From the publisher | July 12, 2019

Let him eat cake

Dan West with children
Courtesy of the Brethren Historical Library and Archives

The 75th anniversary of the founding of Heifer International seems like a good occasion to pass along this story, in which one Dan was curious about another Dan.

Dan Petry, then pastor of the Middlebury (Ind.) Church of the Brethren, was wondering about the exact wording of Dan West’s famous anti-hunger pledge. Different versions had been floating around the congregation for quite some time.

What everyone there knew was that Dan West, former Middlebury church member and founder of Heifers for Relief (now Heifer International), promised not to eat a certain kind of food until all the hungry of the world were fed. The argument at Middlebury was whether the food in question was “dessert” in general or “cake” in particular.

“Many of us thought poor Dan never ate another dessert of any kind for the rest of his life,” said Dan Petry. After some research, including communication with Dan West’s daughter, Jan West Schrock, he determined “that the exact pledge of this great man” was this: “I will not eat cake until the hungry are fed.”

Summarizes Dan Petry: “Turns out Dan did greatly enjoy pies and cobbler* until the Lord took him home. Nor did he force his cake abstinence on anyone else in his family. Lucy regularly baked birthday cakes for her children. But Dan was true to his word and never again ate cake at home or afield in honor of those who struggled for their daily bread. Can we hope (and work) for a hunger-free world in which even Dan West could enjoy a slice of cake now and then?”

Dan West had plenty to say not only about hunger, but also about peace, education, worship, economics, affluence, government—anything that intersected with living out his Christian faith. He always chose to connect himself with the “little people” of the world, and his dessert decision was an act of mindfulness that brought those people to his daily dinner table.

As we celebrate this milestone in the history of Dan West’s big idea, I’m inspired by the inseparability of his vision and his practice—his vision of what the world should be and the practicality to make a difference.

Wendy McFadden is publisher of Brethren Press and Communications for the Church of the Brethren.