Wednesday 8 May 2013

Extending the Table

Variations on this article have been doing the rounds over the last few years and for some reason have been popping up in the UK press this week. They are all a showcase of the book Hungry Planet by Faith D'Aluisio and Peter Menzel; yet another book which someday I will get around to reading. It is a photo journal of families around the world, the food they consume and the money they spend on it.

The UK example was horrific, which surprised me. Minuscule amounts of fresh fruit and veg and plenty of heavily processed foods, fat and sugars. And then of course there were the examples of countries where there was clearly not enough food of any kind. Darfur was a particularly poignant example, I wonder if that would even provide the basic weekly calorie requirements for that family. The more northerly, more western and more wealthy examples by contrast often had massive calorie overload.

Somewhere between the gluttony and paucity were the happy mediums. The agrarian societies where there was plenty to eat, plenty of fresh produce, good protein, plentiful basic staples and modest fat and sugar consumption. Some of the western nations that have held on to their food traditions managed it too. These were the pictures that left me wanting to head to the kitchen and cook. Omnomnom, give me eggs, barley and leafy greens to work with!

I have been stuck in something of a late-winter rut and we have found ourselves eating more cheese, meat, dairy and less fruit and veg in recent months. I treated myself to a new cookbook to see if it would lift me from my rut. 

Extending the Table describes itself as 'Recipes and stories in the spirit of More-with-Less' (The book by by Doris Janzen Longacre). I have been hankering after a copy of More-with-Less for many years since I saw it so highly recommended by so many thrifty cooks. I chose this one because it was considerably cheaper on Amazon marketplace, at a very reasonable £3.50 including P&P. It is thicker than I had expected, spiral bound and robust. The book is published by Mennonite Central Committee and as such there are testimonials throughout from church members dotted across the world. Some are terribly sad, others humorous and hopeful; all of them are easy enough to disregard if you wish.

This is an international cookbook with recipes from almost every country on earth. There are chapters on beverages, breads, soups, salads and vegetables, grains, legumes, stews and mains, feasts, meats and fish, snacks, condiments and desserts. This is how most of the world cooks and eats – basic staples, fruit and veg from local food sheds. All of the recipes are certainly achievable in a world of supermarkets and gas cookers, where we are not tied to our own food sheds – but most readily adapt to local seasonal produce with a little imagination.

I think this would be a particularly wonderful cookbook for a student or someone finding themselves in a kitchen for the first time. There are basic recipes for a range of meals from curry to noodle dishes to casseroles and cakes. The focus is on cheap, easy to prepare and tasty food. I have been dipping in and out and using it as inspiration as I am not one to generally use a recipe when I cook; and it is doing a wonderful job in getting me out of my rut. One day I will add More-with-Less to my kitchen shelf too.

Spiral bound cook books rock, by the way - a spiral binding and wipe clean cover is the mark of a cook's book. Leave dust jackets to the chefs.


  1. I'll second the vote for spiral bound.

    It's scary to think how much food we consume in the West that's been produced in a factory rather than say a mill or an abattoir/butchers ... that's something I'm trying to address with regard to what we eat.

    Great post!

    1. Yes, we are both lucky and cursed that for the most part we have access to 'cheap' food. We generally stick to our local butchers and veg shop for fresh stuff, with supermarket runs for staples. Stepping down the food chain for most meals is a good way to start, though.

      I wish there were more spiral bound craft books too. Not pretty perhaps, but much easier to rest on your lap!

  2. I agree great post. It's made me think about our diet. We seem to only buy fruit, veg and tinned food recently. Obviously cake features on a daily basis, but at least I make. I could do with some savoury inspiration too.

    1. It can be harder with kids too, Gus is a little picky! If you have fruit and veg you are doing something right. You can't eat cheesy pasta everyday, as much as ours would like to!

  3. I have made a few things from it now and I love it! The problem with many 'cheffy' books - there may be be one or two recipes that you really want to make and you spend a fortune on lots of ingredients that you have no other use for. I made that mistake many a time in the past. I will buy More With Less too (especially as you are yet someone else who has recommended it!). Hungry Planet will be a library borrow, it is quite pricey on Amazon but looks fascinating.