living tradition

 Contents: UU World Back Issue

Taste of Joy

by Matthew Gatheringwater

During the most intense period of messianic fervor in my fundamentalist childhood, I was forbidden any “worldly” reading. There was just too little time before Armageddon to waste on secular books! This prohibition wasn't so bad during most of the year, when I could smuggle books home from the public school library, but one dreary summer all I had to read was the Bible and The Joy of Cooking . As a result, I learned rather a lot about food.

In retrospect, it seems bizarre that Christian hippies living in the middle of nowhere without running water or electricity would even have a copy of Joy, which is itself a testament to the pervasive utility of that excellent book. As I recall, my diet consisted mostly of squirrels, innumerable pot noodles, and a nauseating amount of pumpkin seeds prescribed as a folk cure for ringworm. (It didn't work.)

While I was eating squirrels, I was reading about oyster cocktails, boeuf en croute, and how to make a fountain from champagne glasses. More important, I was being exposed to the radical idea that food (and, by extension, pleasure) was not necessarily sinful, but something to enjoy with friends. The Bible, which I was supposed to be reading, portrayed God as a terrible cook who gave the children of Israel the same bland manna every day for forty years and poisoned anyone who complained.

As someone who began to identify with the Unitarian tradition through literature, before ever meeting any living Unitarians, I've traced my exposure to Unitarianism back through Emerson, Thoreau, and Alcott. Imagine my surprise to learn that the first Unitarian author I ever read was Irma Rombauer ( 1877 – 1962 ), the author of The Joy of Cooking . The legacy she started as a benefit for her congregation has no doubt touched the lives of millions of people in unexpected ways, but I am personally grateful to her for giving me a taste of a future outside of fundamentalist Christianity.

Matthew Gatheringwater studies at Meadville Lombard Theological School. He writes about religion at

Has a book changed your life? Religious liberals often think of every section of the bookstore as the religion section. Many regard the Bible as only the opening chapter of the scriptural canon. What book has earned a place in your personal canon? Send no more than 300 words describing any book, ancient or modern, that is “a source of the living tradition” of your faith to “Bookshelf,” UU World, 25 Beacon Street, Boston MA 02108. Please include a daytime phone number and your congregational affiliation. Submissions will be considered for a periodic new column.

 Contents: UU World Back Issue
: 56

Unitarian Universalist Association | 25 Beacon Street, Boston MA 02108 | 617-742-2100
Copyright © 2002-2004 Unitarian Universalist Association | Privacy Policy | Contact Us | Search Our Site | Site Map