Food Faiths: Diet, Religion, and the Science of Spiritual Eating explores how individuals internalize scientific knowledge regarding health and diet, and then incorporate that information into their lives as the basis of a personal spiritual practice. In this book, Catherine L. Newell examines how science is used to justify a dietary lifestyle and investigates the world of “spiritual eating,” which is comprised of practitioners who identify themselves not by a religion but by their diet. These diets are based in diverse sciences such as anthropology, ecology, systems biology, nutritional studies, biomedicine, and physiology; adherents view their diet as a lifestyle, a path to enlightenment, and a nebulously defined point of “health.” This, in turn, enables the practitioner to locate themselves in relation to other members of their community, to older traditions suffused with religious practice, and to understand their praxis in relation to the entire biosphere. While on one level this project explores how food, health, and diet can be a source of spiritual fulfillment, on another level "Food Faiths" illustrates how science and religion are subsumed into a culture and merged to form the basis of an individual’s lived spiritual practice.
Catherine L. Newell is associate professor of religion and science at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Florida.
Introduction: “Nothing New Under the Sun”
Chapter One: The Theory and the Theology of Diet, Science, and Religion
Chapter Two: Health Reformers, Vegan Farmers, and the Nineteenth Century Religious Roots of Scientific Diet Culture
Chapter Three: The 20th Century and Beyond: How Health Became a Science, and How Science Became a Religion
Chapter Four: Converting to Food Faiths: Veganism, Paleo, and the Landscape of Spiritual Eating
Chapter Five: Sacred Ancestors: Veneration, Generations, and Getting in Touch with Our Roots
Chapter Six: Virtue: Perfecting the Moral Self through the Ritual Embodiment of Science
Chapter Seven: Community: Defining What is Sacred Through Food
About the Author
What is the meaning of conversion? What meaning do individuals find in their own conversion?
And what truths lurk withing the depths of the conversion experience? One might assume
these questions are related to a new book on spiritual formation. However, Food Faiths
manages to acknowledge such questions while pointing the reader to new considerations of
spiritual authority. Touting science based justifications for eating as a centralizing force
organizing people’s lives, Newell repurposes religion for scientific practices of food as true
spiritual practices themselves. Vegan and Paleo diets are framed here as primary examples of
“food faiths.” Assessing the transition to these dietary lifestyle choices, Food Faiths reveals the
extent to which conversion to a way of eating can ground us into spiritual practices based on
science rather than religion. In the end, diet is understood as a systematized way of living that
draw on spiritual practices of deep reflection for the good of the body. Clearly crafted, the
primacy of Newell’s intervention is its ability to expand our understanding of spiritual practices
and their ability to enhance life while creating ultimate meaning.
Food Faiths brilliantly links US healthy eating trends with flavors of religious conversion. With agile prose and kitchen table familiarity, Newell delivers humorous and research-rooted insights on how embodied, virtuous foodways demonstrate “a faith in the science.” Go ahead, taste and see!