At the Monastery of St. Gertrude in Cottonwood, Idaho, evolving foodways have enabled Benedictine nuns to adapt to their evolving role as religious women over the past century. Early spare, simple foods reflected strict monastic practices inherited from the nuns’ enclosed European order, but physical labor and bishops’ insistence on outside service soon necessitated a more rich and balanced diet. After Vatican II, new mealtime practices that allowed sisters to converse during meals and choose dining companions (versus sitting in rank order in silence) helped them adjust to a new ethos of cooperative community. As the convent added a retreat ministry and mature professional women joined, mealtime options proliferated and old foodways were challenged. A contemporary emphasis on social justice and land stewardship is reflected in commitment to organic gardening and to purchasing food local, seasonal, fair-trade food. Cultivating the convent's extensive raspberry garden, in particular, invites these modern nuns to simultaneously affirm their continuing commitment to core Benedictine values and to the spirit of their patron, St. Gertrude of Helfta, and also to contemporary priorities.
Of Raspberries and Religion
susan h. swetnam is a professor of English at Idaho State University and a long-time public humanities scholar. She has written numerous books and articles on Intermountain West literature and culture; her latest, on the local politics of Intermountain West Carnegie library building grants, is just out from Utah State University Press. She has also published two volumes of creative nonfiction and many freelance magazine articles about food.
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susan h. swetnam; Of Raspberries and Religion. Gastronomica 1 May 2012; 12 (2): 59–65. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/GFC.2012.12.2.59
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