Whitebread Protestants

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Critical Book Review

Whitebread Protestants:Food and Religion in American Culture

Critical Book Review

Whitebread Protestants: Food and Religion in American Culture

The title of this book led me to think it would be about religion and consumption, and would have some connection to the growing literature on food and society, food history, and the origins of American food traditions. Instead the book is very narrow - it deals mainly with the tradition of Protestant potluck suppers, and reaches the not-very-surprising conclusion that they were important in building social networks and holding congregations together.

Whitebread Protestants explores the relationship with food and the culture in mainline Protestantism. Author Daniel Sack begins by looking at historical controversies with the Lord's Supper - including the influences of the temperance movement and the challenge of germ theory. He then covers food as a basis for social gatherings, followed by the soup kitchen movement and mainline responses to global hunger after World War II. He concludes with a history of two healthful living movements (Bowker, 15).

Good: The book is well-researched and at times is very interesting. The chapter on the history of communion changes was historically enlightening - containing information that most Christians probably aren't aware of. The material on Christian responses to hunger makes for good contemporary apologetics (in an age of heightened church criticism). And the accounts of the maverick diet movements were fascinating.

Bad: Some of the material is tedious, particularly the detailed information on hunger education curriculums from the 1970s. Also, the author's writing style is mildly annoying. He ends each paragraph with a cheery summary of what he just said. It gets old.

Opinion: In spite of its weaknesses, Whitebread Protestants was a worthwhile read on the whole. The first chapter on the history of American communion controversy was particularly helpful. There are roots to modern-day worship practices that I was unaware of. The book also helped me to see the big picture of some of the food movements in our history.

A second-grade class was doing a task in relative religions; each progeny was inquired to state certain thing about his or her belief and convey in a emblem of their belief. On the day of the allotment, the first progeny stood up and said, "My title is Joshua. I proceed to Beth Shalom. I am Jewish, and this is a Star of David." The second progeny stood up and said, "My title is Marguerite. I proceed to St. Mary's. I am Catholic, and this is a crucifix." The third progeny stood up and said, "My title is Fred. I proceed to Grace Church. I am Protestant, and this is a casserole" (Sack, 112).

This is a charming book: well and affectionately in writing, and accessible to a general audience. It is furthermore a work that scholars of North American belief should not ignore. The scribe, Associate Director of the Material History of American Religion Project, makes the significant issue that a aim on concepts and associations may neglect key dimensions of American devout identity (New York Times, ...
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