The political, the personal and the More-with-Less Cookbook

Forty years ago my boyfriend gave me a cookbook for my birthday.  It was a copy of the very first edition of the More-with-Less Cookbook, a brand new cookbook from MCC.  He wrote into the inscription, “Given in the hope that this book helps you to live a fulfilling life.”  I married him a few years later – in part because he understood and shared my yearning to live justly and simply in a world of injustice and inequity.

More with Less

If Esther’s copy of the cookbook still had a cover, this is what it would look like this.

I still regularly pull out my More-with-Less Cookbook, which is torn and spattered and which lost its cover long ago. It is by far the most used cookbook on my kitchen shelf.  More than simply a collection of recipes, More-with-Less has been a steady companion in my faith journey.

Forty years after it was first published, the More-with-Less Cookbook is still going strong.  It has sold close to 957,000 copiesMennomedia, successor to the original publisher Herald Press, has promised a special edition for release later this year.

The cookbook was birthed in 1976 in the midst of a major global food crisis.  The world price of wheat had tripled between 1972 and 1973, while prices for rice and soybeans doubled. It was estimated that 500 million people worldwide were at risk of starvation.  The immediate cause for the food crisis was skyrocketing oil prices (induced by cuts in in oil production by OPEC), but a key longer-term cause was deemed to be affluence and overconsumption in the West.[1]

As an international relief and development agency, MCC watched these developments with great concern.  In 1974, at its annual meeting board members passed the “Hillsboro Resolution” (so named because the meeting was held in Hillsboro, KS) which committed MCC to significant new investments in rural agricultural development, advocacy on food aid policies, and development education aimed at more sustainable lifestyles.

The More-with-Less Cookbook, released two years later, was the signature piece of this development education initiative. For the first time in its history, MCC asked all its constituent supporters to examine their lifestyles – and to change the way they ate – as a way of responding to the global food crisis and sharing the limited food resources of the world.

Lentils and beans
Lentils and legumes — key ingredients in the MWL diet.

The cookbook promoted eating more grains and legumes, much less meat, and eliminating highly processed and sugary foods. According to editor Doris Janzen Longacre, making the shift to a More-with-Less diet would save money, improve health and release resources so that many more people could eat well.  She noted how, if land was used to produce grain and legumes for human consumption, rather than to feed the animals that would become meat, it could sustain thousands more people.[2]

A deeply spiritual person, Janzen Longacre’s call for changed eating habits was intimately connected to her faith and her understanding of how Jesus called faithful people to live.  She insisted that Jesus recognized the destructiveness of the desire to consume and acquire ever more stuff, and she asked, “How can we keep overeating in the face of starvation and be at peace with ourselves and our neighbors?”[3]

Janzen Longacre was quick to point out that simply choosing to eat differently would not solve world hunger.  It was important that unjust distribution systems and oppressive government policies be addressed.  She went on to edit Living More with Less, a book that invited readers to broader lifestyle changes.  In it she wrote, the two realms of personal and political action “are as inseparable as the yolk and white of a scrambled egg.”[4]


Doris Janzen Longacre. Photo

Janzen Longacre died in 1979 at the age of 39.  I often wonder what she would say about the catastrophic environmental crises we live with today – climate change, habitat destruction, species extinction, and the contamination of air and water, to name just a few. I suspect that today, like 40 years ago, she would call for action in the halls of power of government, business and industry, as well as international systems of commerce, trade and aid.

But I believe she would also call on ordinary people to make change, to embody care and compassion for others, and to resist lifestyles of excessive consumption. I believe she would pooh-pooh those who say that technology will save us and free us from having to make lifestyle changes.  She would say now, like she did then, we are called “to live the reality that the kingdom of God is already here.”[5]

Theologian Malinda Berry, who was raised on More-with-Less meals, says the power of the More-with-Less Cookbook (and subsequent MCC cookbooks) is that it expresses and embodies an organic Anabaptist theology, perhaps better than the theology books.[6]  Susie Loewen Guenther, a young feminist theologian, agrees, also asserting that More-with-Less theology affirms the sacredness of what has traditionally been women’s work and wisdom as integral to discipleship.

