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How Cults, Communes, and Religious Movements Influenced What We Eat ? An American History

By Christina Ward

Does God have a recipe?

“Holy Food is a titanic feat of research and a fascinating exploration of American faith and culinary rites. Christina Ward is the perfect guide – generous, wise, and ecumenical.” — Adam Chandler, author of Drive-Thru Dreams

“Holy Food doesn’t just trace the influence that preachers, gurus, and cult leaders have had on American cuisine. It offers a unique look at the ways spirituality—whether in the form of fringe cults or major religions—has shaped our culture. Christina Ward has gone spelunking into some very odd corners of American history to unearth this fascinating collection of stories and recipes.” — Jonathan Kauffmann, author of Hippie Food: How Back-to-the-Landers, Longhairs, and Revolutionaries Changed the Way We Eat

“An engaging book that shares everything from little-known facts to illuminating profiles of historical figures. Best of all, Ward shares recipes from historic religious communities, updated to reflect modern cooking technology. A must-have for food historians, religious historians, or just the curious and hungry folks in your life. ” — Dr. Julia Skinner, author of Our Fermented Lives

Independent food historian Christina Ward’s highly anticipated Holy Food explores the influence of mainstream to fringe religious beliefs on modern American food culture. Author Christina Ward unravels the numerous ways religious beliefs intersect with politics and economics and, of course, food to tell a different story of America. It’s the story of true believers and charlatans, of idealists and visionaries, and of the everyday people who followed them—often at their peril. Holy Food explains how faith pioneers used societal woes and cultural trends to create new pathways of belief and reveals the interconnectivity between sects and their leaders.

Religious beliefs have been the source of food “rules” since Pythagoras told his followers not to eat beans (they contain souls), Kosher and Halal rules forbade the shrimp cocktail (shellfish are scavengers, or maybe G-d just said “no”). A long-ago Pope forbade Catholics from eating meat on Fridays (fasting to atone for committed sins). Rules about eating are present in nearly every American belief, from high-control groups that ban everything except air to the infamous strawberry shortcake that sated visitors to the Oneida Community in the late 1800s. In America, where the freedom to worship the god of your choice and sometimes of your own making, embraced old traditions and invented new ones.

Holy Food looks at how the explosion of religious movements since the Great Awakenings (the nationwide religious revivals in the 1730s-40s and 1795-1835) birthed a cottage industry of food fads that gained mainstream acceptance. And at the obscure sects and communities of the 20th Century who dabbled in vague spirituality that used food to both entice and control followers. Ward skillfully navigates between academic studies, interviews, cookbooks, and religious texts to make sharp observations with new insights into American history in this highly readable journey through the American kitchen.

Holy Food features over 75 recipes from religious and communal groups tested and updated for modern cooks. Also includes over 100 historic black-and-white images.