Monday, March 7, 2011

Frances Moore Lappe

My whole mission in life is to help us find the power we lack to create the world we want.

                                                                          Frances Moore Lappe

Frances Moore Lappe was born early in 1944, when the Allies were beginning to organize the Normandy Invasion, and Allied troops were still bogged down at Anzio. She came to prominence in 1971 with the publication of her best selling book, Diet for a Small Planet, in which she made the case that livestock require many times the protein, in the form of legumes and grains, than they yield, and that it would be more economical for the world to consume the corn and beans directly. (Lappe included nutritional information to assure that readers who changed their diets would get enough protein, and recipes for the unfamiliar new ingredients.)

With co-author Joseph Collins, Lappe followed Diet with World Hunger (Ten Myths), then expanded Ten Myths into Food First, in which she and Collins posed and answered fifty questions which mostly represented misconceptions about hunger and how it might be conquered. The misconceptions include the notion that there are too little arable land and too many people. With copious references, Food First shows that landowning elites make hunger inevitable by planting luxury crops and commodities for export (sugar, coffee, cocoa, beef, corn for ethanol) instead of the crops that would feed local sharecroppers and farm laborers. The book finishes with recommendations for American readers concerned about world hunger:

Don't accept conventional wisdom, be empirical about hunger, and communicate your understanding; work for our own food self reliance; work for American land reform (for instance by changing tax laws so that heirs don't have to sell the farm to pay onerous taxes); eliminate American support for corporations and governments whose agricultural policies starve people.

Lappe has gone on to write and advocate for democracy and justice. She advocates for what she calls "living democracy" as opposed to "thin democracy." The difference is that  thin democracy is limited to elections and supporting candidates -- the democracy of consumers -- while living democracy is a way of behaving -- the democracy of doers. It happens in our culture and at work. Living democracy is an "enlivening culture in which the values of inclusion, fairness, and mutual, accountability show up in a wide range of human relationships."


Tess Carenbauer said...

Dear Tom Roark,

Greetings! I enjoyed your recent post about Frances Moore Lappé and Diet for a Small Planet. I am writing on behalf of the Small Planet Institute, founded by Frances Moore Lappé and Anna Lappé. Frances is thrilled that you mentioned her work.

Because you engage in many issues that Frances writes about often, including a vision of living democracy where the people hold the power in the future, would you like be on our e-list to keep up with Frances’ and Anna’s writings and events, as well as receive our e-newsletter? If you haven’t already, check out the Small Planet Institute website at to read more about Frances’ latest work.

All good wishes,

Tess Carenbauer
Small Planet Intern

Tom Roark said...

Thanks for noticing, Tess. Living democracy is the way to go, but it seems like the bad guys are winning, and a lot of the good guys think the bad guys are where it's at. That's why I'm working on this "Faces of Wisdom" series. Re-reading "Food First" for my profile of Ms. Lappe, I was impressed by the book's insistence on seeing things as they are, rather than as we "know" they are.

I'd like to receive the Institute's newsletter.