I could never live without meat. I'd have to learn to cook all over again!" "Yes, it's easy for you to be a vegetarian. You have been one all your life and know how to make many tasty vegetarian protein dishes!"
These two remarks are often heard from those first introduced to the Adventist program of healthful living, which discourages the use of flesh food. Some continue asking these questions for years after they become members of the church, and never receive much response. They therefore continue in their old unhealthful dietary practices.
These sincere requests for help to live more healthfully were a constant agitation to me. The answer to this need was supplied when news of a preacher who conducted a cooking school at Sligo church came my way. Why couldn't I do that? If William Loveless can make bread for several hundred, surely I can for twenty-five or thirty.
A visit to the General Conference Medical Department, the Book and Bible House, and the originator of the idea, Elder Loveless, supplied encouragement, information, and supplies. A few hours stolen from a busy schedule supplied the time to put the lectures together and to learn how to cook, and the "Let's Eat" program was on its way. Incidentally, this preacher had seldom used the stove before except to heat water for Postum, but there was a woman in the house who gave him considerable help in the fundamentals of cookery.
"Let's Eat" consisted of five weekly night sessions from seven to nine o'clock. The topics covered were desserts and overweight, breads and breakfasts, vegetarian protein dishes, vitamins and minerals, and lunches and beverages.
More imaginative titles were used for publicity, but these were the basic topics covered on the five evenings. The big job was deciding what to leave out, since so much ready information was available on the various subjects. Gathering the materials, preparing the lectures and publicity, and learning how to cook all in one month's spare time—this was one of the most informative, interesting, and busy programs I have ever undertaken.
A copy of Everyday Nutrition for Your Family was given to each family who attended. Mimeographed recipes and other leaflets were also given out each evening.
Was it worth it? I should say so! And here's why.
I can think of no other church program that has more possibilities of getting people involved. Help is needed for serving, for the literature table, for the sampling table, for cleaning up afterward, and for many other things. Even nonmembers can be involved by assigning them a recipe to make and bring to the next session. Occasionally a braver personality can be selected without warning to follow a recipe and make a dish in front of the entire group. This not only gets someone else involved but helps prove the point that cooking is not difficult.
Because the program is quite different and can have entertaining features, it is an excellent way to follow up a series of evangelistic meetings. We maintained the interest of several folks who would otherwise have lost interest after the evangelistic team moved away.
Members and nonmembers alike saw that the Adventist dietary program was both simple and sensible. One who gives the program who has never cooked before has a decided advantage. The audience is encouraged to be more adventurous in trying new dishes. They think, "If he can do that and has never cooked before, I can too."
Several community folks came to visit the church who would never have come otherwise.
The whole venture brought much positive public relations, which will have a continuing influence in Charlottesville. A request for a preliminary news article to cover "Let's Eat" brought a customary three-inch article that was lost in the back pages of the newspaper. One visit to the society editor brought a photographer-reporter to the church—an unprecedented occurrence. This visit was followed by an article and a picture of the preacher-chef that occupied one third of the society page. The story was by far the largest news coverage the Charlottesville church had ever received in any single activity.
This program has excellent potential for variety. The lecture and cooking demonstration will occupy the majority of the time. One or two good brief films or filmstrips are worth while. Audience participation in helping with a recipe or bringing something made at home adds interest. A weight-reduction contest adds variety and will have special interest for many. This begins with the first meeting, and the winner is rewarded at the last meeting. A variety of skits can be used. This also helps to increase the member participation.
Of special interest is the awarding of prizes. These consist of food given by the distributors of vegetarian protein products as well as by local merchants. I was quite surprised at the favorable way merchants responded with products for door prizes. The value of prizes ranged from fifty cents to five dollars.
Cooking School Title Taboo
When labeling the program it is important, I feel, not to refer to it as a "cooking school." One objective of the program is to get men to come. The variety, the entertainment factors, and the fact that food is being served will encourage them to come. Most men, however, especially nonmembers, certainly do not want the word to get around at work that they attended a cooking school at the Seventh-day Adventist church. The thought of a story like that getting out is enough to send most normal males into a convulsion. Please call it "Let's Eat," "Fun With Food," anything—but not a "cooking school."
Restaurant Gets Involved
Two most interesting side contacts from "Let's Eat" have good future promise and are therefore worthy of note. While borrowing trays from one of Charlottesville's most prominent cafeteria-restaurants, I became involved with the owner in a discussion concerning high-protein vegetarian cookery. He expressed unusual eagerness to experiment with them and feature one of these items once a week in his restaurant. The second contact was made at the University of Virginia Hospital. While I was gathering facts on the protein content of commonly used meats, the dietitian there manifested interest in vegetarian proteins for occasional patients who would not eat meat. Arrangements are being made to supply the hospital with foods for this purpose. The pastor is planning a buffet supper to provide opportunity for restaurant owners and the dietitians of the two hospitals to sample vegetarian protein products that are available.
Any pastor who tries a program such as "Let's Eat" will be well rewarded, not only with interesting information in a new field, but with the pleasant experience of spending many hours working together with the one he loves most, if she is a good cook who likes to be helpful. This is an unusual privilege that is seldom possible in a busy pastor's schedule.