Two millennial Mennonites, both Goshen College alumni, recently met in one of their homes to fellowship and enjoy a simple meal together around the table. As the soup simmered on the stove in the final minutes before it was ready for consumption, one of them thought he recognized the simply-designed, orange cookbook lying on his friend’s kitchen counter. “Hey, is that the More-with-Less Cookbook?” he asked. Without a trace of irony in his tone, the host replied, “It’s the only cookbook.”
The More-with-Less Cookbook was the culmination of a project sponsored by the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), emerging from a desire to promote responsible eating practices in light of growing awareness of an intensifying global hunger crisis. The author, Doris Janzen Longacre, assembled recipes from other North American Anabaptists’ kitchens, as well as her own, and the result was published in 1976. Mary Emma Showalter Eby, author of an influential precursor, Mennonite Community Cookbook, wrote in her introduction to More-with-Less that it “has all the earmarks of a best seller,” highlighting its creativity and practicality as a response to a worldwide social issue. Indeed, Herald Press would go on to print 642,500 copies in the following twenty-five years, as well as twenty-fifth and fortieth anniversary editions. More than a collection of recipes, More-with-Less became a ubiquitous symbol of Mennonite theology and identity for people like these two young men. At the time, however, it was an innovative project, functioning as a bridge both within Mennonite groups and beyond, to the rest of the United States, as well as a guide in the quest to daily follow Jesus’ call to wholeness and simplicity.
To read even the first few pages of More-with-Less is to know that it is more than just a collection of recipes. In the preface, the author describes how this was a community effort, incorporating recipes gathered from cooks of various Anabaptist denominations. She also indicates that although it is not a final solution to the world hunger crisis, she believes the cookbook can be an agent for social transformation toward more faithful living. Yet she insists, “Although the book is finished, the holy frustration goes on. Do not approach this book as a set of answers for responsible change.” It is a sacred endeavor, and the work goes beyond cooking, beyond the publishing of this book.
With that, Janzen Longacre launches into a fifty-page manifesto on the global hunger crisis, North American overconsumption, and how eating smaller and healthier portions of food can be a faithful and even joyful Christian response to these problems. In the first section, “Less with More,” she argues that North Americans are consuming far too much sugar, protein, and processed foods, causing them to spend too much of their own budget on food and use more than their share of the planet’s resources. “Christian discipleship now calls us to turn around,” she asserts, affirming the traditional Anabaptist assumption that followers of Christ are called to live a life of repentance, counter to the culture that surrounds them.
The second section in the manifesto addresses, in simple and straightforward terms, the faith required in order to bring about any significant change regarding the problem of global hunger. Janzen Longacre addresses the human tendency toward cynicism and indifference toward individual ethics, especially in light of large and seemingly intractable systemic injustices. It begins with communities of faithful people changing the way they themselves live, she says. Those truly committed to larger change will seek to influence public policy and programs as well, but this book is about first following Jesus by living—well, cooking—with integrity in our own homes. A move toward simpler eating will also result in better health and lower food budgets for North Americans; it is not simply an act of charity. Lest anyone lose heart for the cause even after this persuasion, she encourages readers that visible change requires committed disciples for the long haul, and in the meantime, our assurance comes “from Jesus who said, ‘Give to him who begs from you,’ ‘Give as freely as you have received,’ and ‘Give, and it will be given to you.’”
Having addressed theological foundations for the commitment to simpler eating as a faithful step toward larger social transformation, Janzen Longacre appeals to nutrition science as she moves on to the more practical problems of establishing such a diet. Keeping with the theme of simplicity the next section,“Building a Simpler Diet,” she addresses these problems in language that regular people can understand, even as she cites scientific literature to back her claims. First, she presents lists of what to “eat more,” “use carefully,” and “avoid.” She also includes a table of the Basic Four Food Groups—dairy, protein, fruits and vegetables, carbohydrates—as promoted in United States and Canadian nutrition recommendations. She both affirms and critiques the Food Groups, her central criticism being to name the myth that humans always need more protein and it must come from meat. She delves into the various kinds of amino acids necessary to human health, how to combine different proteins in order to achieve a nutritionally complete diet, and which are the healthiest and most efficient meats (chicken and fish, for example). The rest of the chapter is packed with handy and helpful charts, graphs, lists, and tables showing suggested meal plan combinations, calorie intake recommendations, measure conversions, and tips for increasing protein content without eating more meat.
The last section before the recipes themselves is entitled, “Eat with Joy.” This section is dedicated to reassuring readers that they can cook simply and economically at the same time as they continue to be creative and host joyful gatherings around simpler food. Janzen Longacre responds to potential qualms including, but not limited to, “Our Family Likes the Old Recipes,” “But Won’t All that Bread Make Me Fat?,” and “I Need a Simpler Way to Serve Guests.”
This last section, though not as heavily imbued with scripture and theological language, is bookended by sayings and examples from Jesus: inviting the poor, crippled, and lame to the party; breaking bread at the Lord’s Supper with his disciples; after his resurrection, revealing himself over a shared meal. “[Jesus] invites us to join the consummation feast, the marriage supper of the Lamb. Let us eat together in His name,” the author exhorts. She bemoans the growing popularity of the word “entertaining” as it relates to Christians hosting each other. “Mennonites used to just ‘have you over for dinner,’” she recalls, but she senses that their contemporary host counterparts “speak as though they are about to stage a show.” True joy, she reminds readers, should be based in fellowship and sharing and remembering the Lord Jesus who ate and rejoiced with people, rather than around the spectacle of fancy feasts. To this end, the following pages present specific suggestions for simpler-themed meals to host people around.
