Theology on the Menu: Asceticism, Meat and Christian Diet
by David Grumett and Rachel Muers

London: Routledge, February 2010. ISBN 978-0-415-49683-4 (pb), 978-0-415-49682-7 (hb). x + 207 pp. $39.95/£21.99 (pb), $125/£75 (hb).

Food—what we eat, how much we eat, how it is produced and prepared, and its cultural and ecological significance—is an increasingly significant topic not only for scholars but for all of us. Theology on the Menu is the first systematic and historical assessment of Christian attitudes to food and its role in shaping Christian identity. David Grumett and Rachel Muers unfold a fascinating history of feasting and fasting, food regulations and resistance to regulation, the symbolism attached to particular foods, the relationship between diet and doctrine, and how food has shaped inter-religious encounters. Everyone interested in Christian approaches to food and diet or seeking to understand how theology can engage fruitfully with everyday life will find this book a stimulus and an inspiration.

'This book will enhance understanding of the multiple ways we configure the relationships we have with our own and other species. It demonstrates a wide range of ways that food choices are of profound moral and religious significance.'  Norman Wirzba, Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture

'An impressive achievement. By re-connecting contemporary Christian arguments about vegetarianism and diet with such a varied, complex and sometimes downright perplexing tradition of embodied practice, the authors have offered rich and (to use their word) generative ways to inform and renew that practice in the present. Any reflective Christian who eats should be willing to find this book interesting.'  Neil Messer, Studies in Christian Ethics

'This is a very worthwhile book. Its varied and frank deliberations have much to offer any scholar interested in Christian uses of food, and more generally to theologians interested in discussions of practices.'  Jana Marguerite Bennett, Modern Theology

'There is much in Theology on the Menu that will resonate with a practical theological audience. . . . The book is well-written and provides constant stimulation, puzzlement, even astonishment.'  Stephen Pattison, Practical Theology

'Could serve as a useful tool for study and discussion among Christians. . . . [This] informative work lays a good foundation for encouraging the conversation to continue.'  Barbara Timmermans, Christian Scholar's Review

'Many theological libraries would benefit greatly from adding this book to their collection.'  Joshua R. Furnal, Reviews in Religion and Theology

'It is enormously refreshing to encounter the nuanced and subtle approach of David Grumett and Rachel Muers in this thoughtful and readable volume. They are constantly attentive to the moral, social and religious complexity of the question of abstinence, and to the multiple meanings that such a practice can carry. The book is packed with details that reveal the breathtaking diversity of Christian attitudes to ascetical eating.'  Margaret Atkins OSA, New Blackfriars

'A new generation of British theologians is taking the debate over diet to the highest levels of scholarly and moral reflection, and Grumett and Muers are leading the way. Rather than trying to score points or pick fights, they demonstrate how food lies at the intersection of the spiritual and the material, and they offer their readers the tools, including the historical context, to make eating one of the primary tasks of thinking. This is now the book to read in seminary and college courses in moral theology, or simply to deepen your own practice of thoughtful eating.'  Prof Stephen Webb, Wabash College

'In this outstanding book David Grumett and Rachel Muers offer us something quite original. Despite their own different moral positions on relevant issues, the authors have produced a seamless common text that is invariably informative about the complexities of Christian attitudes over the centuries, sometimes amusing but always challenging. Without doubt they have succeeded in putting food on the menu of important unresolved theological issues that merit further consideration.'  Prof David Brown FBA, University of St Andrews

'Theology on the Menu is a rich exploration of the diversity and complexity of Christian attitudes toward meat, fasting, and broader dietary issues. Drawing on an eclectic range of historical and scriptural sources, Grumett and Muers have used food as a fruitful entry point for the study of lived religion. Theologians, historians, and anyone interested in religious foodways will find their work valuable and thought-provoking.'  Prof Peter Harle, University of Minnesota

'In this sweeping study of the practice and interpretation of Christian dietary choice from antiquity to the contemporary period, Grumett and Muers illuminate the web of common impulses and deep ambiguities surrounding food abstinence, especially vegetarianism. The choice not to eat animal flesh, while associated in Christian tradition with sanctity, discipline, spiritual purity, and liturgical rhythms, also incites suspicion of heresy, pagan and Jewish sympathies, and non-communal elitism. The authors demonstrate through analysis of scripture, ritual, historical food practices and controversies, that the Christian menu signifies understandings of creation, animals and humans as created beings, sacrifice, and the place of the body in religious identity.'  Prof Teresa Shaw, Claremont Graduate University

