Primary Source Analysis of the More-with-Less Cookbook

Isaiah Friesen

 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.”

imagesThe 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.1 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.2 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.”3 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.4

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.’”5

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.6

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.”7

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.”8 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.9 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.”10 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.”11

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.12 Book reviews of More-with-Less were published far and wide, and Christian groups of all stripes ordered their copies by the thousands.13 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.14

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.”15 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.”16 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.”17 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.”18 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.19 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.


Bibliography

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.


  1.  Mary Emma Showalter Eby in introduction to Doris Janzen Longacre, More-with-Less Cookbook, First Edition (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1976), 8. 
  2. This is not to mention printings by other presses in British and German editions, bring the total to over 847,000 worldwide by 2000. By 1988 Herald Press had already thirty-six printings of the original edition for a total of 535,000 copies. See Doris Janzen Longacre, More-with-Less Cookbook 25th Anniversary Edition (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 2000), ii. In comparison, the Mennonite Community Cookbook printed 374,000 copies between 1950 and 1990. 
  3. Janzen Longacre, First Ed., 7. 
  4.  Ibid., 13. 
  5.  Ibid., 24. 
  6. Ibid., 32. 
  7. Ibid., 48. 
  8. Ibid., 49. 
  9. Ibid., 6. 
  10. Ibid., 111. 
  11. Rhoda King quoted in Ibid., 114. 
  12. Ron Sider quoted in David R. Swartz, “Re-Baptizing Evangelicalism,” in The Activist Impulse: Essays on the Intersection of Evangelicalism and Anabaptism (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2012), 275. 
  13. Ibid., 277. 
  14. Mooningham and Hatfield quoted in Ibid., 278. 
  15. Judy Welsh in submission to “Your Favorite Books,” Countryside & Small Stock Journal 87, no. 6 (November 2003), 92. 
  16. Ellah Allfrey, “Three Books on Entering Strange New Worlds, NPR, 17 February 2011. https://www.npr.org/2011/02/17/133464039/three-books-on-entering-strange-new-worlds 
  17. D.L. Mayfield, “More-with-Less Cookbook,” Christianity Today 59, no. 7 (September 2015), 74. 
  18. Lee Hull Moses, “Recipes for a Revolution,” Christian Century 133, no. 25 (December 7, 2016), 32. 
  19. Doris Janzen Longacre with Rachel Marie Stone, More-with-Less Cookbook 40th Anniversary Edition (Harrisonburg, Va.: Herald Press, 2016), 281. 

Re-Shaping the Chaco

In early 1930, 1500 Russian Mennonite refugees arrived in the Gran Chaco—a semi-arid, lowland region of dense bush on Paraguay’s western frontier.  While their new home may have seemed far-removed from the conflict that had characterized their lives in post-revolutionary Russia, only two years later these pacifist Anabaptists found themselves at the center of the largest inter-state conflict in twentieth century Latin American history. 

Anabaptist Historians readers are invited to read the complete article, “Reshaping the Chaco: Migrant Foodways, Placemaking and the Chaco War,” which explores the strategies that these Russian Mennonite settlers employed to solidify their tenuous claim to an unfamiliar and highly-contested landscape (Instructions for accessing the article are available at the bottom of this post).

Mennonite colonists engaged in a range of seemingly contradictory place-making practices—from the agro-environmental and the political, to the spiritual and the cultural.  Ideas of food security, seen in terms of both production and consumption, linked these diverse exercises. In the Paraguayan Chaco, these former Russian wheat farmers experimented with new crops and foodways. Although pacifists, they supplied the Paraguayan military efforts and provided food aid to wounded soldiers even as they also sent symbolic shipments of their new crops to Nazi Germany. Finally, as an ethnic group practicing endogamy and seeking isolation from their neighbors, they unexpectedly initiated a campaign to evangelize the Chaco’s indigenous population centered, in part, on reforming the latter’s ‘deficient’ diet.

These diverse practices are evident in the pages of Mennoblatt, the small German-language newspaper that colonist Nikolai Siemens published and distributed to his fellow settlers in Fernheim colony.  In Mennoblatt, colonists debated issues from the mundane to the dramatic.  An article advocating for bread produced from varying portions of sorghum or manioc flour would appear next to a reflection on Mennonite’s place in the global Volksgemeinschaft.  A discussion of the Chaco’s intense heat and the recent cotton or peanut harvest might follow an account of military troops passing through the colony or a report on the status of Mennonite’s new mission work among the Enlhet, a local indigenous group.

Published in the Journal of Latin American Studies, this article also seeks to bring the experience of Latin American Mennonites (a rapidly growing community of over a quarter of a million) into greater dialogue with Latin American history. Mennonites arrived in Latin America at times, and in places, that provide a compelling window on agro-environmental change, food security and state formation. Over the last century, they settled in frontier zones like the Gran Chaco on lands that governments considered of ‘marginal’ agricultural value. While the Russian Mennonites in question arrived in Paraguay immediately prior to the outbreak of the war, Canadian Mennonites settled the frontiers of Mexico and Bolivia in the wake of national revolutions and along Belize’s contested border with Guatemala as that small nation gained independence.