The themes of simplicity, fellowship, scriptural allusions, and practical culinary instruction are reflected throughout More-with-Less, continuing on into the recipe section which occupies the remainder of the book. Font is simple, black on plain white pages. Images of people are sparse and exclusively black and white. Each recipe section includes images of simple measuring spoons. Various sections of the book are accompanied by proverbs from other countries, scripture passages and paraphrases, poems by MCC workers, even a quote from Menno Simons himself, having to do with the value of food and sharing especially in God’s kingdom. Each chapter of recipes concludes with a section called “Gather Up the Fragments”—tips for how to best repurpose or preserve leftovers of the foods in that chapter—alluding to the feeding miracles of Jesus.
Some recipes are paired with stories about the dish’s significance for the family or community who submitted them, while others are annotated with cooking tips from Janzen Longacre. She highlights, for example, the Fresh Soybean-Cheese Casserole as a meat-free dish loaded with protein, “tested and enjoyed in the Goshen College Dining Hall Alternative Line.” Recipe contributor Rhoda King shares with regards to the Soybean Sandwich Spread recipe, “When the men combined our soybeans, I took large cans out and filled them for our eating. Lots of farm families don’t know you can do this. I soak them . . . until tender, and flavor with . . . butter and milk. The boys eat them with ketchup and mustard.”
Especially among social justice-minded, middle-class Anabaptist Christians and even many evangelicals, More-with-Less appears to have been a smashing success, at least in terms of sales. Ron Sider, a Brethren in Christ leader and author of the influential book Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, praised the cookbook for its example as a practical, embodied response to the global food distribution crisis. Book reviews of More-with-Less were published far and wide, and Christian groups of all stripes ordered their copies by the thousands. World Vision’s Stanley Mooningham and even U.S. Senator Mark Hatfield praised Janzen Longacre for the impact she made on the social conscience of the American individual, in relation to the food crisis.
The cookbook’s impact has extended wider and later still. In 2003, a subscriber to the Countryside & Small Stock Journal recommended More-with-Less “the only cookbook a homesteader will ever need.” In 2011, NPR book reviewer Ellah Allfrey praised it as “[still] one of the best guides for responsible living…Turning our backs on the prevailing culture of greed and combating overconsumption by baking Fruit Moos from scratch and ‘eating with joy’ seems a deeply sensible way to save the earth—and our souls.” In 2015, on the eve of the cookbook’s fortieth anniversary, evangelical Christian author D.L. Mayfield named it one of her top five books for becoming a better neighbor, crediting it with changing “how I shop, eat, and grapple with food insecurity in my own neighborhood and around the world.” Upon the release of the More-with-Less 40th Anniversary Edition, Disciples of Christ pastor Lee Hull Moses wrote a glowing article for Christian Century entitled, “The Enduring Wisdom of More-with-Less: Recipes for a Revolution.”
Moses, however, highlights a subtle shift in formatting for the latest edition that Janzen Longacre herself might have found concerning: a change in subtitles from “suggestions by Mennonites on how to eat better and consume less of the world’s limited food resources,” as remains on the twenty-fifth anniversary edition, to “timeless recipes and inspiration for simple, joyful eating.” This is only the beginning of a drastic transformation evident in the edition put forth by Rachel Marie Stone. In Stone’s edition, simple poetry and cooking tips are replaced by vibrant photos of people and food, including magnificently furnished kitchens and immaculately prepared dishes. In addition to flawless food images, bright color photos of people from various countries where MCC serves are interspersed among flashy and colorful text, and recipes are labeled as to whether they are vegan, vegetarian, or gluten free. Gone is the practical spiral binding that made it possible to leave the cookbook conveniently open to the cook’s recipe of choice as they move around in the kitchen. It seems to be a piece for entertainment, to be set next to the other cookbooks too pretty to spill cooking oil on, more so than a shop manual on simple eating (as were previous editions). It seems a book likely to grab someone’s attention from a bookstore shelf, maybe even to make an attractive housewarming gift for a millennial Mennonite, more so than to transform the way they view food and resource consumption. In the back is a recommended reading list featuring Simply in Season—the latest MCC cookbook—as well as classic titles by Mark Bittman and Michael Pollan. This version of More-with-Less seems geared not only toward those who have plenty of food, but especially toward the cosmopolitan middle-class cookbook collector of the twenty-first century—sure to continue generating great sales.
Hopefully the More-with-Less Cookbook will continue to have a transformative impact on people’s lives and reflections in eating, whether in spite of or because of its contemporary editors’ predilection for a more showy, Pinterest-conforming presentation style. In any case, it has left a lasting legacy that continues to develop. Doris Janzen Longacre’s exhortations ring true, that it takes deep faith in order to keep working for change, beginning at the level of the individual and the community, and working up to the systemic. This cookbook will continue to offer a unique perspective on food’s place in the life of disciples and what it means to embody the Gospel of Jesus in the world.
Janzen Longacre, Doris. More-with-Less Cookbook. First Edition. Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1976.
Janzen Longacre, Doris. More-with-Less Cookbook 25th Anniversary Edition. Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 2000.
Janzen Longacre, Doris, with Rachel Marie Stone. More-with-Less Cookbook 40th Anniversary Edition. Harrisonburg, Va.: Herald Press, 2016.
Mayfield, D. L. “More-with-Less Cookbook.” Christianity Today 59, no. 7 (September 2015): 74.
Moses, Lee Hull. “Recipes for a Revolution.” Christian Century 133, no. 25 (December 7, 2016): 32.
Swartz, David R. “Re-Baptizing Evangelicalism.” In The Activist Impulse: Essays on the Intersection of Evangelicalism and Anabaptism, 262-287. Ed. Jared S. Burkholder and David C. Cramer. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2012.
“Your Favorite Books.” Countryside & Small Stock Journal 87, no. 6 (November 2003): 92.