This introductory chapter discusses food and Christianity. Food and the act of eating, particularly group eating, are potent forces in human culture. The essays in this book show that Christians have used food and its associative practices to shape, strengthen, and spread their faith in a variety of ways from the fourteenth century to the present, and around the world. This wide array of people, places, and food in time is woven together by four underlying themes: commensality, fasting, the sacrament, and bodily health. Commensality is defined as “the habit of eating together,” in which a group of people create or strengthen physical and social bonds. The most sacred and most powerful commensal activity in both Catholic and Protestant communities is the taking of the sacrament, for it produces bonds resulting from group consumption as well as from group beliefs.
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