Hi Grow Christian friends. Today we are introducing you to Kendall Vanderslice, author, theologian, and professionally trained baker. She’s the creator of Edible Theology, author of the book We Will Feast: Rethinking Dinner, Worship, and the Community of God and the two curricula Bake with the Bible and Worship at the Table. Since its inception Grow Christians has paired recipes with feast days to help families more fully observe the liturgical calendar at home. Kendall’s offerings fit so well with this history of ours, albeit with a deeper theological grounding. If you buy any of her resources and use them in your household or ministry context, please let me know! Thanks! —Allison, editor
Allison Sandlin Liles: Kendall, thanks so much for taking time to talk with me about what all you are up to with the Edible Theology Project. I’m so eager to learn more! First though, I’d love to know about the food stories from your childhood household and how they helped you better understand God’s story?
Kendall Vanderslice: When I was a child, my family ate according to a manual called, “The Hallelujah Diet.” The book was based on the premise that scripture says a lot about food, and so it must also offer guidance on how best to eat to care for our bodies. The book drew from passages in Genesis, trying to guess what Adam and Eve would have eaten in the Garden of Eden, as well as from the book of Daniel. We ate lots of raw vegetables, nuts, and seeds. We made our own nut milks back before they were all the rage. As a kid, I…didn’t love it. My food made me weird at church and at school.
As I got older, my own fascination with food grew—probably in reaction to my childhood diet, really. I loved flavors and textures, I loved learning about the foods of people around the world. So often these food stories are connected in some way to religious practice. The more I became consumed with learning about these food stories, the more I began to see food at play all throughout the story of scripture too.
I think the Hallelujah dieters of my childhood were on to something…they just drew some errant conclusions. God didn’t give us a dietary manual in scripture. There is no way to eat our way back to Eden and avoid the pain and sickness that are part of being human in a world awaiting God’s restoration. But God does use food as a storytelling device. From the beginning of creation, humanity was called to delight in God by tending to and eating from fruit trees. It’s through a bite of food that death enters the world, and it’s through a meal that we mark Christ’s own death that we might have life.
Similarly, our food is a constant reminder of both the goodness and the brokenness of God’s creation. God gave us noses and tongues and taste buds! What a gift! But also, allergies and food insecurity and unjust labor conditions abound. Every bite of food holds together both of these truths. The fact that Christian tradition uses a meal to mark our trust in Christ’s return and redemption is what gives me hope when facing the reality of the pain of this world.
ASL: I’m so glad you brought up that holy meal in our Christian tradition. Do you remember when you first made the connection between the communion table and the kitchen table?
KV: I first made the connection during my final semester of college. After graduation, I was planning to go to culinary school and start a career in the restaurant industry. For my capstone research project, I decided to write about connections between food and faith. That’s when I started really sitting with the story of Genesis 1-3. I’d recently begun attending an Anglican church too, which was my first introduction to any kind of liturgical tradition—it was the first time I’d ever been somewhere that took Communion really seriously. I thought, “Wow, it’s all a story of meals!” I’ve been enamored ever since. In fact, I changed plans—instead of going to culinary school, I did an interdisciplinary degree in food studies so that I could study food history, anthropology, and theology, and continue probing the questions that arose in that project.
ASL: I can definitely see how food history, anthropology, and theology intersect in your current work. What eventually led to the creation of the Edible Theology Project?
KV: I wanted to create a place where I could share resources with churches, families, and individuals that help them understand their own relationship to food, cooking, and eating, and how it shapes their understanding of God, of home, of family, of place.
We are all shaped by our relationship to food, whether we realize it or not. When we pay attention to that storytelling power of food, we are able to see how food is an avenue to celebrate the gifts of God, and also a way into hard conversations about the brokenness of the world.
ASL: How have you seen the resources of Edible Theology foster growth in relationships, discipleship, and healing in churches and households?
KV: I receive messages almost weekly from people who have been challenged and transformed by our Kitchen Meditations podcast. It’s helped some people find joy in the process of cooking. It’s allowed others to find delight in eating. It’s identified for them the ways they’ve treated food as something to fight against rather than a gift from God.
Our Bake with the Bible program has gripped both children and adults alike. It was technically created as a children’s Sunday school program and a Bible study for families, but we’ve had adult Sunday school groups go through it together and absolutely love it. By studying stories of bread in the Gospels, as well as cultural and historical lessons about bread, they see how God is present in simple, tangible ways—especially through food shared in community. That changes everything!
ASL: It sounds really flexible! Could you say more about how you envision parents using Bake with the Bible at home and how that will differ from use in a church formation class?
KV: In the home, we recommend using the lessons around the breakfast or dinner table. The lessons are broken up into several days so that you can stretch each one out over a full week. We’ve found that children love returning to the story again and again over the course of the week.
In a church formation class, we recommend you open with the scripture reading and “We Wonder” questions, then move into the scriptural lesson. Depending on the time constraints and the ages of people present, you can either bake the recipe together or do some of the activities before moving on to the cultural-historical lesson. The church version includes a weekly handout with the scripture, reflection questions, and recipe so that families can continue to reflect on the lesson at home too.
ASL: Do you have a favorite recipe in Bake with the Bible or in the Edible Theology curricula?
KV: My favorite is the Hot Cross Buns!