Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Rare Book Review: Modern Manna

This book, which I'm currently offering for sale in real life, is so rare that I can't find anything even close to it in cyberspace. Hence, today's Amazon link is actually a different book than the one reviewed here:

Title: Modern Manna

Newer book on the same theme:

Author: anonymous

Date: unclear, circulated in the 1980s

Publisher: anonymous

ISBN: none

Length: 85 pages

Quote: “Vitamin B-12…found in human saliva and garden leafy green vegetables.”

Modern Manna is a real piece of American folk culture. Books like Modern Manna weren’t really published so much as they were circulated. Someone who might or might not have used her or his full name hand-wrote a lot of recipes, typed up a summary of nutritional information, had them photocopied and spiral-bound, and used them in Seventh-Day Adventist “cooking schools.” They were handed out free to new members of the church as a “ministry.”

This book explained how to prepare all those wonderful, traditional, quite palatable Adventist “health foods.” They were traditionally prepared in private homes (Ellen White had written, “There is more religion in a good loaf of bread than many think”), and there was some controversy about the idea of commercially canning them, since some nutritional value was destroyed and a potential excess of salt was added in the cooking and canning process. They weren’t highly seasoned, and their taste appeal depended on the actual nutrient value gained from using fresh, high-quality ingredients.

Different collections were used as different “Health & Temperance Ministers” prepared them for their flocks. The “Health & Temperance Ministers” were often older women, not seen as “breadwinners” and thus encouraged to work full-time for no wages; some of them printed these books at their own expense “as an offering” to the church. So although each author worked within the denominational guidelines, as laid down by Ellen White (who wasn’t an M.D.) and Jethro Kloss (who was) after the experimental period…

Ellen White’s early writings and personal “Testimonies” often referred to her healing visions, which were controversial, themselves. As a self-educated genius Ellen White’s only possible peer might have been George Washington Carver. Too ill ever to finish the fourth grade, she became famous when she began going into trances during which her lungs seemed to collapse spontaneously, often in Bible study meetings in her parents’ home. In her ordinary state of consciousness young Ellen could barely speak; during her visions she was heard to “shout ‘Glory!’” and describe what she saw in a voice that could allegedly be heard from the road outside the house. The words and images she described can be traced to books the sickly, impressionable child had read while sick in bed, a few years earlier; apparently she had one of those “photographic memories” that stored whole pages of books on which she had never taken notes. Ellen was a devout, even fervent, Methodist (until her study group grew into a separate denomination) and proclaimed only Christian visions to an audience that exploded into one of the most active of all Protestant denominations in only a few years. When her audience asked her for insight into various problems—what to feed patients who hoped to be able to recover from tuberculosis as fully as Ellen had been, how much emphasis to put on different Bible texts in preaching, whether the Civil War was worth fighting—the record shows that Ellen was awesomely intelligent, but fallible. She made mistakes, and quietly corrected them later. Thus there has always been some question whether she was a “True Prophet of God” or a “False Prophet of Confusion.”

However, the longer books Mrs. White authored as an adult reflect extensive research and consultation with other people, as well as the general spiritual guidance she received from prayer, Bible study, and those melodramatic visions of her youth. In fact they’ve been charged with a different kind of plagiarism. Not only did Mrs. White, as a mature celebrity author, employ secretaries whom she instructed to pad her manuscripts by copying in whole pages from the books she had studied, sometimes with the courtesy of quotation marks and sometimes without; readers who never read those other long-forgotten books can often spot the quotes by their superior writing style. And yet, nothing in her historical or theological books has really been disproved, and it took medical science more than a hundred years to get as far as intuition and preliminary experiments took Mrs. White in The Ministry of Healing. If her visions and the career she based on them were, as has been claimed, part of her disease process, then it was a disease the world has never seen before, and should only pray for an opportunity to see again.

As a celebrity patient, famous for making a full recovery after reaching a stage of tubercular “consumption” beyond which few people survived, Ellen White was consulted by the doctors who operated the most successful “sanitarium” retreats for t.b. patients in the nineteenth century. A simple, digestible, plant-based diet was a central part of the treatment they offered. It should be noted that, despite the doctors’ training and Mrs. White’s insights and visions, they made mistakes; at the Battle Creek “San,” where Mrs. White consulted with the Kellogg brothers, the early records include some epic fails, which were later discussed in a book called Nuts Among the Berries. What emerged in The Ministry of Healing and grew into the Adventist cooking and healing tradition was what Mrs. White, the Kelloggs, and doctors Post and Kloss learned from experience—from their many notable successes.

