Extending Our Family Food Challenge: Six Weeks with Extending the Table

Special Mennobyte series: Six Weeks with Extending the Table by Ben and Heather Kulp

Extending the TableFor those familiar with us, Ben and Heather Kulp, you know that we have been seeking to make more intentional choices about our lifestyles, especially as we spend time getting to know our son, who was born in February. After hearing about a fellow church family’s own transformative experiences around food choices, we were inspired to take on a food consumption experiment. During Lent, we spent 40 days cooking exclusively from More with Less. We learned about food-as-comfort, hospitality, even how to bake with soy flour. But what ultimately came out of our 40 days (other than some wonderful meals and some money saved) was a sense that we want to simplify many other areas of our life as well.

pizzaPizza from refrigerator leftovers from Forty Days of More with Less

So, we’ve begun exploring other ways of getting rid of stuff in our lives—possessions, tasks, relationships—that consume too much time and energy. We’ve discovered Be More with Less, a blog with regular “homework” to help us simplify. Heather has dedicated herself to trying Project 333 starting in July, after she hosts a clothes swap to share the fun with friends. And we’re going through our many years of photos (both print and digital) to focus on the few treasured pictures we’d like to keep.

When we share our simplicity challenges with others, we’ve found a few common trends. There’s the “Oh, I should really do that, too,” conversation, where we’re able to share tips we learned from our More with Less journey. There’s the “Why would you want to get rid of all your stuff?” surprise. But the most striking comments are those from folks who have traveled and/or lived abroad for periods of time who say, “Well, we lived that way for years when I lived in Kenya [insert Guatemala, Thailand, etc.]. . .”

This global perspective on our desire for simplicity made us think about how we could capture some of those lessons while living here in the States. Whenever we asked to hear more about people’s international experiences, we repeatedly heard stories about a common aspect of community life abroad: food.

So, what better way to learn more about simplicity abroad than to share in the mission of another Mennonite World Community Cookbook, Extending the Table? The introduction to the 2014 edition shares that the intention of the book is “to take us to the tables of people for whom food is the staff of life.” So, for the next six weeks, you can follow us as we eat exclusively from the tables of people from countries around the world. We’ll share stories from our adventure as well as brilliantly colored photos from the new edition.

Our first story actually begins with a recipe that is in our dog-eared 2003 edition of the cookbook. Before taking our 40 day Lenten journey using More with Less exclusively, we flipped through all the Mennonite Community Cookbooks to see if there were recipes particular to celebrating a newborn. In Extending the Table, an accompanying note to the Spicy Cinnamon Cup recipe states that Arab families used the beverage to welcome guests who came to visit a new baby. We made this recipe multiple times during parental leave. Unfortunately, this recipe is not included in the new version. (Pictured below is a spiced tea which is included in the new book.)

02_SpicedTea_ExtendTable-4231Spiced Tea in new Extending the Table cookbook

However, we were struck by another story about an infant, this one in the 2014 edition on page 120. Linda Nafziger-Meiser narrates a visit from Zambian friends when her baby was only three months old. She was struck by the simple gift that her friends gave her baby: a cup and plate that her friends had received from the airline along with their in-flight meal. Linda reflects that we often have so many plates that we never use them all; we buy separate plates for our salads, desserts, main dishes, tea cups, even bread rolls. Yet, her friends saw usefulness—even specialness—in the utensils that we would throw away.

We look forward to this journey opening our eyes to the many extraneous “plates” we, as middle-class Americans, hold onto. Our sisters and brothers around the world have much to teach us about seeing the beauty—and simplicity—of what’s right in front of us. We look forward to learning alongside them.

To buy Extending the Table on special sale, click here. Ends May 8, 2014.


Ben Kulp is a cellist, Suzuki cello instructor, and entrepreneur. Heather Scheiwe Kulp is the Clinical Fellow at the Harvard Law School Negotiation and Mediation Clinical Program. Along with a son born February 2014, they live in Boston, Massachusetts, and attend the Mennonite Congregation of Boston. Together, they enjoy hiking, listening to live music, and enjoying good food with friends.

Look for their posts each Wednesday thru June 11, under the special series category, Six Weeks with Extending the Table. Or sign up to receive all Mennobytes posts by subscription from the SUBSCRIBE button on the right side of the blog.