Kendall Vanderslice is a baker, writer, and food critic whose work blends her expertise in the kitchen with academic training and scriptural imagination. Kendall worked as a professional pastry chef and baker for several years before founding the educational nonprofit Edible Theology and its weekly podcast Kitchen Meditations. She studied anthropology at Wheaton College and gastronomy at Boston University, where her thesis on church meals raised important theological questions. In 2017, she entered Duke Divinity School, where she received an MTS with a Certificate in Theology in the Arts. Kendall’s first book We Will Feast: Rethinking Dinner, Worship, and the Community of God was released in May 2019, and her second book By Bread Alone was recently released in February 2023 with Tyndale House. She was also named a James Beard national scholar on food and religion in 2018. We are excited to share more about her experience in the Certificate program and how her time at Duke Divinity School led to By Bread Alone. Learn more about her at

It seems you have long been interested in theological questions about food and faith. When did those lines of interest begin for you? How did your previous degrees at Wheaton and Boston University impact your spiritual formation? Tell us a bit about your time before coming to Duke Divinity School and what led you to enter the MTS program.

I’ve always loved food and have long been fascinated by the science of baking. In high school, I wanted to go on to study nutrition and eventually work with dancers who had eating disorders. During a gap year between high school and college, though, I realized that I wanted to bake professionally. While at Wheaton as an undergraduate, I learned all I could from the bakers on campus and at a local bakery. Then, three things happened at the same time: I began dancing for a company focused on embodied prayer, I was introduced to readings in anthropology of food, and I began attending a church that served Communion weekly. This opened up entire new possibilities in my relationship to food, faith, and my vocation. I became fascinated with the ways that food shaped and was shaped by culture and by the ways meals are at work in the narrative of Scripture and in Christian practice.

This was a key moment for me, and I continued to explore how food affected spirituality during my time at Boston University, where I earned an interdisciplinary degree in food studies. I partnered with a sociologist of religion to do a study of a church that held its service over a meal and that ran a bread bakery to support themselves financially. After graduating from BU, I expanded that research into a larger study of churches that eat together as a primary aspect of their worship. The interviews I held with pastors from a wide range of traditions sparked lots of theological questions for me, and I knew I needed formal theological training. So I came to Duke Divinity—to both further my theological research on food and to grapple with some personal theological questions. At Duke and DITA, bread became the lens through which I could do both.

Alongside your formal education, you have also developed professional expertise in pastry making and as a baker. When did you first begin to bake? And how did you find your professional work as a baker impacted your theological formation? Did DITA coursework and your time at Duke Divinity help you think about your work as an artisan and a theologian?

I began baking in middle school and high school to deal with my anxiety. While my hands were at work baking, I could better manage the thoughts spinning in my brain. I first started working professionally as a baker in college and entered full time work in kitchens when I graduated. I was very fortunate to be trained in some of the top kitchens in the country, but those kitchens can also be incredibly hostile environments—especially for women. I came to Duke Divinity very battered by my time in the restaurant world, and I didn’t know if I’d ever bake for a living again.

My coursework at Duke Divinity and DITA was restorative. It allowed me to treat both the process of making bread and the bread itself as topics worthy of theological examination. The Certificate coursework created the space for me to probe how bread functions on a metaphorical, mystical, and practical level in Scripture, culture, and art, while also treating the baking of bread as a craft worthy of study in and of itself. The more I attempted to articulate a theology of bread, though, the more I realized that the theology could not be separated from the tactile process of baking. DITA coursework helped me see the two—my writing and my baking—as symbiotic processes. As the 17th century nun Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, said “If Aristotle would have cooked, he would have written a good deal more.” This is now a guiding principal for my work, but one I would not have believed was true if it were not for my time at DITA.

In addition to being a theologian and a baker, you are also a writer. You’ve published two books and several articles and have been named a James Beard national scholar for your work on food and religion. When did your professional and theological loves combine in a way that led you to write? How did your time at Duke Divinity further your vocation as a writer?

Actually, the writing that came first, and the theological interest surprised me! I’ve known I wanted to write since I knew I wanted to bake professionally. While at Wheaton, I took as many writing courses as I could, wrote for the school paper, and worked as an editor for the campus literary journal. Part of my purpose in starting the program at Boston University was to open up more possibilities as a food writer. And I was writing for a food blog when an editor at Eerdmans approached me about writing a book based on my research on church meals. I knew I could write the book as a food writer and lay Christian, but I felt I lacked the theological expertise for the project. Of course, it was the process of researching that book that led me to Duke Divinity and DITA. I ended up writing most of the manuscript in my first semester in the Certificate in Theology and the Arts, and I’m so grateful. My work as a food writer and theologian has been deeply strengthened by my ability to study food and theology together in a really rich way at Duke Divinity.

My time at Duke Divinity also opened up many possibilities for writing in the faith space. I met other writers and editors who helped me navigate the industry, and I found support from faculty who helped me think through ideas I wanted to translate to a nonacademic audience. Duke Divinity and DITA allowed me to carve a vocational path that I never could have imagined on my own.

