Whitebread Protestants: Food and Religion in American Culture
What do Welch’s Grape Juice and Graham Crackers have in common? They are both products that arose out attempts by committed Christians to bring their faith to bear on the food they ate. These are just two of many interesting tidbits that populate the book Whitebread Protestants: Food and Religion in American Culture.
Written ten years ago by Daniel Sack as his doctoral dissertation. Whitebread Protestants, looks at the role of food, a very material substance in the lives of people, who focus on the immaterial in their worship and theology(or so they claim).
Along the way Sack demonstrates this by looking at how theological and liturgical decisions were often buttressed by the use of medical information. This was the case with the Graham cracker. Sylvester Graham was a clergyman who believed in the use of whole wheat never refined flour, which created his lasting legacy the Graham cracker.
On the other side of the coin was Welch’s grape juice. The temperance movement had a great effect on the churches of the late 19th and early 20th century. Wine at communion was considered wrong. Thomas Bramwell Welch created a non-alcoholic alternative. His son Charles turned it into a multi-million dollar business.
These are just two of the examples of where theological understanding mingled with American culture and know how. They also demonstrate the constant struggle between the church and culture. These struggles are demonstrated over and over again throughout Whitebread Protestants.
Sack tracks these tensions, through discussions of potlucks and coffee hours, emergency food, food justice and finally through the nutritional revolution. If one thing emerges clearly out of the book, it is that when the church and food culture have clashed the food culture has come out on top more often than not.
This should give pause to anyone who puts forward their approach to food and eating as the best or even only approach to “Christian” eating. The book should in fact make us reevaluate everything we do as Christians in the area of food, because it is clear after reading the book, when it comes to feeding the world we have been abject failures.
Although it’s ten years old, Whitebread Protestants is definitely a book that every Christian interested in food and feeding the world should read.