Chapter headings
1  Eating in the Wilderness: voices in the wilderness; the anchorite's diet and the anchorite's body; from gluttony to lust; cities in the sand
2  Food in the Ordered City: monastic moderation; beyond the monastery: the social fast; the public fast; the power of ascetic resistance
3  Secularizing Diet: spaces, times and bodies in Benedict's Rule; regulating and critiquing monastic feasting; mendicant flexibility; food, body and identity: scholastic debates
4  Fasting by Choice: reforming the fast; liberty and method; Christians and the birth of modern vegetarianism; Christian vegetarians and new food products; Christian vegetarianism: a revival?
5  Clean and Unclean Animals: the meaning of biblical classifications; the quadruped; blood and predation; Christian diet: Jerusalem and beyond; eating moral and spiritual animals; a structured gift
6  Community, Orthodoxy and Heresy: Augustine's Manichean shadow; regulating orthodox diet: rules, councils and inquisitions; Christians, Jews and their food; Christians, Muslims and their food; heresy and counterculture
7  Sacrifice and Slaughter: early Christianity: beyond sacrifice?; Christians rituals of animal sacrifice; bloody eating; sacrifice and the Cross; sacrifice and the slaughterhouse
8  Christian Food, Heavenly Food, Worldly Food: present-day food choices; Christian cuisines: what is food?; idolatrous consumption; the goodness of creation and unnatural foods; eating towards Eden; foods of fear and foods of hope
9  Concluding Reflections: Practices, Everyday Life and Theological Tradition: explaining embodied practices; generative puzzles; which practices matter?: sharing a table; recipes for tradition

Details on publisher's website


Eating and Believing: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Vegetarianism and Theology
edited by Rachel Muers and David Grumett

New York and London: T&T Clark, January 2012 (pb), October 2008 (hb). ISBN 978-0-567-26795-5 (pb), 978-0-567-03284-3 (hb). viii+274 pp. $49.95/£29.99 (pb), $130/£65 (hb).

What are the links between people’s beliefs and the foods they choose to eat? In the modern Western world, dietary choices are a topic of ethical and political debate, but how can centuries of Christian thought and practice also inform them? And how do reasons for abstaining from particular foods in the modern world compare with earlier ones? This collection will shed new light on modern vegetarianism and related forms of dietary choice by situating them in the context of historic Christian practice. It will show how the theological significance of embodied practice may be retrieved and reconceived in the present day.

Food and diet is a neglected area of Christian theology, and Christianity is conspicuous among the modern world’s religions in having few dietary rules or customs. Yet historically, food and the practices surrounding it have significantly shaped Christian lives and identities. This collection, prepared collaboratively, includes contributions on the relationship between Christian beliefs and food practices in specific historical contexts. It considers the relationship between eating and believing from non-Christian perspectives that have in turn shaped Christian attitudes and practices. It also examines ethical arguments about vegetarianism and their significance for emerging Christian theologies of food.

'Progress on the topic of theology, animals, and diet has stalled in recent years, but this collection of essays should get it going again. A new generation of primarily English scholars is bringing a renewed sophistication to these conversations, and Muers and Grumett should be congratulated for gathering in one volume some of the best of this recent work. . . . David Grumett’s analysis of Irish Christianity is especially illuminating. Anyone interested in the crucial but hidden role that the dietary restrictions of the Jerusalem Council played in Christian history, as well as the perplexing ongoing influence of the Noachide laws, should read this essay.'  Stephen H. Webb, Reviews in Religion and Theology

'A fascinating series of essays that explores the implications of the complex and sometimes unexpected history of food rules and practices in the Christian and related traditions. Eating and Believing shows how the diverse range of beliefs and practices with which vegetarianism has been associated have been used to underwrite community, mark the boundaries between the animal and the human, and express solidarity. One of the great strengths of this book is the diverse range of scholarship it draws on: classical, biblical, sociological, philosophical, theological. It engages creatively with the idea of food as a form of practical theology, a way of thinking about the world at a concrete day-to-day level, as well as an expressive act.'  Julia M. Twigg, Professor of Social Policy and Sociology, University of Kent, UK


Introduction  Rachel Muers and David Grumett

Developments in biblical and historical theology
1  Food and diet in the priestly material of the Pentateuch  Nathan MacDonald
2  Mosaic food rules in Celtic spirituality in Ireland  David Grumett
3  Biblical vegetarianism? A critical and constructive assessment  David G. Horrell
4  Angels, beasts, machines and men: configuring the human and non-human in Judaeo-Christian tradition  David Clough

Perspectives from antiquity
5  Vegetarianism, heresy, and asceticism in late ancient Christianity  Teresa M. Shaw
6  ‘The question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?’: The ethics of vegetarianism in the writings of Plutarch  Michael Beer
Hoi polloi: spiritual choices for the many and the few  John Wilkins

Faith at the origins of modern vegetarianism
8  ‘Ours is the food that Eden knew’: themes in the theology and practice of modern Christian vegetarians  Samantha Jane Calvert
9  ‘A Lutheranism of the table’: religion and the Victorian vegetarians  James R.T.E. Gregory

The theory of vegetarianism
10  The argument from marginal cases: a philosophical and theological defense  Daniel Dombrowski
11  Seeing and believing: gender and species hierarchy in contemporary cultures of animal food  Erika Cudworth
12  Seeing, choosing and eating: theology and the feminist-vegetarian debate  Rachel Muers
13  Structure and agency in the antislavery and animal liberation movements  Nigel Pleasants

Theological views on current food debates
14  Symbol, community and vegetarianism  David Brown
15  Eucharistic eating, and why many early Christians preferred fish  Michael S. Northcott
16  Protological and eschatological vegetarianism  Christopher Southgate

Conclusion  Rachel Muers

Details on publisher's website