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Earmarks of a bestseller

After 25 years More-with-Less Cookbook is still changing eating habits and lives

More-with-less cookbookAs an MCC volunteer just out of high school in 1974, I worked with Doris Longacre at MCC’s Akron, Pa., headquarters, while she collected, read and tested recipes for her More-with-Less cookbook. Written to challenge North Americans to consume less so others could eat enough, the book has sold an astonishing 830,000 copies since its release in 1976.

“It is by far our best-selling book,” says Patty Weaver, marketing manager at Herald Press. The popular cookbook, currently selling from its 47th printing, contains 500 recipes and hundreds of spiritual reflections and practical tidbits about eating more simply.

“If you consider the theological teaching and witness of this cookbook, its impact far outweighs that of most Mennonite writings in theology and ethics,” comments Gayle Gerber Koonz, professor at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminaries and director of MCCcommunications while Longacre was writing More-with-Less.
In all, more than 1,000 recipes were tested by professional home economists. Evelyn (Evie) Shaar, head cook at MCC’s dining hall, was one of the persons charged with testing recipes submitted to More-with-Less. As one of 30 plus MCC volunteers in Akron at the time, I remember sampling many tasty recipes—lots of lentils, along with casseroles and pasta galore! Shaar gave a thumbs up to most of the recipes she tested, but remembers nixing one cranberry recipe.

Still today, most of the meals at MCC headquarters come from More-with-Less, says Shaar.

A global food crisis in the early 1970s with food reserves at a “precarious low” created the impetus for More-with-Less. In the first chapter of her cookbook, Longacre writes that the “average North American uses five times as much grain per person yearly as does one of the two billion persons living in poor countries.”

Former MCC worker Ted Koontz remembers the mid-1970s as a time when many North Americans were trying to find “ways to put practical handles [on] lifestyle issues.”

Still, the process of writing More-with-Less was neither simple nor strife-free.

Longacre wrote to MCC friends around the world asking for economical low-meat recipes that would help North Americans reduce consumption by eating less animal protein and fewer highly processed foods. Thousands of recipes and ideas flooded in. Brazilian Rice and Beans from Recifé. Zucchini Omelet from New Holland (Pa.). Quick Chop Suey from Winkler (Man.). Tuna Turnovers from Charlottesville (Va.). Longacre also included many of her own favorite recipes.

But some MCC constituents felt Longacre’s book was unfair to beef farmers. They challenged her assertion that it takes eight pounds of grain to produce one pound of beef, and said it all depends on how cattle are raised.

Kenneth B. Hoover, a biologist at Messiah College in Grantham, Pa., told MCC that poultry consumes more grain than cattle, particularly when farmers use methods such as forage production — allowing cattle to graze in pastures — rather than feeding them grain. Hoover worried we might “lose a sizable portion of our farm constituency on an issue that we may not have thought through carefully enough.”

Another constituent suggested that a better way to address the issue of North American grain consumption would be to“outlaw pets”— many of whom consume foods that could provide nourishment to human beings.

Still, More-with-Less has enjoyed unexpected success. Few had any idea that this cookbook would be so trendy, especially beyond Mennonite and Brethren in Christ circles.

But one Mennonite author knew better. Mary Emma Showalter, editor of the acclaimed Mennonite Community Cookbook wrote in the introduction to More-with-Less, that it has “all the earmarks of a best seller.”

Writing More-with-Less also had its lighter moments. Gerber Koontz remembers that the soufflé kept falling as the photographer was shooting pictures for the back cover. So the earliest editions of the cookbook included the fallen soufflé. “We used to chuckle about it wondering if anyone noticed,” smiles Gerber Koontz.

Doris Longacre died of cancer in 1979. Two decades later, her More-with-Less legacy still helps shape more healthy and just eating habits for North Americans and others around the world.

by J. Daryl Byler, director of MCC U.S. Washington Office in Washington, D.C. This article was first published in a Common Place in November 2000.