight loss programs, and the practice of silent eating rituals among English Benedictine monks. Two introductory essays detail the key themes tying these essays together and survey food's role in developing and disseminating the teachings of Christianity, not to mention providing a tangible experience of faith.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-52079-9
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
    (pp. 1-6)
    Trudy Eden

    For many people, the phrase the lord’s supper may bring forth an image of the Last Supper (such as fifteenth-century mural by Leonardo da Vinci), with Jesus sitting at the center of a dining table and his twelve disciples seated on either side of him. The men are about to share a meal. This images evokes the powerful story of the last hours of Christ’s life, depicting the first Eucharist and contrasting the commensal solidarity of those seated at the table with the impending betrayal by one among the group, Judas Isacariot. Betrayal and the love and forgiveness with which...

  4. PRELUDE Historical Background to Food and Christianity
    (pp. 7-20)
    Ken Albala

    Most of the world’s major religions have adopted, if not an explicit code of food taboos, then a conscious attitude toward modes of eating and rituals surrounding consumption and prescribed forms of sacrifice. We find complex rules of kashrut at the core of Judaic worship, veneration of the cow among Hindus, set periods of fasting and forbidden foods among Muslims, and vegetarianism among devout Buddhists. Food prohibitions and celebrations serve many functions: to distinguish believers within defined communities and to cement their social bonds through common ritualized practice, to purify the body and soul through abstinence, or simply to offer...

  5. CHAPTER 1 The Urban Influence: Shopping and Consumption at the Florentine Monastery of Santa Trinità in the Mid-Fourteenth Century
    (pp. 21-40)
    Salvatore D. S. Musumeci

    The monks of Santa Trinità, in their monastery on the banks of the Arno River in Florence, Italy, participated fully in the universal religious lifestyle of late fourteenth-century monasticism, as dictated by the Rule of Saint Benedict.¹ Santa Trinità, however, had all the benefits of an urban economy and marketplace availability, and its inhabitants took full advantage of this. In theory Santa Trinità’s diet was suited to a life of prayer, penitence, and preparation for the afterlife.² The Vallombrosans, one of Italy’s many traditional religious orders, were dedicated to the Rule and a strict spiritual lifestyle that renounced bodily pleasures,...

  6. CHAPTER 2 The Ideology of Fasting in the Reformation Era
    (pp. 41-58)
    Ken Albala

    On a chilly morning in March 1522, in the city of Zurich, the printer Christoph Froschauer sat down with his workers and shared a plate of sausages, in open defiance of the Roman Catholic Church, which forbade the consumption of meat during Lent. Froschauer and his men were dragged before the civil magistrates, where he entered his official plea of not guilty on the grounds that he had a heavy load of printing jobs waiting and his men needed the extra sustenance. Such meals were not unheard of during Lent, and normally for a small fee one could purchase a...

  7. CHAPTER 3 “The Food Police”: Sumptuary Prohibitions on Food in the Reformation
    (pp. 59-82)
    Johanna B. Moyer

    In 1577 the French nobleman François de L’Alouette complained that “sumptuary laws, so well received in the past, are now-a-days held in such great contempt. . . . If these [laws] were well-kept, [the authorities] would not be searching taverns and cabarets for delicious morsels, the people would not ruin themselves on superfluities and great quantities of foods; feasts and banquets would not be so frequent; and the policing of food . . . would not be so difficult to enforce.”¹ While L’Alouette was concerned that the legal codes regulating the quantity and type of food French men and women...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Dirty Things: Bread, Maize, Women, and Christian Identity in Sixteenth-Century America
    (pp. 83-104)
    Heather Martel

    According to the sixteenth-century Milanese adventurer Girolamo Benzoni, the indigenous people of New Spain ate “dirty things.”¹ In his recollection the women who prepared the bread did “not care if any hairs fall into it, or even some lice.”² In order to make wine from maize, the women would “put it into their mouths and gradually chew it” and then “almost cough it out” into the pots where it would ferment.³ While this practice of making maize wine was widely reported by other chroniclers of the region, and others expressed distaste at the use of saliva in the process, Benzoni’s...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Enlightened Fasting: Religious Conviction, Scientific Inquiry, and Medical Knowledge in Early Modern France
    (pp. 105-124)
    Sydney Watts

    In 1698 the archbishop of Rouen received news of highly irregular activity at the Benedictine abbey in Le Tréport on the channel coast of northern France. Members of the monastic order had offered “the forbidden flesh” during Lent with the claim that it was a proper food for the holy fast. According to the parish priest who exposed the sinful behavior, the animal in question (a puffin) was in keeping with the dietary laws of the Catholic Church. Not only was this species truly fatty, but its natural habitat was as much terrestrial as aquatic, its feathery features more avicular...