Janzen Longacre’s legacy lives on in her faith-filled vision of justice and solidarity with suffering people and her call to those of us with much more than enough to live simply and sustainably.  It lives on in the thousands of people, myself included, who have been inspired by that vision and its call to link political action with personal change.

Thank-you Doris.  And happy birthday More-with-Less Cookbook!

By Esther Epp-Tiessen, Public Engagement Coordinator for the Ottawa Office.

[1] Esther Epp-Tiessen, Mennonite Central Committee in Canada: A History (Winnipeg: CMU Press, 2013), 144.
[2] Doris Janzen Longacre, ed., More-with-Less Cookbook (Waterloo, ON: Herald Press, 1976), 13.
[3] Janzen Longacre, More-with-Less Cookbook, 22.
[4] Doris Janzen Longacre, Living More with Less  (Waterloo, ON: Herald Press, 1980), 26.
[5] Janzen Longacre, More-with-Less Cookbook, 23.
[6] Malinda Berry, “The Gifts of an Extended Theological Table: MCC’s Work Community Cookbooks as Organic Theology,” in A Table of Sharing: Mennonite Central Committee and the Expanding Networks of Mennonite Identity, ed. Alain Epp Weaver (Telford, PA: Cascadia Press, 2011), 284-306.


Praying by the prisons, Part 1

This week’s guest writer is Randy Klassen, national Restorative Justice coordinator for MCC Canada. He is based in Saskatoon.

Every so often, the Lord’s Prayer erupts as a public issue, as it did recently in a Saskatchewan community. Should the prayer be recited in a public school? Personally, I have more than enough challenges keeping it in my own home, or my own heart. Do those of us who serve “in the name of Christ” (MCC’s guiding star) let this prayer speak into, and even challenge, our own daily practices?

A few months ago, I went on an early morning walk in my neighbourhood, on the north side of Saskatoon. Walking along our beautiful riverside parkway in the starry predawn light, I paused to pray the Lord’s Prayer. But as I began, I was suddenly struck by something that had remained invisible for many years: I was standing (and about to pray) directly across the river from the Regional Psychiatric Centre (RPC), a federal prison which is also a mental health care facility. A second thought followed quickly: just down the road, on my side of the river, was the Saskatoon Correctional Centre (SCC), a provincial prison.

RPC from across the River

Regional Psychiatric Centre in Saskatoon.  Photo courtesy Randy Klassen

Two prisons, barely 4 km apart—and my home was located almost exactly in between the two. How was it that I could live here for over a decade, and never really stop to acknowledge their existence, let alone ask how these two neighbouring institutions might shape my praying, and my living? What would it mean for me to pray the Lord’s Prayer, living between two prisons?

I’m only now starting to get to know these places, in terms of what they mean to the people incarcerated there and the staff who work with them. Here are a few facts that have emerged, as I try to gain a bit of context about these prisons. RPC is one of four federal institutions equipped as a mental health hospital (a fifth, Kingston’s Regional Treatment Centre, was closed in September 2013). Saskatoon’s is the nation’s largest such facility, with a capacity for 204 patients. I know there are many caring and competent staff there, because I’ve met some of them; but it is still part of the penitentiary system, and there is an undercurrent of desperation there. The controversial and psychologically damaging practice of solitary confinement (aka “administrative segregation”; see also here) is used regularly. RPC has the tragic distinction of being Canada’s prison with the highest number of deaths (consistently about five a year, for at least the last eight years).

And just a few kilometres down the road, the SCC struggles with other issues: serious overcrowding (often close to 500 inmates in a facility built for 320), and unrest stemming from a recent change in food providers. One quarter of the inmates are in remand—i.e., awaiting trial or sentencing. And what is possibly the most troubling of all: about 80% of male inmates are Indigenous (as are 90% of female inmates at the women’s prison in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan). Compare that to 15% Indigenous in our provincial population as a whole.

How am I to pray, in the light of such massive systemic realities that target and take out one element of our population like that? Or should I grieve this first, before I can pray?

