American Manna: Religious Responses to the American Industrial Food System
“American Manna: Religious Responses to the American Industrial Food System” is an investigation of the religious complexity present in religious food reform movements. I conducted ethnographic fieldwork at four field sites. These field sites are a Jewish organic vegetable farm where the farmers begin their days with meditation, a Christian raw vegan diet center run by Messianic Jews, a Christian family that raises their cattle on pastures and sends them to a halal processing plant for slaughter, and a Jewish farm where Christian and Buddhist farm staff helped to implement shmita, the biblical agricultural sabbatical year.
The religious people of America do not exist in neatly bound silos, so in my research I move with the religious people to the spaces that are less clearly defined as “Christian” or “Jewish.” I study religious food reformers within the framework of what I have termed “free-range religion” because they organize in groups outside the traditional religious organizational structures. My argument regarding free-range religion has three parts. I show that (1) perceived injustices within the American industrial food system have motivated some religious people to take action; (2) that when they do, they direct their efforts against the American food industry, and tend to do so outside traditional religious institutions; and finally, (3) in creating alternatives to the American food industry, religious people engage in inter-religious and extra-religious activism.
Chapter 1 serves as the introduction, literature review, and methodology overview. Chapter 2 focuses on the food-centered Judaism at the Adamah Environmental Fellowship at the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center in Falls Village, CT. In Chapter 3, I discuss the Hallelujah Diet as prescriptive literature and as it is put into practice at the Hallelujah Diet Retreat Center in Lake Lure, NC. Chapter 4 follows cows as they move from the grassy hills of Baldwin Family Farms in Yanceyville, NC to the meat counter at Whole Foods Markets. In Chapter 5, I consider the shmita year, the biblical agricultural sabbatical practice that was reimagined and implemented at Pearlstone Center in Baltimore, MD during 2014-2015. Chapter 6 will conclude this dissertation with a discussion of where religious food reform has been, where it is now, and a glimpse of what the future holds.
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