Extending the Life of Extending the Table – and how you can help

Cookbooks can be a bit like diaries: paging through their rippled and stained pages, you recall daily routines, holiday celebrations, and even the tragedies that have composed your life. Here is the recipe for lemon cake you made for your daughter’s birthday; there is the vegetable platter that you had at your wedding; here is the enchilada casserole the woman from church brought when your father died.

But sometimes even well-loved cookbooks—or perhaps especially well-loved ones—need some assistance. Here are two photographs of my personal copy of Extending the Table, the second in the World Community Cookbook series published by Herald Press:

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This book has obviously seen better days. Half of the front cover has been ripped off—likely during one of the seven moves I’ve made during the past twenty-two years, or else in the hands of a toddler accomplished in all things destructive. The back cover apparently fell victim to something (or someone) as well.

Published in 1991 and compiled by Joetta Handrich Schlabach, Extending the Table has helped thousands of cooks prepare recipes from around the world. Commissioned by Mennonite Central Committee “to promote global understanding and [to] celebrate the variety of world cultures,” Extending the Table has brought global dishes, such as supu ya mchicha and adobong gulay to the kitchens of cooks in the United States and Canada. Perhaps as important as the actual recipes in Extending the Table are the many stories and prayers that the book contains. Stories of hunger, hospitality, generosity, stewardship, and celebration—often in the midst of few material resources—are central to the book. In fact, many people say Extending the Table is as much a book about learning from sisters and brothers from around the world as it is a simple “cookbook.”

As the photographs attest, Extending the Table has been one of the most reached-for cookbooks in my kitchen, and possibly yours, too. Your copy might not be as mangled as mine, but twenty-two years after it was published, it is likely to have sustained some grease splatters and other signs of loving use. Or if you don’t own a copy of Extending the Table, perhaps you’ve bought it for a young couple at church for a wedding gift or for a recent college graduate who just moved into her own apartment. There are an estimated 122,000 copies of Extending the Table in circulation, a testament to readers’ and cooks’ interest in broadening their worldviews through what we eat.

So here is the big news: I am excited to announce that MennoMedia is revising, re-designing, and re-releasing Extending the Table in 2014. The new version will contain many of the recipes, stories, and prayers that appear in the 1991 edition. Our hope is that the revised version will be even more attractive to twenty-first-century cooks, even as it extends the witness and tradition of those who cook with friends from around the world in mind and heart.

Because we will be adding photographs of several of the dishes, as well as a few new recipes, some of the recipes in the current edition will have to go. So here is the even more exciting part: you can be involved in extending the life of Extending the Table! Help to choose which recipes make the cut for the revised cookbook. You can vote for your favorite recipes by filling out a survey that is available at 

http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/EXTENDTABLE

by May 15. As a thank you for helping us choose recipes, you will receive a 30 percent discount on the new edition of Extending the Table and be entered in a prize drawing for three global-cuisine gifts*. Or if you’d prefer not to take a survey but simply want to make a list of your favorite recipes from the book, send the list in an email to me at: valdave202@comcast.net.

So pull out your own dog-eared copy of Extending the Table, bring up the survey on your screen, and simply click on the recipes that you want to make sure get into the new edition.  When you’re done, you will know that you have played a crucial role in helping to bring the best of international cuisine—and the witness of global Christians—to cooks close to home.

*Global cuisine gifts include: 1) Gift collection of World Community Cookbooks; 2) Gift basket of commonly used spices in Extending the Table; or 3) Gift basket of Ten Thousand Villages food items.)

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–Guest post written by Valerie Weaver-Zercher, contract editor for MennoMedia. Valerie’s new book, Thrill of the Chaste: The Allure of Amish Romance Novels was recently published by The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Food and Faith in Anabaptist Perspective

What does the food we eat and how we prepare it say about the kind of world we envision?

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Food “draws together all of the important themes of biblical faith” noted theologian Walter Brueggemann said in a recent lecture. The growing, harvesting, tending, and preparation of food expresses the highest hopes of a people while it meets some of their basic needs.

Barbara Kingsolver novelist and author of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle wrote: “Modern American culture is fairly empty of any suggestion that one’s relationship to the land, to consumption and food, is a religious matter. But it’s true; the decision to attend to the health of one’s habitat and food chain is a spiritual choice. It’s also a political choice, a scientific one, a personal and a convivial one. It’s not a choice between living in the country or the town; it is about understanding that every one of us, at the level of our cells and respiration, lives in the country and is thus obliged to be mindful of the distance between ourselves and our sustenance.” [From The Essential Agrarian Reader, University Press of Kentucky, 2003, quoted in Simply in Season, Herald Press, 2009, p. 299.]

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The art and aesthetics of food and its growing, harvesting, tending and distribution has regained a place of prominence in interconnected global cultures of the 21st century. Mennonites have historically strong food cultures and that is reflected in the unparalleled cookbooks and simple living books published for over 60 years by Herald Press and MennoMedia. For Mennonites, food has always been tied to values and traditions of faith, family, community and responsibility for themselves and for others.

What can we glean from the cultural history of Anabaptism in relation to food that can be communicated and transformed for the future?

I have spent some time in my adult life trying to answer this question. Values of peace and justice, hospitality and welcome, stewardship and caring have permeated Anabaptism for centuries. It is a culture that arose out of persecution but has counterintuitively lived in abundance for most of the 20th century.

In the modern era food became highly commoditized and traded at a far larger scale than ever before as technology became a primary driver for production and distribution. While vast swaths of the world lacked (and still lack) access to adequate food and nutrition many portions of the Western world are dealing with a different issue: that of too much food and consumption of the wrong types of food, leading to a host of personal and social problems.

Both scenarios reflect an unsustainable situation. How should a people of faith respond?

In the past ten years popular interest in food and how it is produced in the West, Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, and elsewhere globally has reached an all-time high. In 2008, many parts of the world experienced a food crisis, driven in part by changing patterns of consumption and production.

Pivoting off of strong historical ties to food and food cultures, MennoMedia is positioned to become a catalyst for a new kind of good food culture whether among people of faith, people with no faith community or tradition, or between people of otherwise dissimilar faith traditions. Like it or not, we are all connected by the food we eat and how it is distributed. By maintaining and expanding Mennonite cultural insights on food through new books like the forthcoming Mennonite Girls Can Cook Celebrations, Mennonites will display the abundance of the earth while remaining true to the core of the faith.

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Ben Penner (and family), Marketing Director