In 1976, a minister named George Malkmus rejected biomedical treatment for a malignant tumor and chose to treat himself with fresh food and juices instead. Following a complete recovery from the cancer, Rev. Malkmus went on to develop the Hallelujah Diet, an 85% raw food diet based on biblical scripture (Genesis 1:29). Operating from a home base in Shelby, North Carolina, Hallelujah Acres, the ministry has grown rapidly since 1992, primarily as a result of early and effective presence on the Internet. Today it estimated that over two million people worldwide follow the diet and lifestyle, and each week the ministry email newsletter is sent to over 250,000 subscribers.
The use of cutting edge digital communication to market a diet explicitly based on a literal interpretation of an Old Testament scripture is only one of many paradoxical aspects of this popular and controversial foodway/ministry. Although some critics of the Hallelujah Acres ministry portray it as a scam with the real purpose of retailing supplements, books, “health minister” trainings, retreats, and other products and services, in this talk I will explore a different perspective. The Hallelujah Diet is more than a radical change of menu choices—it is an approach to life and truth, a worldview. To attribute the growth of the Hallelujah Diet to the gullibility of an undereducated public with Internet access does not permit an examination of why the ideology, as well as the raw food recipes, appeals to so many. Based on several years of Hallelujah Diet watching, I argue that the HD message resonates with those who feel pressured by social forces such as consumerism, big government, and medicalization. For some new converts, embracing the Hallelujah Diet is a form of cultural resistance as well as health seeking behavior.
Josephine Caldwell Ryan is a senior lecturer in the Women’s and Gender Studies Program at Southern Methodist University and has been employed as an adjunct assistant professor of anthropology at UTA for most of the last 25 years. She received a B.A. in anthropology from the University of Georgia, an M.A. and Ph.D. in anthropology from Southern Methodist University, and recently, a MPH from the University of Texas Health Science Center in Fort Worth. She teaches a wide variety of courses that reflect her interests, including medical anthropology, food and culture, gender and sexuality, development, human rights, and African studies.