Quaker Universalist Voice

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Eat well, but not too much, and share generously

A Review of Jonathan Crane, Eating Ethically: Religion and Science for a Better Diet (2018)


In this  book, Jonathan Crane, Eating Ethically: Religion and Science for a Better Diet, (2018), a Emory University author, brings together present understanding of current science and major religious traditions regarding the universal human ethical challenges of eating. His answer, based on the offered authority of the experience of current science and current religious tradition leaders is to eat well, but not too much, and share generously.  There is food for thought for everyone in this book about how to eat ethically.

For religious traditions as sources of authority for eating, Crane focuses primarily on Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.  The book appears open to recognizing the universality of the ethical eating challenge, but also reflects the difficulty of embracing full universalism in analysis of all religious traditions in a short book space.

The book’s conclusion is not revolutionary: to eat well, but not too much, and share generously.  The author lays a groundwork for thinking about eating and food and the evolution of these themes into the future for our grandchildren and beyond, but with no new guidance.  The take away contribution for the reader is that there is a consistent wisdom between the advice of current science and the advice of current understanding of major religious traditions regarding eating integrity.  The conclusion is to eat and refrain from eating too much and to recognize the rules provided by religion and science to support human self-discipline in the universal challenge of eating management.

In this book, the “eat” reminds and supports the proposition that eating is a universal human challenge at the individual, psychological, sociological and political levels. “Eating well” deals with the human problem of excess, sumptuary laws, class stratification, cultural diversity, and the role of holiday feasting. “But not too much” raises the issues of balance and integrity in relation to excess and public morality.  “Sharing generously” relates to the personal responsibility at the intimate level of family and community, at the broader levels of national public policy and global policy for food sufficiency and sustainability, and for universal human eating rights.

The book explores the complex relation of diverse cultural traditions for eating within deep cultural values and principles.  All authorities seem to gravitate to embracing similar conclusions. Eating and eating well, are advocated as parts of a universal  human wisdom.  The author hedges a bit in dealing with cannibalism in the Christian eucharist and with Jewish Kosher food rules.  Religion wrongly  gives sanction for periodic excess in the tradition of feasting that punctuates religious stories.

The author points out the complexity of eating within cultures and the cultural evolution of eating guidance, which is linked to the universal problems of dealing with excess, individual autonomy, justice, equality, and social stratification.

The endnotes are interesting reads in themselves. The bibliography and index are thorough and very useful.  The clever table of contents is marginally helpful in guiding the reader through the presented argument.

Quakers: There is no mention of the Quaker tradition within the Christian tradition in this book. Quakers have developed the testimony of simplicity, which resonates with eating well, but not too much.  The Quaker equality testimony addresses aspects of sharing of food in intimate communities and as part of public policy advocacy. Quaker tradition avoids the otherwise universal feasting problem. The community testimony addresses sharing.  The environment testimony addresses the universal nature of food production and consumption. These Quaker testimonies seem consistent with the wisdom in other faith traditions and current science regarding food and eating.

There is little new guidance for ethical practice in this book, but the perspective of bringing science and religious traditions into a shared conversation is a basis for Quaker reflection for the spiritual formation of Quaker children and stewardship and advocacy guidance for Quaker adults.


  • Are there any particular contributions of the Quaker tradition to the universal human challenges of food and eating?
  •  Can Quakers offer some fuller eating guidance beyond “eat well, but not too much, and share generously.”?


Jonathan  Crane, Eating Ethically: Religion and Science for a Better Diet (2018)

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