Photo Credit Radio Canada

Photo Credit Radio Canada

I start to mouth the words, “Our Father…”. And I stumble on the word “Our.” I am reminded, first of all, that there are many people of faith who are incarcerated. Indeed, many within these prison walls profess a vital faith in Jesus. They are clearly part of my faith family, and I have lived for years without thinking about them, without including them in the orbit of my relationships and my concern. Is that not a call for me to repent?

And for all inmates, of any faith or tradition (or none), when I pray along with Jesus to “Our” heavenly parent, I am invited by him to see all people as a part of the human family. I can’t ignore those who remain invisible to the rest of society; I can’t live in a way that lets them be treated as less than human. That first word—“Our”—challenges me to re-imagine the boundaries of my circles of concern. Ultimately, it changes the way I must answer the question, “Who is my neighbour?”

(to be continued)

Migrant vs. immigrant vs. refugee: Why names matter

This week’s blog post is written by Esther Isaac, advocacy research intern in the Ottawa Office.  Esther recently completed an undergraduate degree in Political Science and Global Studies at the University of Ottawa.

A Facebook page called Humans of New York includes the story of a man who has recently come to the USA as a refugee from Syria. In Syria he was a father, an inventor and an architect. In his words: “I want to be a person again. I don’t want to world to think I’m over. I’m still here.” His comment shows how the title of refugee can overshadow a person’s humanity.

Conflicts in Syria and Iraq have prompted a large number of individuals to flee the region. To escape from violence in their home countries, many people from Syria and Iraq move into neighboring countries, including Lebanon and Jordan. Recently, many are seeking to leave Lebanon and Jordan because the areas have become over-burdened due to the increased numbers of people fleeing conflict. This wave of people has, in recent months generated a lot of attention from the international community, particularly once an increasing number of people began to arrive in Europe both by land and by sea.


Sam Gibbons, Zoe Ford-Muzychka, and Eve Dewing at the Calgary airport to welcome the Al Saeid family, refugees arriving from Syria.  Photo/Hand over Hand.

The terms used for the people displaced within the region and who are moving out of the region due to the conflict have not been consistent. This has had a significant impact on how those reading about this mass movement of individuals are seen, and indeed how the individuals who are themselves fleeing the conflict see themselves.

Those who talk about displaced persons, from politicians to media outlets, use many different words interchangeably, including: refugee, migrant, immigrant, asylum seeker, and internally displaced person. Even reading these terms, one gets a very distinct idea of how the speakers and writers wish people to respond.

Some news writers and politicians use more evocative and discriminatory terms to describe people arriving en masse in Europe, including: swarms, marauders, vagrants, and cockroaches. These terms are inappropriate for many reasons, namely: they foster fear and disgust of the people to whom they are referring, they dehumanize people, and finally, they are far from proper terms, the use of which can help foster an understanding of the situation.

So, let’s take a look at some definitions, and see how the individuals leaving the Syria and Iraq conflict looking for a safer place to live fall within the internationally-recognized definitions.

Refugee: A person who is outside their home country because of fear of persecution due to reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion and are unable to return to their home country or be protected by their home government. Refugees flee into a new country in order to preserve their own lives or freedom; and are given forms of protection by the host country

Migrant: A person who chooses to move not because of a direct threat or persecution or death, but mainly to improve their lives by finding work, or in some cases for education, family reunion, or other reasons.

Immigrant: A person who enters a county of which one is not a native, in order to live in it permanently. Both refugees and migrants can fit under this category, although many refugees and migrants hope one day to return to their country of origin.

Asylum Seeker: A person who claims to be a refugee and seeks international protection but whose claim has yet to be evaluated by the UN High Commission for Refugees.

Internally Displaced Person: A person who has been forced to flee their home, but has not yet crossed an international border to become a refugee.


Hanan Talabeh’s family arrived as refugees from Syria in 2015. From left: Hanadi, Lara, Nada, Sara and Jaafar. Photo/Hanan Talabeh

Words matter. They influence what people think about others, and what people think about themselves. It is important that we use words that are true. The truth in this matter is that the vast majority of the people fleeing Syria and Iraq are refugees or asylum seekers.

International laws protect refugees. Calling refugees migrants is both inaccurate, and allows states to shirk their responsibilities with regards to laws that protect refugees. So, it is important that the proper terms be used in order that people who are refugees are able to realize their rights.

