Thursday, June 30, 2011

Book Review: Living More With Less

I'd like to welcome back my sister Diana as a guest poster! Last August, she wrote a great piece on clothing & modesty (it's actually the most popular article on the blog), and she's back with a book review of "Living More With Less." If you want to check out more of her stuff, she now has a blog at

Living More With Less- review by Diana

Sustainability... global responsibility... simplification... social justice... These are buzzwords of trendy modern ideas, right? And Mennonites... don’t they just drive buggies and bake casseroles?

Enter Mennonite author and social activist Doris Janzen Longacre who published the “More with Less” cookbook more than 30 years ago. She had a deep passion for the world’s poor and wanted to encourage responsible food consumption in the wealthy (that would be all of us, yes all) homes of Americans and Canadians. The book was so well received that Doris was prompted to write on developing a sustainable, globally responsible lifestyle. Thus “Living More with Less” was born.

In this book, Doris outlines five “life standards” - basic principles that boil down to being less selfish and consumeristic. Then she includes tips from people (Mennonites) around the world sharing their experiences on living with less.

But being sustainable and “green” now is mainstream, and we can all feel really good about ourselves for taking our reusable bags to the grocery store and using our Nalgenes instead of endless Ozarka bottles, right? And I’m a busy mom with no time to embrace radical conservationism, plus I’m not very excited about using junk mail as toilet paper or stuffing my pillows with the dog hair my canines drop in endless fluff balls (don’t worry, I just made that up, those are not in the book). But I think I can pick one thing to change right now, and then maybe next month I can pick another, then another, etc. I’ve already decided to switch to cloth napkins (as soon as we use up our 1000-count pack from Costco) and be more aware of food waste.

As Doris was writing “Living More with Less,” she was battling cancer - what a perspective on important living. For the impact of her books, she was named one of the top three Mennonites of all time. I didn’t even know there was a list of top Mennonites; neither did my husband. He was raised Mennonite (buggies=no, casseroles=yes) and had the impression of it being an old-fashioned, small-town religion. While that may have been the case in his home town, reading these books has given him a new pride and respect for his upbringing. The “More with Less” cookbook and Doris’ life standards reveal that sustainability and global responsibility were priorities to the Mennonite community before they became mainstream to us hipsters.

Luckily, for this generation, “Living More with Less” has been published as a 30th Anniversary edition. The statistics and global contexts have been updated, and it includes modern testimonials of applications of Doris’ principles.

Some quotes along with each of her five life standards:

Do Justice: “(It) must become a standard of living by which Christians make choices... This means being mindful, conscious, and aware, so that never again can we make a decision about buying or using without thinking about the poor. They lurk in the new-car lot and behind the rack of fall outfits. They sit beside you in the restaurant and wait for you in the voting booth.”

Learn from the World Community: “Some ideas from the international community on improving American life include better public transportation, cooking better, reducing waste and (ouch) building simpler, less expensive facilities for churches.”

Nurture People: “For many people, security is the life insurance policy, the pre-paid college education, the expanding business, the comfortable retirement plan. All these are choices that seem to nurture. Yet too often these choices mean second jobs, late working hours, frequent long-distance travel, and no one at home when children come home from school.”

Cherish the Natural Order: “Today we own the machines for full-scale plunder of our environment... We need not give up manufacturing, but we must make ethical choices between factory pollution and human health. Finding these blends means that we consciously choose to fit the way we live to the environment, not trying to reshape the environment to our whims.”

Nonconform Freely: “We need to be always on the alert not to become carried away with the ‘bigger and better’ slogans of our society. We have the example of Christ and a higher purpose for our earthly life. The young must be taught to appreciate the freedom of not being enslaved to material things.”

Check out my more mundane musings at Life on Olive Street. As I make small changes, I hope to share some personal applications of my own living more with less.

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