"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Fearful of My Food

As the pre-Christmas fast begins to wind down, and we prepare for the feast, I've just come across a new book that raises interesting questions, some of which I examined here before. The relationship between food and feasting today has become a fraught one, alas--even for Christians. Parish potlucks used to be a lot of fun, but now for many they are occasions for anxiety--will there be gluten? what about Joey's peanut allergy? is there high fructose corn syrup in that? Too many of us are "fearful of my joy" based on the constant bombardment about fads, diets, health crazes, and the results of science which change at a pace and in a manner many find bewildering and thus fit to be dismissed. Certainly our over-investment in and credulity in the face of claims that "a study found" X, Y, or Z about coffee or red meat deserves all the mocking Neil Postman can bring in his Technopoly

Concerns about food and its potential to form us for good or ill are not new ones, as anyone with passing familiarity with the New Testament can tell you--or, now with early Christian history, as well, so well told in John Penniman's Raised on Christian Milk: Food and Formation of the Soul in Early Christianity (Yale UP, 2017), 352pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
A fascinating new study of the symbolic power of food and its role in forming kinship bonds and religious identity in early Christianity
Scholar of religion John Penniman considers the symbolic importance of food in the early Roman world in an engaging and original new study that demonstrates how “eating well” was a pervasive idea that served diverse theories of growth, education, and religious identity. Penniman places early Christian discussion of food in its moral, medical, legal, and social contexts, revealing how nourishment, especially breast milk, was invested with the power to transfer characteristics, improve intellect, and strengthen kinship bonds.

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