Not only can incorrect terminology diminish the public and political support available for these refugees, it can also increase the emotional strain on the refugees themselves due to a possible change in how they see their own struggles and their own identity.

The power of words is well documented and therefore it is important that the words we use be chosen carefully. A person’s identity is shaped at least partially through the way in which others see them, speak about them, and treat them. This is particularly pertinent given that 51% of refugees are children. Using the right terminology will help refugees to receive the proper treatment. But we must also remember them as people, and allow their humanity to be their primary identity.

Some words legitimize the struggle of refugees, and others diminish that struggle. Some words spur politicians and citizens into action, and others allow for complacency. Some words help, and others harm.

Let us strive to know and use the right terminology and to understand the impact of our words on the lives of others. Furthermore, let us try to see people not merely as the words we attach to them, be it refugee, migrant, or anything else, but instead to see them as human beings, and get to know them and their story.


If you would like to get to know some stories of refugees, and how learn their identity is more than just their immigration status, here is a link to some stories.

If you are interested in learning more about sponsoring or assisting refugees, here is a link to some helpful information.

“If we don’t have hope, there will be none.”

This week’s guest writer is Dan Wiens, Food Security and Livelihoods Coordinator for MCC. He is also a farmer.  

This week I am traveling to Southern Africa to visit farmers who have been impacted by two successive years of drought.

Despite the very dry weather, the farmers I will visit have harvested some food, even as many of their neighbors have harvested nothing. This is at least partially because they covered their soil with mulch to conserve moisture and protect the soil from the harsh sun. Mulching is just one of several adaptations to climate change that MCC’s local partners in the region are encouraging farmers to try.


Stezen Mudenda of Kulima Mbobumi Training Center in Zimbabwe, uses mulch to conserve moisture in the soil. (MCC photo/Matthew Sawatzky)

Next week (February 7-13) is International Development week. So, along with thinking about those mulching farmers, I’m also thinking about the big picture of international development. What difference is the work being done in the name of international development really making in the daily lives of people?

I admit this kind of taking stock sometimes leads me into dark places.

It’s true that the farmers I will visit have figured out how to grow food even during a drought year. But they are still just barely feeding their families with the limited resources they have. Questions about whether it makes sense to encourage farmers to adapt to a drying, marginal climate should not be ignored. Is our intervention just delaying the inevitable? Is it just a matter of time before these farmers will have to abandon their farms as the desert encroaches?

I ask similar questions about farmers MCC works with in the Ganges Delta of Bangladesh. With rising sea levels, these farms are at risk of losing their soil to excess salt from sea water.

The forces that mitigate against the success of our international development efforts are huge, diverse and unpredictable. Climate change and rising sea levels are just  two of many factors.  Others include: political instability, conflict, inadequate market structures, and the list goes on.

So where do I find hope in the work I do with farmers?


Essambié Kanko (R), Jacqueline Kando (C), and Sabine Badiel (L), farmers in Didyr, Burkina Faso, participate in a program to help women farmers adapt to climate change through conservation agriculture practices. (MCC Photo/James Souder)

Friends of mine from the Global South have said to me, “Hopelessness is a luxury only the rich can afford.”  They go on to say things like, “In this place we have to have hope, because if we didn’t there would be none.”

In light of these truths, while I’m still compelled to ask the hard questions, I’m also compelled to see actions like mulching as symbols of hope, rather than acts of desperation.

Of course there is no such thing as a panacea in this business. Mulching and other such adaptations to climate change have their limitations and challenges. What’s more, the true locus of hope is not really with things like mulch.  It’s with people.

When I finally visit farms in Southern Africa later this week, I’ll be looking for hope not so much in mulch, but in the words — and especially the eyes — of the farmers. This is not because of some romantic notion of the noble farmer sticking with her farm until the bitter end. Indeed, some of the farmers may someday decide to abandon their farms to look for other opportunities. Whether they  stay with their farms or not is not the metric by which we should be measuring success.  The metric should be their own sense of hope. The farmers have to find reasons to maintain hope for a better future for their families.

For if they don’t have hope, there will be none.