Why should a Mennonite denominational publisher do cookbooks?

This question is often asked me, most recently at a meeting of the Board of Directors of MennoMedia. I can’t always know all the reasons behind such a question, but usually it has to do with the idea that cooking is either not spiritual enough, or life-changing enough, to be worthy of a church-based publisher. My answer, as always, is that a cookbook can be life-changing, which brings the usual response, “What? How can a cookbook change a person’s life?”

One answer is that it changed mine.

Thirty-two years ago I was a young seminary student in Louisville, Kentucky. My wife and I were part of a small group that was interested in simple living, intentional community and Anabaptism. We were learning how to garden, can foods and be more self-sufficient. Someone told us about a small shop down on Bardstown Road that sold some pretty interesting books. I found it–a store that sold Herald Press books, plus some handcrafts under the name “Mennonite Self-Help.” I picked up off a shelf a copy of a cookbook called More-with-Less. The subtitle said, “suggestions by Mennonites on how to eat better and consume less of the world’s limited resources.” I was intrigued. It was a mere $4.95, so I bought it.

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The original 1976 edition of More-With-Less. To date, through three editions, the book has sold over 850,000 copies, a Herald Press all-time bestseller.

Here was a book, not only about cooking, but about living more simply, justly and sustainably  It was right up my alley. It celebrated life and community, along with food. I read the introductory section, with chapters titled such as: “Less with More,” “Change—An Act of Faith;” “Building a Simpler Diet;” “Eat with Joy,” and I knew I had found a new home. I soon picked up and read Living More with Less by the same author and I was bowled over–here was faith in action. My life was changing, for the better, and permanently.

Within a year my wife and I had joined a Mennonite intentional community and have had a home among Mennonites, and other Anabaptists, since. We also found a way to live out our faith that we have continued ever since, and have passed along to our children. A few years ago I was visiting my son at his house near Eastern Mennonite University, where he was a student and I talked with him and his roommates as they prepared supper. I was impressed that they valued cooking together and sitting down to eat a meal together several evenings, and I couldn’t help but notice that the book they were cooking out of was More-with-Less.

Interestingly, over the years I have met quite a few others whose first encounter with Mennonites and Anabaptists was through this cookbook. Our lives have all changed course.

All because of a cookbook.

What’s your story? Has a cookbook ever changed your life?

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Russ Eanes lives in Harrisonburg, Va. with his wife Jane and three of his six children. He  is still the breakfast chef in his family.