In those regions, Mennonites formed endogamous, isolated and ‘traditional’ colonies, but also became ‘model producers’ for domestic economies. In doing so, they consolidated and successfully leveraged a form of agricultural citizenship to sustain a conspicuous autonomy characterized by religious, educational and military exemptions. By turns considered ‘Russians’, ‘Canadians’, ‘Dutch’ or ‘ethnic Germans’, Mennonites benefitted from a racialized ideology of immigration as ‘whitening,’ even as their settlement was conditional upon a legally sanctioned refusal to assimilate into national society. They also maintained strong connections to their brethren throughout the Americas and Europe. This simultaneous engagement with a dispersed diaspora and distinct national identities might have represented an untenable paradox for earlier scholars of an assimilationist paradigm. Recently historians have adopted a more fluid approach to the complex, but often complementary, transnational–national negotiations among Latin American migrant communities. Finally, as one of the earliest Mennonite settlements in Latin America, the experience of Chaco colonists remains critical to understanding this evolving state–settler bargain as Mennonites—and their accompanying foodways—expanded across Latin America.

Instructions for Interested Readers:

Published by the Journal of Latin American Studies and currently available on Cambridge Core’s First View the article can be accessed for free at the link below.

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Peppernuts and other living traditions

By Janneken Smucker

I didn’t grow up with peppernuts. My mom made simple Christmas cookies like peanut butter blossoms with Hershey kisses on top, or dipped peanut butter filled Ritz Bitz in chocolate. But when I married in to a so-called Russian Mennonite family—actually “Swiss Volhynian,” to be more precise—from Harvey County, Kansas, I learned about hardcore, generations-old culinary traditions, something my Old Mennonite family did not have.1 The women of this family, along with the men of some of the younger generations, are peppernut making machines, each year producing dozens of pounds of miniscule cookies, each about the size of a pencil eraser (when I try to make them, in contrast, they typically are the diameter of a dime). Like any humble family with its secret pride of tradition, these central Kansas Mennonites view the peppernuts of others as inferior creations. How could a bloated ginger cookie kissed with a gumdrop even be of the same genre as these refined anise oil rock-hard concoctions?

 

Yet, that’s one of the great things about traditions: they evolve and shift and adapt to new lifestyles. To another family, those gumdrop cookies are peppernuts, and the crunchy eraser-sized bits are strange and foreign.

In my American Civilization course, an interdisciplinary general education class I teach every semester, the final unit of the course centers on folklore. I introduce the subject by using the American Folklore Society’s official definition: things that groups of people traditionally believe, do, know, make, or say, which serve as part of their cultural identity.

I ask my students to give examples of these behaviors from their own worlds—from their families, ethnicities, clubs, teams, sororities, and communities. I provide my own.  My Pennsylvania German background dictates that we must eat pork and sauerkraut on New Year’s Day in order to have good luck in the new year—we must snort ahead (by eating pig) rather than scratch back (by eating chicken or turkey). I describe being a fifth generation Mennonite quiltmaker, emphasizing that the quilts I make are quite distinct than those of my foremothers, but part of an important cultural tradition that ties me to these previous generations. I recall how for years I have made pizza every Saturday evening, since my family did that throughout my childhood, in the early years using Swiss cheese from Eastern Ohio. My mom remembers how her mother made pizza in the 1950s on Saturday evenings, using a Chef Boyardee sauce. We aren’t Italian-Americans maintaining a tradition from the old world; instead we created a new tradition that has carried on several generations.

My students counter with tales of the Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve, popularized by Italian-Americans but with southern Italian origin. A Venezuelan American student shared her family’s tradition of walking around outside carrying luggage shortly after midnight on New Year’s Day as a way to ensure travel in the new year, and burying money only to dig it up after the clock strikes midnight in order to bring economic prosperity. One student came from a family of taxidermists and described how she grew up learning how to stuff a carcass. Others describe distinct foods, prayers, superstitions, jokes, and songs that are deeply rooted to their sense of belonging within their tribes, however they define them.

I then emphasize that folklore is living, not some kind of static fossilized behavior that is unchanging over time. Last New Year’s Day my daughter and I gathered with friends to make jioazi, Chinese dumplings inspired by the ones I learned to make when in Sichuan Province during Study-Service Term at Goshen College in 1996. We filled them with pork and cabbage, along with ginger and garlic and sesame oil. I knew that by eating this combination of ingredients, even if wrapped in a flour wrapper and steamed and fried, I would still have fulfilled my requisite intake of lucky foods. And I think this might become a new tradition in my family.

traditions_Image_3 (1)

My daughter stuffing jiaozi wrappers with pork and cabbage, New Year’s Day 2017.]


  1. Jeanette Krehbiel Wedel, Swiss Volhynian Favorite Recipes (Pretty Prairie, KS: Swiss Mennonite Cultural and Historical Association, 2017).