  10. CHAPTER 6 The Sanctity of Bread: Missionaries and the Promotion of Wheat Growing Among the New Zealand Maori
    (pp. 125-146)
    Hazel Petrie

    At the beginning of the world, says the book of Genesis, God told man to “be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth,” adding that He had given “every herb yielding seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree in which is every fruit of a tree yielding seed” to be “meat” for humankind.¹ But, for Christians, one seed, not known in all parts of the earth, would assume much greater importance than others. That seed was wheat, and its introduction into New Zealand’s indigenous Maori society—largely for secular reasons—would be accompanied by...

  11. CHAPTER 7 Commensality and Love Feast: The Agape Meal in the Late Nineteenth- and Early Twentieth-Century Brethren in Christ Church
    (pp. 147-170)
    Heidi Oberholtzer Lee

    From its salted pickles to its red beets and snitz pie, the love feast, or agape, of the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Brethren in Christ Church represented for this religious community a central moment and site of pious practice, sacred eating, theological wrangling, and evangelization by gastronomy. The love feast had been a characteristic and distinctive practice of the church from its emergence in 1780 among the rural German-speaking population of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.¹ It continued in popularity and practice through the nineteenth century and still exists in many Brethren in Christ congregations today. Other now extinct denominations, such...

  12. CHAPTER 8 Metaphysics and Meatless Meals: Why Food Mattered When the Mind Was Everything
    (pp. 171-188)
    Trudy Eden

    In the United States in the latter half of the nineteenth century, a number of Protestant sects arose that had deep roots in mysticism and the hermetic tradition and shallower roots in the thoughts and practices of Emanuel Swedenborg and spiritualism. Although these sects varied significantly, they gathered under the general term New Thought. They believed in a united universe in which the Spirit, or Mind, constituted the complete reality of human existence. This Spirit was omnipresent and good. To adherents of New Thought, the body—and the evil, pain, suffering, illness, and mortality connected with it—were really only...

  13. CHAPTER 9 Fasting and Food Habits in the Eastern Orthodox Church
    (pp. 189-204)
    Antonia-Leda Matalas, Eleni Tourlouki and Chrystalleni Lazarou

    This chapter examines fasting and the influence of Greek Orthodoxy on food habits from three perspectives: from literature and the literary, from information gleaned from account books of the nineteenth century reflecting ordinary and elite habits, and finally from an examination of the so-called Mediterranean diet as practiced in the mid twentieth century. Concluding remarks consider the impact these traditions may have had on present dietary patterns.

    The following passage has been paraphrased from the Greek novel The Two Loves by Theotokis (1873–1923) and illustrates the importance of voluntary fasting as a special form of devotion in the Orthodox...

  14. CHAPTER 10 Divine Dieting: A Cultural Analysis of Christian Weight Loss Programs
    (pp. 205-220)
    Samantha Kwan and Christine Sheikh

    Over half a century ago, in 1957, Presbyterian minister Charlie Shedd introduced his book Pray Your Weight Away. In it he attributed overweight/obesity to personality flaws in people with these body types including, as he stated in an interview with Patsi Farmer, “a guilt complex[,] inferiority complex, resentment toward the world in general, hatred for one person or group of persons, escapism or just plain loneliness.”¹ Shedd’s solution to this web of pathology was a regimen of exercises, set to the rhythm of verses from Psalms and Proverbs, coupled with acknowledgment of how inner spiritual turmoil becomes externally manifest in...

  15. CHAPTER 11 Eating in Silence in an English Benedictine Monastery
    (pp. 221-238)
    Richard D. G. Irvine

    Benedictine communities are shaped by a timetable of shared prayer, work, and eating. This chapter explores the role of meals within that timetable and examines the relationship between food and monastic life in Downside Abbey, a contemporary Catholic English Benedictine monastery.

    Over tea one spring afternoon, a monk spoke of a letter he had received from a man asking to stay in the monastery through Lent so that he could experience the rigors of severe fasting. “I hate that kind of thing. I wrote back and told him that if he was interested in fasting, he probably wouldn’t find much...

    (pp. 239-252)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 253-266)