"Raised on Christian Milk": The Symbolic Power of Food in Early Christianity
Most people are familiar with the phrase “you are what you eat.” But most have never encountered its provocative history. My first book, the topic of this presentation, explores the complex ways in which food was thought to impact spiritual or intellectual development and social belonging as much as physical growth in the ancient Greco-Roman world. With particular attention to ancient medical and pedagogical theories concerning breastfeeding and child rearing, I will show how early Christian authors appealed to the symbol of mother’s milk as a powerful essence that could communicate bonds of kinship, moral character, and even orthodox belief from one person to the next. My presentation will examine a few examples from Greco-Roman, Jewish, and early Christian literature in which food is given the power to form or deform the human person. Along the way, I’ll explore the social, political, and religious implications embedded in the history of the idea that “you are what you eat" and how this played a significant role in shaping the beliefs and social structures of ancient Christian communities.
Penniman, John David, ""Raised on Christian Milk": The Symbolic Power of Food in Early Christianity" (2017). Faculty Colloquium. 28.