Simple living, peace theology and MCC’s World Community Cookbooks

[Individual articles from the Spring 2020 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

A decade ago, as MCC turned ninety, I had the opportunity to reflect on the importance of MCC cookbooks within MCC’s institutional story and the impact of those cookbooks on all kinds of communities around the world. I was surprised by how deep my reflection took me and how much of my identity as a Christian is connected to the World Community Cookbooks trilogy: More-with-Less Cookbook, Extending the Table and Simply in Season.

My analysis and appreciation for these cookbooks begin with Matthew Bailey-Dick’s 2005 essay on “The Kitchenhood of All Believers,” in which he argued that we have failed to appreciate how collections of recipes are more than cultural, historical or sociological artifacts, but can also be useful resources for theological reflection. Some of us Mennonites in the U.S. and Canada can be lousy Anabaptists—we can get so focused on how cookbooks carry on particular culinary ethnic traditions that we fail to notice that even a cookbook can “stand as a witness to the Gospel” and serve as “a mission partner for God’s work in the world.” Bailey-Dick goes on to identify at least eight different ways Mennonite cookbooks in Canada and the U.S. communicate the forces that shape our faith: simple living, the globalization of Mennonites, remembering the past, Mennonite migration patterns, gender roles, Anabaptist history, acculturation and inter-Mennonite cooperation.

Doris Janzen Longacre and her daughter Cara Sue Longacre demonstrate preparing a dish at a seminar in 1976. Janzen Longacre’s More-with-Less Cookbook was first published in 1976 and quickly embraced not only for simple, nourishing recipes but also for its inspiring emphasis on sharing resources and choosing to live with less. (MCC photo/Ernie Klassen)

When it comes to the World Community Cookbooks, I could treat each of these themes separately. The very idea of “more-with-less” has its roots in the world food crisis and expressions of simple living of the 1970s. As an organization, MCC has contributed to Mennonites’ collective experience of globalization, shaped Mennonite migration patterns, served as an organizing base for gender justice and figured prominently in the last century of Anabaptist history as we have worked to integrate who Mennonites have been and who we are becoming. In this article, however, I prefer to mix these themes together into a kind of peace theology party mix. That is, when I look at this trilogy of cookbooks, I see all these themes contributing to a larger conversation about how we live as Anabaptist Mennonites seeking to practice and preach the gospel of peace in the global village of a groaning planet.

A few words about what I mean by “peace theology” are in order. Peace theology is an approach to interpreting Christian scripture, articulating a religious worldview and proclaiming a form of Christian faith that manifests in a commitment to renounce violence and follow Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace. Peace theology is not one thing, nor is there one form of Mennonite peace theology. In 1989, for example, MCC sponsored a collaborative project of its Peace Committee and Ecumenical Peace Theology Working Group to describe the various types of Mennonite thinking about peace and explicate their theological foundations. With a goal “to seek a consensus on a perspective that would be useful to MCC” as it strove to “articulate [its] perspective in interchurch/ecumenical contexts,” the project produced the modest print publication, Mennonite Peace Theology: A Panorama of Types, published by MCC’s Peace Office in 1991. In 2005, MCC initiated another round of this original project, culminating in a conference and book entitled At Peace and Unafraid: Public Order, Security, and the Wisdom of the Cross. Like the earlier panorama, this conversation sought to sort through difficult questions about daily Christian living and about what systems help create and maintain peaceable communities. The project team proposed seven “continuing lines of inquiry,” the first of which was a call for more empirical evidence: “We could use a further project combining the folk methods of Doris Janzen Longacre and the scholarly methods of Gene Sharp to gather more examples of nonviolent ‘best practices’ that are contributing to human security.” I mention all of this because I consider Doris Janzen Longacre, editor and compiler of the original More-with-Less cookbook and its companion volume on simple living, Living More with Less, to be one of the insufficiently praised contributors to Mennonite peace theology in the twentieth century.

While her formal training was dietetics, Longacre’s approach to her work staffing MCC’s Food and Hunger Concerns Desk was also pastoral. In the 1970s, MCC was challenging its constituents to eat and live more simply by decreasing household food budgets by ten percent. This call to action came from the recognition that patterns of overconsumption in Canada and the U.S. were feeding global injustice. Longacre grappled with the “holy frustration” of wanting to cut back but not knowing where to begin, and in that grappling emerged with a discovery: it is possible that wasting, eating and spending less actually gives us more. In the opening pages of More-with-Less, Longacre describes (white) Mennonites in the U.S. and Canada as good cooks who care about the world’s hungry, deftly turning a social location into a theological and ethical one: “We are looking for ways to live more simply and joyfully, ways that grow out of our tradition but take their shape from living faith and the demands of our hungry world.” Food security and food sovereignty are indeed matters to which peace theology must attend. The Christian gospel, encountered through the World Community Cookbooks, is a message of well-being found through interdependence.

In the 1970s, MCC was challenging its constituents to eat and live more simply by decreasing household food budgets by ten percent. This call to action came from the recognition that patterns of overconsumption in Canada and the U.S. were feeding global injustice.

Through More-with-Less and Living More with Less, Longacre identified ways of knowing, being and doing that help us see and make connections among our lives, communities around the world, the natural world that needs both our respect and tenderness and God’s calls for justice and for nonconformed lives that are also lives of freedom. More-with-Less invites those in the global North who are affluent to turn our gazes inward and ask questions like: “How can my community resize its ecological footprint so that we can live more freely?” Extending the Table, meanwhile, turns our gaze back out at the world, but with a new awareness that God’s world is full of resources. The rich giving to the poor is not justice. Justice is done when the rich and poor share what they have with each other. Finally, Simply in Season brings the outward and inward together because the invitation to eat locally and seasonally is about gaining a better understanding of both the rhythms and seasons of the places where we live and the complexities of the global food system in the places where we shop. Indeed, Simply in Season co-editor Cathleen Hockman-Wert urges us to think of eating and shopping for food as spiritual disciplines because God’s first gift to all Earth’s creatures is that of food and not all foods are morally neutral. Whenever I turn to this trio of cookbooks, something I do weekly as part of my own spiritual practice of preparing meals for my family and friends, I do so grateful that I am awake and alive to the challenges of living more with less.

Malinda Elizabeth Berry is associate professor of theology and ethics at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Indiana.

Bailey-Dick, Matthew. “The Kitchenhood of all Believers: A Journey into the Discourse
of Mennonite Cookbooks.” Mennonite Quarterly Review. 79/2 (April 2005): 153–178.

Burkholder, John Richard and Barbara Nelson Gingerich. Mennonite Peace Theology:
A Panorama of Types. Akron, PA: MCC Peace Office, 1991. Available at

Friesen, Duane K. and Gerald W. Schlabach. Eds. At Peace and Unafraid: Public Order, Security and the Wisdom of the Cross. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 2005.

Longacre, Doris Janzen. Living More with Less. 30th anniversary edition. Scottdale, PA, 2010.

More-with-Less Cookbook. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 2000.

Hockman-Wert, Cathleen. “Preaching the Good News with Our Mouths Full.” Vision: A Journal for Church and Theology. 9/1 (Spring 2008): 69–75.

Lind, Mary Beth and Cathleen Hockman-Wert. Simply in Season. Scottdale, PA: Herald
Press, 2005.

Schlabach, Joetta Handrich. Extending the Table: A World Community Cookbook. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1991.

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