Religion, Food, Eating: These (in reverse order) Are a Few of My Favorite Things

Paul Harvey

It's mid-semester, I'm on administrative overload, books and papers are piling up, my bracket is already broken, busted, and flat, and baby is in the corner hungry, desperate, crying (that's Omar the cat -- reminding me it's time for his treat); it's grim.

But what should brighten my day but the unexpected arrival of this beauty: Religion, Food, and Eating in North America, eds. Benjamin E. Zeller, Marie W. Dallam, Reid L. Neilson, and Noral L. Rubel. Merci beaucoup, Columbia University Press! (Same goes for the editors).

I've only had the chance to dip in and sample a couple of the delicacies here, but in brief: the volume is divided into four sections. One is theological foodways, featuring essays on Christian dietary abstinence, Father and Mother Divine's theologies of food, and "Christian raw foods." Next comes "Identity Foodways," with Rachel Gross writing about Jewish food in the 1950s, Derek Hicks on "Gumbo and the Complex Brew of Black REligion," our own Samira Mehta about foodways in Christian/Jewish Blended Families, and Suzanne O'Brien on "Salmon as Sacrament" in the Pacific Northwest. We then move to "Negotiated Foodways," with four more fresh essays, including one on American Buddhist "Mindful Eating." Last comes "Activist Foodways," with essays on food at Koinonia farm, a halal meat eco-food cooperative in Chicago, and contemporary vegetarianism.

Let's eat.

Here's more, from the book's website:

The way in which religious people eat reflects not only their understanding of food and religious practice but also their conception of society and their place within it. This anthology considers theological foodways, identity foodways, negotiated foodways, and activist foodways in the United States, Canada, and the Caribbean. Original essays explore the role of food and eating in defining theologies and belief structures, creating personal and collective identities, establishing and challenging boundaries and borders, and helping to negotiate issues of community, religion, race, and nationality.

Contributors consider food practices and beliefs among Christians, Jews, Muslims, and Buddhists, as well as members of new religious movements, Afro-Carribean religions, interfaith families, and individuals who consider food itself a religion. They traverse a range of geographic regions, from the Southern Appalachian Mountains to North America’s urban centers, and span historical periods from the colonial era to the present. These essays contain a variety of methodological and theoretical perspectives, emphasizing the embeddedness of food and eating practices within specific religions and the embeddedness of religion within society and culture. The volume makes an excellent resource for scholars hoping to add greater depth to their research and for instructors seeking a thematically rich, vivid, and relevant tool for the classroom.


FYI for interested readers: I'll be posting an interview this coming week with Ben Zeller, one of the book's editors.

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