Forty-some years ago a woman named Doris wrote a cookbook called More-with-Less. She was a good Mennonite, and a good cook. That means she not only cared about good, quality food but she also cared about the world’s poor, the over consumption of food in western society and the lack of resources, planning, and distribution that caused many in the world to go to bed hungry.
Doris and some friends resolved to see change. They wanted to do more than just send thoughts and prayers to the world’s hungry. So, they compiled their favourite recipes in a book. They also encouraged people to eat and spend ten percent less.
It wasn’t rocket science.
It was simple, yet revolutionary.
It was 1976. Many of the recipes were vegan before Veganuary was cool. It was ‘low-cost, low-fat, low-sugar, and cheap protein’ before I Quit Sugar, Atkins, and Slimming World become the norm. There were more legumes and lentils than you could shake a wooden spoon at. There were recipes from Indonesia, Vietnam, Japan, Spain, Pakistan, Greece, and Mexico that good Mennonites in Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Manitoba had never heard of, let alone tasted.
The cookbook should have been a failure.
No respectable Mennonite cook whose staple dessert ingredients included sugar-charged Cool Whip and Jello pudding should have bought the book, let alone tried the recipes. No one whose idea of gourmet was stewed crackers or grilled cheese sandwiches should have tried to make Nasi Goreng or Eggs Foo Yung. But they did.
My copy of More-with-Less came from the forty-sixth printing. That was 1999. There have been at least two since, with more than 850,000 copies sold worldwide.
What should have been a failure became a movement for change.
It didn’t start with lobbying government. It didn’t start with demanding others change.
It didn’t start with more.
It started with less.
It started with people like you and me committed to making simple lifestyle changes. Less supermarket purchases in vacuumed packed plastic and more purchases from the little boy guarding his family’s roadside cantaloupe stand. Less out-of-season purchases picked unripe, bleached and sprayed with chemicals and shipped across the world to our neighbourhood shop and more hands-on planting seeds and picking our own fruit and vegetables from our tiny corner plots or patio planters. Less microwave ‘ping’ dinners and more home cooking.
That’s not easy.
It takes time. It takes patience to teach your children. It takes spilled milk and floured worktops and dried beans crunching underfoot. It takes experimenting and finding new taste buds. It takes conscious choices and making sacrifices.
It’s revolutionary for our western mindset.
But it’s how most of the world lives.
More is rarely ever the answer to a problem.
So this week when the American president suggested more guns (in the hands of teachers) to combat the nation’s school shooting epidemic, I thought of Doris.
What if we Americans took Doris’s words to heart? What if more meant less, and less meant more?
In the preface to her cookbook Doris wrote,
There is not just one way to respond, nor is there a single answer to the world’s food problem. It may not be within our capacity to effect an answer. But it is within our capacity to search for a faithful response.
There is not just one way to respond.
I live in Britain. My teenage sons have never held a handgun or a .22. My husband and I made a conscious choice. No guns in our house. No video games with shooting and killing. No target practice just for fun. It wasn’t easy. When all the other kids had Nerf guns. When all the other kids played Call of Duty and you’ve only got Fifa. It took time, patience in parenting, and sacrifices.
They’ve also never feared being shot in school. Twenty years ago a man walked into a school in Dunblane, Scotland, shooting 16 pupils and a teacher before killing himself. After public petitions, two new Firearms Acts were passed by the UK government, which banned private ownership of most handguns. There have been no school massacres in the UK since, and only one massacre involving a gun. Farmers and gillies still carry rifles. Enthusiasts still go fox hunting. Muzzle-loading and historic handguns are still legal. Somehow the nation saw a problem and found a creative solution that seemed to work. (If only they could do the same for other issues they current face.)
But I grew up in a house with guns. My father and brothers learned to shoot and brought home amazing venison or rabbits or pheasant that fed our family. My mother learned to shoot and kill the pesky ground hogs that destroyed her vegetable patch and flower beds. As a child, I sometimes opened the little drawer of the dresser in the spare bedroom where my father kept his bullets, holding them in my hand, marvelling at the colourful shells. I learned to respect the power in my hands, to fear it even.
So I’m well aware that there is not just one way to respond, nor is there a single answer to America’s gun problem.
But, like Doris said, I believe it is within our capacity to search for a faithful response.
No movement ever started with shrugging our shoulders and turning away in frustration or disgust.
No movement ever started with thoughts and prayers.
Search for a faithful response.
It’s not rocket science.
It’s simple, yet revolutionary.
More with less.
No movement against hunger started with more gluttony.
No movement against guns should start with more guns.