Whitebread Protestants: Food and Religion in American Culture
St. Martin's, 272 pages, $24.95
Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal
Houghton Mifflin, 288 pages, $25
I love my church, but if I could change one thing about it, it would be the coffee hour. I have fantasies, perhaps based on stories of my mother's Baptist childhood, of lively socializing, ginger ale gelatin salad, and hearty fellowship. At my church, things are a little simpler. Some people take off right after the service, and the rest of us gather for a few minutes around a basket of Entenmann's doughnut holes. Often as not, coffee hour is a visit to the nearest Starbucks with a buddy from the parish.
I may be nostalgic for some halcyon coffee hour that never existed. But my nostalgia is stoked by Daniel Sack's new book, a delightful romp through the foodways of American Protestantism, which shows that we Christians have always infused our food with religious meaning. "[F]ood-centered socializing has played an important part in American church life," he writes. "Church meals have built community among members and brought visitors into the church. Congregational social events have provided children wholesome and safe entertainment and adolescents a good place to meet and court the opposite sex. And they have fed hungry people."
In our ever-time-crunched society, those meals may be getting squeezed out. Sack's book makes clear, though, that we ought to cherish them. They do more than just feed our bodies; they nourish our communities and our souls.
Sack, who has taught religion at Hope College, examines church suppers and the Lord's Supper. The celebration of the latter, he shows in a fascinating opening chapter, changed ...1