Your second book, By Bread Alone (Tyndale House, 2023) is expressly spiritual and practical. By Bread Alone is simultaneously a theological treatise for bread making, breaking, and eating as well as a practical guide for bread baking. Recipes mingle with reflections on the early church fathers and scripture as well as personal vignettes. This book came out after you matriculated at Duke Divinity School. Are there specific ways the Certificate and your time at DITA influenced your writing and your imagination for a book like this?

By Bread Alone came out of my thesis project for the Certificate Theology and the Arts as well as the Spiritual Autobiography course I took with Dr. Lauren Winner. So in many ways, it is a very direct result of my time at DITA. For my thesis, I wrote about the relationship between language and food and specifically examined Jesus as Word and Jesus as Bread. It was difficult to articulate this concept fully. My underlying hypothesis was that God is present with us in the tangible form of bread because words and thoughts cannot fully capture our ability to know God. But this was a challenge to work out concretely, and the DITA faculty and coursework proved invaluable in helping me articulate this thesis in concrete terms.

Specifically, the spiritual autobiography class proved helpful in this way. I wrote a series of vignettes, scenes that shaped my own relationship to bread, my body, and to church. I realized that to be able to write a theology of bread, I had to write a personal account of how I have come to know God through bread. The bread itself resists abstraction. The work had to be grounded in story, poetry, and recipe. This process served as the guiding principal for my thesis, which would ultimately become a much richer book, By Bread Alone, that I could not have written without the training and support of DITA faculty.

Do any particular courses or perhaps a particular semester stand out to you as especially formative during your time at Duke Divinity? What would you tell people was most meaningful about your time here for your vocation as a practical theologian and writer and in your own personal development?

During my penultimate semester my vocational vision really began to cohere. I took Spiritual Autobiography with Dr. Lauren Winner as well as a directed study with Dr. Daniel Train, and I also worked as a teaching assistant for an undergraduate food studies program at Duke University. I was able to approach my work from so many different angles—creative writing, academic writing, teaching, and mentorship. That semester helped me recognize that my work required me to keep a foot in each of these realms.

My time at Duke Divinity also showed me that living an integrated life necessarily impacted my work as a writer and theologian. I could not separate my personal life from my spiritual life, nor separate the two of those from my work as a faith-based food writer. In order to write about the theology of making and breaking bread together in community, I had to integrate my relationships with my faith. My time at Duke Divinity and DITA taught me that this integration could be a beautiful thing if I would approach that mutual relationship with care.

We’re excited about the release of By Bread Alone, but we’d be remiss not to ask more about your work at Edible Theology. Tell us about the work you’re doing through your educational nonprofit. How does it coalesce with the ideas of slow faith and practical theology expressed in By Bread Alone? Did your time at Duke Divinity school equip you with the vision that gave birth to Edible Theology?

Our goal at Edible Theology is to help individuals, families, and churches connect the Communion table to the tables they eat at throughout the week. Right now, our primary offering is our Bake with the Bible and Worship at the Table curriculums, but my long-term goal is to develop the nonprofit into a media company focused on the ways food and religion inform one another.

Though this project was certainly incubated during my time at Duke Divinity, it wasn’t until a few years after graduation that I was able to fully pursue it. During my certificate coursework, I launched an email newsletter called Edible Theology. I wanted to translate the ideas I was exploring in my education to a larger audience, and I also wanted to do this on a larger scale after graduation. I was confident that my theological training in the realm of food and faith was meaningful on a larger level, and I launched the newsletter as a first step toward a media company focused on food and faith. However, I wasn’t able to fully pursue this idea until COVID hit in 2020, pausing my tour for my first book, We Will Feast. When COVID cancelled all my speaking engagements, I was able to pursue Edible Theology fully. I was finally able to share my research on community building through food in a way that would assist individuals and churches—especially in light of bread making.

I’ve been delighted that Edible Theology’s curriculum has proved so meaningful on such a practical level. I hoped to create practical tools that spoke to the needs of the moment, and I was only able to do so because of the training and coursework at Duke Divinity and DITA. And the support I’ve received from Duke Divinity after graduation has continued to be vital—from alumni resources, to development opportunities, to the support of Leadership Education at Duke. And the support of my classmates, who are now at work in churches across the country putting Edible Theology to work in real time, remains invaluable.

We’ve kept you too long, but we have one final question. Would you encourage prospective students to pursue the Certificate in Theology and the Arts? What word of advice and support would you offer incoming students?

Absolutely! Without the Certificate in Theology and the Arts, I’m not sure I would have been able to integrate my craft with theological reflection in such a generative way. Going through the program alongside artists in so many different mediums allowed us all to think together in a noncompetitive way. We each wanted to understand further how our artistic endeavors and theological inclinations informed one another. We were able to collaborate through our shared love of making and learn from the differences produced by our various mediums. The community at of artists and artisans at DITA is remarkable and has indelibly changed me personally and vocationally. Without the CTA, I wouldn’t be where I am professionally or spiritually.

I would recommend two things to incoming students. First, take courses that you might not think are a direct fit with your interests. It’s likely that stepping outside your interests will allow you to reflect back on them in a unique and valuable way. Secondly, create space to slow down and put your body to work, and let that work inform your thinking. It’s tempting to stuff your schedule full in the few years that you have in the CTA. But you will get the most out of these years if you create the conditions that allow you to think and write well. Rest, whether through baking, painting, or dancing. It’s integral to your theological work.