‘Holy Food’ explores American history and religion through food

by | Sep 21, 2023 | Religion

(RNS) — As a kid growing up in rural Wisconsin, writer and food historian Christina Ward attended tent revivals even though she and her family weren’t practicing Christians.“The local preacher would pick up all the farm kids and take them, kids only, so all the parents and grandparents wanted their kids to go,” she recalled. “It didn’t matter what you were actually practicing.”
While free child care may have been a highlight for those parents and grandparents, Ward and other kids found a different appeal: They’d get an ice cream sundae every time they correctly learned a Bible verse.
“I think that really started this connection for me, that, you know, religion equals food,” Ward said.
That lifelong fascination and five years of research culminate in Ward’s new book, “Holy Food: How Cults, Communes, and Religious Movements Influenced What We Eat.”
“Holy Food: How Cults, Communes, and Religious Movements Influenced What We Eat” and author Christina Ward. Courtesy images
“You start seeing a lot of different interpretations of all scripture,” Ward said about the religious and cultural landscape at the time. “A lot of times revelations have a lot to do with a food because they morph into these ideas of tribal identification and who we are, how we recognize each other.”
The book is divided into chapters that delve into the nuances of different time periods and belief systems, with recipes at the end. It features recipes from the Oneida Community, Seventh-day Adventists, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Christian mystics, Nation of Islam, The Source Family, The Satanic Temple and many more, each with their own contribution to religion and American food culture.
The recipes were tested by Ward and a small community of friends during the beginning of the pandemic. They’re kept authentic to the time with only a few modern updates; for example, instructions on making homemade tofu are omitted because tofu is much more readily available.
Ward, with a self-proclaimed sweet tooth, says she enjoyed making and eating the desserts most.
“My favorite recipe is the early German version of Trauben Pastete, which is a grape pie,” she said. “It’s done a lot in the Midwestern region, where we have fox grapes and Concord grapes, but it also comes from a western New York tradition. Very good for fall.” The recipe is from the Amana Colony, affiliated with Pietism and the Anabaptist tradition.
Another favorite …

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