Christina Ward, "Holy Food: How Cults, Communes and Religious Movements Influenced What We Eat" (Process, 2023)


Independent food historian and author Christina Ward joins New Books Network to discuss her highly anticipated book Holy Food: How Cults, Communes and Religious Movements Influenced What We Eat (Process, 2023) – exploring the influence of mainstream to fringe religious beliefs on modern American food culture. In the book and over the course of the interview, Ward unravels the numerous ways religious beliefs intersect with politics and economics and, of course, food to tell a different story of America. She tells 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. Only in the United States—where the freedom to worship the God of your choice and sometimes of your own making—could people embrace new ideas about religion. It is in this over-stirred pot of liberation, revolution, and mysticism that we discover God cares about what you put in your mouth.

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.

Interview by Laura Goldberg, longtime food blogger at

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Laura Goldberg

Interview by Laura Goldberg, longtime food blogger at

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