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Holy Food: How Cults, Communes, and Religious Movements Influenced What We Eat—An American History

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by Christina Ward
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 For a limited time we have bookplates signed by Christina Ward.

“It is the outliers in mainstream society who have outsized influence on the future,” Christina Ward notes at the beginning of this exploration of the relationship between religious movements and what Americans eat.

Sweeping across centuries and continents to provide context for movements as varied as the Puritans and the Nation of Islam, Holy Food documents the many ways people have employed food to establish identity and to separate themselves from those with different beliefs. Many of those ideas have in turn become part of mainstream American culture.

In some cases, like the Rappite Harmonists of Pennsylvania, the rules were simple and practical, focused on providing hearty, inexpensive meals for families who worked farms. For the Peoples Temple founded by Jim Jones, food was a means of attracting followers to a movement that was egalitarian and apocalyptic.

As Ward demonstrates, by no means were all relationships wacky, coercive, or deceptive. But the centrality of food to people’s lives meant that again and again–especially in a country that was inventing itself repeatedly over centuries–new ideas about religion came with new ideas about eating and drinking. 

Ward provides sample recipes published by adherents of many of the movement she cites, from a Shaker apple pie and a tangerine cabbage with onion French dressing developed by the San Francisco Zen Center’s Tassajara Retreat to Rosicrucian potassium broth and the Flying Spaghetti Monster Holy Noodles of the Pastafarians.

A fascinating exploration of the American soul and table.

Paperback. Black-and-white photos.

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