Eve’s Apple

Rituals rely on unchanging circumstances. When we attended a grocery store that was not our usual one my ritual was challenged. First I have to confess (as is appropriate for a ritual): I am no foodie. Having grown up in humble circumstances where eating out was an unknown, eating in meant the basic food of the unsophisticated. Although college and subsequent years opened my appreciation for new, and sometimes exotic foods (before my vegetarian days I ate ostrich when taken for dinner on a job interview. I didn’t get the job and shortly became a vegetarian—some things just aren’t worth it) I’m still a pretty boring grazer. I take the same thing for lunch each day at work. I eat the same thing for breakfast every day—inspired by the Seventh Day Adventist predilection for cereal—and I imagine my wife finds grocery planning with a guy like me to be its own trial. I see the grocery bill and scream. I eat to live, and not vice-versa.

Eve

So we were in a different grocery store. I take the same fruit for lunch every day, but here my apple of choice was more expensive. I looked for something in the price-range that I feel is affordable for fruit. My eye fell on a variety of apple I’d never seen. It was called Eve. Apples are one of those staples that I’ve always appreciated. We still sometimes go apple picking in the autumn, but it’s difficult to eat them all up before they go bad. In the orchards they list the different apple varieties available for picking on any given weekend, and I had never seen an Eve apple. For my boring lunch (since I eat breakfast about 3:30 most days, by noon anything tastes good for breaking the second fast) I wondered if Eve would do. Would this be too exciting for work? I pondered the dilemma.

Although our culture is increasingly biblically illiterate, here was a breed of apple based on Genesis 3. The Bible, of course, does not name the fruit of the tree of knowledge, and the apple was likely chosen much later because of the similarity of its name in Latin to the word for evil. The image has, however, become iconic. Eve reaching for the apple is so well known that advertisers use it with abandon and nobody fails to get the reference. This story is deeply embedded within our culture. The Bible on the grocery store shelf. Still, I’m wondering—should I try something new? Thinking of the work week ahead, I’m tempted.

Holy Food

One of the undisputed benefits of working for a publisher of a wide variety of academic books is the opportunity to learn about different topics that might otherwise I might never have considered. For example, given the recent popularity of food studies (and this is probably fodder for its own post) authors have been producing micro-histories of specific comestibles. One that was recently featured in a YouTube short is peanut butter. One of the saddest food allergies, to my way of thinking, is that of the peanut. Peanut butter is such a singular symbol of childhood that it is a shame it is also such a potent poison for many. I grew up thinking that George Washington Carver invented peanut butter, but although he certainly was an innovator of peanut cultivation and disseminator of recipes, he was not the inventor. Peanut butter has been around for a long, long time. The modern food product is probably attributed to Marcellus Gilmore Edson, a Canadian who milled roasted peanuts into a kind of semi-liquid and received a patent for it.

What makes peanut butter a fit topic for a blog on religion is the work of John Harvey Kellogg. Kellogg was awarded a patent for a processing technique that led to the peanut butter we recognize today. Kellogg, whose name is more often associated with breakfast cereals, was an early vegetarian. Much of the impetus for his food experimentation goes back to the fact that he was a devout Seventh Day Adventist. The Adventists, biblical literalists, believed in promoting health through eating wholesome foods. Peanuts, a great source of non-animal protein, were seized upon by Kellogg as an alternative to butter, as well as a theologically satisfying food. Not only a food producer, he was also a promoter, and we eat breakfast cereal today largely through his efforts. For many, the day begins with a biblically inspired food.

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On kicks of nostalgia, or when I forget to buy a vegetarian alternative, I still take peanut butter sandwiches to work for lunch. I never considered this a religious activity, although my own vegetarianism likely has religious, as well as humanitarian, roots. In this post-religious age that we inhabit we sometimes forget that many of our most basic behaviors go back to religious beliefs. Sure, the promoter of peanut butter may have stumbled upon it without having fallen under the spell of Ellen G. White’s teachings, but the fact remains that Kellogg’s religion and his commitment to health were deeply intertwined. And the next time I reach for the Skippy or Jif or Peter Pan, I’ll be, in my own way, acknowledging the power of a religion I don’t even believe.

My Cultic Breakfast

The word “cult” is no longer used by religious specialists to refer to New Religious Movements, but when I was growing up in a fundamentalist home it was liberally applied to suspect groups. While having breakfast this morning I realized just how deeply rooted in American culture such groups are. I reached for my cereal. The reason that many Americans eat cereal for breakfast stems directly from the healthy lifestyle advocacy of John Harvey Kellogg of the Seventh Day Adventists. Adventists are vegetarians and are very concerned about healthy eating. Kellogg was a devout Adventist and produced Corn Flakes as a means of providing a—pardon the term—kosher choice for breakfast foods. Of course, growing up I’d been warned against the “cult” of Adventism, even as I happily munched their Corn Flakes.

So today I decided to have some Apple Jacks instead. Apples made me think of John Chapman, better known as Johnny Appleseed. Americans learn about the eccentric apple-planter from childhood, but most never learn that he was also a missionary for the Swedenborgian Church. Named after the Swedish scientist and theologian Emanuel Swedenborg, this New Church taught doctrines that set traditional Christians’ teeth on edge. Believing that Christ had already returned in the words revealed to himself, Dr. Swedenborg didn’t ingratiate the fundies by rejecting the standard interpretation of the Trinity and by promoting mystical beliefs. John Chapman spread Swedenborgian ideas along with his apple seeds. I’m sure that as we sang the Swedenborgian hymn at Methodist Church camp, we didn’t realize its heterodox origins: “The Lord’s been good to me, and so I thank the Lord, for giving me the things I need: the sun, the rain, and the apple seed—the Lord’s been good to me.”

What good is cereal without a spoon? As I grab my Oneida spoon, selected by my wife and me when we registered for our wedding, I’m sure I didn’t know at the time that the Oneida company is what is left of the Oneida Community. Founded by John Humphrey Noyes in the Burned-Over District back in 1848, the Oneida Community was one of the Perfectionist groups common at the time. Their town of Oneida held everything in common—everything. That included “complex marriage” which meant that all members had sexual access to all members of the opposite gender. They worked to support themselves, and one of their products was silverware. With the death of Noyes and concern of secular authorities about the interesting sex that was going on, the Oneida Community quietly closed, leaving us a company to produce fine stainless steel implements with which to eat our cultic breakfast.

Creationism’s White Box

It is sometimes claimed by Creationists that Darwin’s theory is a “black box” — the inner mechanism is unknown and it provides uncertain results. In this podcast I explore Creationism’s “white box.” Not the default version of Christianity it claims to be, Creationism is a modern movement with a well documented history.

Design intelligently!