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.

MWL photo

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?







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.

4 thoughts on “Why should a Mennonite denominational publisher do cookbooks?

  1. I bought this cookbook when it was a small paperback with a brownish colored cover and I wore it out, so I had to buy a new one…the one pictured here. Also bought Living More With Less, the study guide, etc. Now I also use Simply in Season. I didn’t become an Anabaptist but it supported me in my path to simpler living and appropriate Christian response to the world’s issues. I reread it and am thankful for it still

  2. Perhaps the cookbook, More With Less was ahead of it’s time, and it helped push us in the right direction. I am thankful for what this has meant to me, when we lived in the city and now in the country. I don’t fully understand why some of my friends and relatives prefer not to use it. My copy is in pitiful condition from all its use and falling into some tomato juice one time (when I was canning). Especially the page with Edna Byler’s doughnut recipe. It has become a family tradition of making them about once a year! I thank God for this cookbook!

  3. I’m responding since Russ Eanes is out of the office. Would you like a photocopied page of the cookbook with Edna Byler’s doughnuts?! I’d be happy to send you one. I’ve made those doughnuts too. Thanks for taking the time to post your thoughts and in some ways, MWL was a little ahead of its time! It has enjoyed new waves of usefulness and popularity. (Melodie Davis)

  4. Shortly after getting married, my husband and I spent three years doing mission work in the interior of Brazil (1977-80). “More with Less” taught me how to cook in a place with no packaged foods at all. I even made cheese. My copy is falling apart so I bought a new one and two more copies to give to nephews who just got married. I hope it inspires a new generation of cooks.

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