All this background needed to be filled in so that I can pronounce Modern Manna to be one of the purest representatives of this cooking-as-healing-or-nursing tradition. I have seen people adopt Adventist foodways and other aspects of the healing tradition, recover from all sorts of other conditions (including chronic infectious diseases that have not responded to antibiotics, as tuberculosis does), and sincerely believe that eating the kind of food discussed in Modern Manna has wrought “miracle cures” for them.

I’ve also seen a few more epic fails. Healing is often about restoring balance where an imbalance has come to exist. If you have any type of health problem associated with eating too much animal fat, then you are likely to experience healing as you learn to cook and eat Modern Manna. If, on the other hand, you have health problems associated with hereditary gluten intolerance, then this way of eating is likely to make you sicker, faster, than nature intended. 

Regular readers already know that I myself was the skinny, sallow, sickly child (with a fat, florid, sickly sister) of a fat, pale, sluggish, sickly mother, who couldn’t even tell how far she was from being as healthy as anyone else wanted to be, when she told anyone who would listen how much less sick she felt as a result of eating what was known as “health food” in the 1970s—a diet based on bread and cheese. We knew I never could keep cheese down; only as I approached age thirty and developed a rare gross-out symptom known as celiac sprue did we realize that all that wholesome whole-wheat bread was what had made me so unhealthy, all my life. Now past fifty, I credit my firm, top-heavy body, and ability to work young people into the ground before breakfast, to having moved away from the 1970s granola version of “a healthy diet.”

I do, of course, eat and encourage others to eat healthy food, mostly plants, as much of it fresh and organically grown as possible, not too much fat, and pay attention to which specific foods and combinations work for your body, because all bodies are not exactly alike. One person’s food is another’s poison. The kind of “meal” I’m likely to eat away from home—Fritos, Mountain Dew, and maybe M&Ms—is “road food,” not what I eat every day, or recommend that anyone eat every day…but a “meal” of Fritos, Mountain Dew, and M&Ms is less harmful to me than most of the healthy grain-based dishes in Modern Manna. In fact a greasy hamburger tainted with both salmonella and listeria, eaten in the company of a Norwalk Flu carrier, might be less harmful to me than some of these “health foods.”

Your results may vary. The fact that I can’t use most of these recipes in their original form in no way implies that you shouldn’t use them. A majority of humankind can digest wheat gluten, and can stay healthy for a long time by eating wheat as a primary protein and animal-derived foods as an occasional treat. For those who can digest wheat but can’t digest milk, especially, Modern Manna is a wonderful source of recipes for homemade, zero-artificial-additives “Soy Cheese” and “Almond Milk” and “Pecan Loaf” and other traditional Adventist vegan protein dishes. There are more people who can actually benefit from eating this kind of food than there are people to whom it’s poison.

I happen to be willing to part with my mother’s treasured, well worn and annotated, copy of Modern Manna—although it’s a family souvenir—because my immediate family happen to be some of the people for whom most of these recipes are poison.

A few of the recipes, which I’ve copied and saved, are still good even for us. Here’s a naturally gluten-free recipe for vegan-protein waffles: “3 c. regular rolled Oats. 2-1/2 c. water or enough to cover Oats to top of Blender. ½ c. Sunflower Seeds. ¼ c ground Sesame Seeds. 3 or 4 Dates. ½ t. salt. Put all ingredients in Blender and blend until smooth. Bake in med-hot Waffle Iron 8-10 min. Do Not open Waffle Iron before time is up.” The ground seeds release enough oil that you can get the fully cooked waffle out of the waffle iron, and it’s a delicious base for whatever fruit or syrup you like to eat on a waffle. If you need suggestions… “1/2 c. unsweetened pineapple juice. 2 large unpeeled, cored golden delicious apples. 5 Dates, pitted. 1/8 t. salt. Place juice and Salt in blender. Gradually ADD Apples and Dates. Garnish with a few chopped Nutmeats.”

(I think quirky capitalization is part of the fun in hand-written books.)

You can also add body and flavor to water by making “nut milk.” The recipes given here are serviceable. Either “1 c. cashews. 1 qt. water. ½ t. salt. 3 Dates. 1 t. vanilla,” or “1 c. almonds. 1 qt. water. ¼ t. Salt. 3 Dates. 1 t. orange rind to taste,” can be used. “Whiz ingredients in Blender until smooth, Adding The water, a little at a time, about 3 min. Strain if Desired.” These nut milks can be further embellished with carob powder (and more dates and vanilla) or “a sprinkling of coconut in each glass.” That’s for drinking with your vegan-protein waffles. Alternatively, use ½ cup nuts, 1 cup water, 3 dates and a pinch of salt to make “Nut Cream,” which can be spread on the waffles.

Of course, further along we come to things like: “Corn Bread. ½ cup warm water. 3 T. yeast. Let Set 5-10 min. 1-1/2 c boiling water. ½ cups walnuts. 3 c. cornmeal. ½ c. Honey. 4 t. Salt. 3 c. w w flour. Mix the other ingre. (except flour) together, and ADD The Yeast mixture. Stir in flour and mix well. Press into bread pan. Let rise 1-1/2 hrs. Bake 1 hr. At 375°.” This is a nut bread, and a palatable one if you have nice, fresh walnuts (which contain all the oil you need) and fresh cornmeal and whole wheat flour, and a nutritious one if you can digest all of those things. 

Just don’t, please, call it Corn Bread, which, as all right-minded people know, consists of enough oil to lubricate a heavy baking pan such as an iron skillet, liberally, heated to 400°, or 425° if possible, while cornmeal is being mixed with either baking powder or baking soda, a dash of salt, either water or milk or buttermilk (depending on whether you used baking powder or soda), and an egg if you have one to use up; this batter is dropped into the sizzling-hot pan and shoved back into the hot oven as fast as possible, then baked 15 to 25 minutes. Real cornbread can be topped with sweet things, although it goes better with bean soup or cooked greens, but it does not, itself, contain any sweetening. Corn is just sweet enough, all by itself…if it’s good corn. Real cornbread is not a dessert.

In considering the balance between grain and grain-free recipes in this book, it may be helpful to remember that part of what was taught in the “cooking school” class would have been that the bulk of the diet should be fruits and vegetables, to which you shouldn’t have to do much beyond cleaning, cutting up, and maybe baking potatoes, simmering dry beans, or steaming green beans. Like most cookbook writers prior to the 1980s, the author(s) of Modern Manna expect you to know how to fill serving dishes with yummy fresh foods in season. So there’s no recipe for the kind of basic bean soup with which real cornbread is traditionally served. If you didn’t know how to make that, the instructions on a bag of beans in the supermarket would explain it. The short soup section discusses fancier soups, including both fresh pea soup (unusual) and split pea soup (fairly traditional) and vegan chowder (innovative) and a nice, plain rice-and-lentil “pottage.” Likewise, the salad section expects you to know how to toss greens with chunks of fresh vegetables in season, so all that need to be spelled out are “Tebula,” four-bean salad, coleslaw, and a quirky granola-style recipe for “Potatoe Salad or Macaroni Salad.” 

The selections of desserts, salad dressings, and vegan protein loaves or croquettes are more extensive. Nothing calls for refined sugar, although some recipes do call for honey, which this web site considers a cop-out. (Honey is a super-concentrated, to me sickeningly sweet, form of sucrose, chemically similar to sugar, only messier and more likely to contain heavy pesticide residues; it’s a “health food” only if, as it quite effectively did in our home, it’s used to discourage anyone from eating dessert.)

Nothing calls for vinegar, either. Ellen White disapproved of this wine by-product because she disapproved of all alcoholic beverages and didn’t want to support the wine industry. I approve of vinegar-free salad dressing because I don’t enjoy eating anything in a place where I smell vinegar. The salad dressings in Modern Manna are, if anything, sourer than commercial dressings, because they get their sour tang from fresh lemon juice and it's diluted with relatively less oil. To me they taste and smell good…though I maintain that the best salads are dressed, as the name literally means, with salt. For a good salad salt is enough.

If these recipes appeal to you, if you’re quite sure that everyone you plan to feed can digest wheat, and especially if some people you plan to feed are lactose-intolerant and/or have trouble digesting fats, then Modern Manna may be for you. 

But...I can't offer it for sale online, although I can offer it to local lurkers as a rarity. Instead, what I'll offer online is The Guilt-Free Gourmet, which is a slick, commercially published collection of more recipes from the same culinary tradition. To buy that one here, you'd send $10 per copy + $5 per package + $1 per online payment to the appropriate address at the very bottom of the screen--a U.S. postal money order for $15 to the P.O. Box, or $16 via Paypal to the address you'd get via e-mail from salolianigodagewi. Vicki Griffin is still alive, so we'd send $1.50 per copy to her or the charity of her choice. If you want two copies, you'd send us $25 and we'd send Griffin or her charity $3.