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Frances Moore Lappé reflects on fifty years since her groundbreaking book

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(Earth Eats Theme Music)

KAYTE YOUNG: From WFIU in Bloomington, Indiana I'm Kayte Young, and this is Earth Eats.

FRANCES MOORE LAPPÉ: I often say that the only choice we don't have in such a connected world, the only choice that we don't have, is whether to change the world because every act we take and don't tape. Is sending out ripples and we'll never know the impact of our choices 

KAYTE YOUNG: This week on our show, a  conversation with Frances Moore Lappé. 

She's the acclaimed author of the groundbreaking book 'Diet for a Small Planet' celebrating its 50th anniversary, this year. As co-founder of the Small Planet Institute, Lappé has continued the work. She began 1/2 century ago--of bringing analysis and insight to the study of our food systems and how they need to change for our own health and for the health of the planet.   Stay with us. 


KAYTE YOUNG: I'm Kayte Young, thanks for tuning into Earth Eats. Frances Moore Lappé visited the campus of Indiana University this week as a William T patent lecturer.  She received an honorary doctorate degree and to celebrate the publication of the 50th anniversary edition of her legendary book 'Diet for a Small Planet.' She received her undergraduate degree from Earlham College in Richmond IN in 1966, so her visit to Indiana was a coming home of sorts as well.  For those listeners too young to know about Diet for a Small Planet, or those otherwise not exposed to it, it can be difficult to explain the impact that it has had. I asked Francis to explain what inspired her to write the book, what the key insights were. 

And what happened once it was published.

FRANCES MOORE LAPPÉ:  Soon after I graduated from Earlham, I became a community organizer.  It was the time of the war on poverty and I felt so excited about serving my government.  Great purpose in fighting poverty. 

KAYTE YOUNG: She worked with a national nonprofit organization of welfare recipients called the Welfare Rights Organization in Philadelphia. While she knew she was helping individuals on a day to day basis. She was aware that her work was not addressing the root causes of the suffering she was witnessing. After a short time in this position, her husband accepted a postdoc fellowship at UC Berkeley and they moved to California. This gave Frances an opportunity to reflect on what was next for her. 

FRANCES MOORE LAPPÉ: The woman that I worked most closely with and knew that she had died of a heart attack. The woman in Philadelphia. She was very very poor and she was only in her 40s and she died of a heart attack and I said wait a minute, wait a minute, Lily didn't die of a heart attack. 

She really died of poverty and what am I doing to really get at the roots of the poverty crisis? 

And so I decided I made the best decision of my life. I decided to stop going until I had a more sense of my pathway, and at that time there was a huge scare about food insecurity.  I mean that we had overrun the Earth limits. A book called the Population Bomb had exploded and people were terrified that there was not enough. And so I said, oh food food. If I could figure that question out, that would unlock the mysteries of economics and politics, and I'd have a pathway. 

So that was the beginning. I just buried myself, kind of literally in the UC Berkeley library and put the numbers together. And guess what? I found more than enough for all of us, and that was really the life changing moment. The second life changing moment in a way after Lily's death because I realized that we human beings, the brightest species we are actually creating the experience of hunger out of food plenty. And that set me on this path that brought me here. 

KAYTE YOUNG: In part one of Diet for a Small Planet from the 20th anniversary edition, in a section called Recipe for a Personal Revolution, Frances, More Lappé outlines what her research uncovered. She writes, quote,  In 1969 I discovered that half of our harvested acreage went to feed livestock at the same time, I learned that for every 7 pounds of grain and soybeans fed to livestock, we get on the average only one pound back in meat on our plates. Of all the animals we eat, cattle are the poorest converters of grain to meat. It takes 16 pounds of grain and soybeans to produce just one pound of beef. In the United States today the final blow was discovering that much of what I had grown up believing about a healthy diet was false. Lots of protein is essential to a good diet, I thought, and the only way to get enough is to eat meat at virtually every meal. But I learned that on the average, Americans eat twice the protein their bodies can even use. Since our bodies don't store protein, what's not used is wasted. Moreover, I learned that the quality of meat production better termed its usability, could be matched simply by combining certain plant foods. End quote

FRANCES MOORE LAPPÉ: What was the real shock was the waste built in that people have this idea Oh, you know, ‘This big industrial well, country, we've got industrialized agriculture. It's got to be really efficient’ and I said  ‘wait, wait, wait,’ I called it the protein factory in reverse. You know that we were thinking of ourselves, ‘oh, we've got this modern system’ and I said, ‘wait a minute, it's all generating enormous waste!’ and so that's really what I wanted to share with the world. And I did a one page handout because I thought, gosh, if people knew this then we would really make a huge change and at the same time as you know I threw in some recipes. The recipes were actually the publisher's idea, but I thought yeah, that's a good idea, because really what I was saying is that a grain fed meat centered diet is the most inefficient and we've learned so much since. Also, the most destructive of the biodiversity, you know, the diverse species. We need for the planet to survive so all life forms need that diversity in our plant world and we were destroying it with all of this focus on just a few crops. Feed crops, right? So I really thought that oh, why not suggest that we not stay as the world champion meat eaters, but rather that we move toward a more efficient and healthier. Of course, we know now the health benefits of a plant centered plant based diet and now I call it plant and planet centered eating. So I included recipes. I got friends to donate recipes and I would doctor them up in the kitchen and it was really fun to do. And that's what Diet for a Small Planet became. 

KAYTE YOUNG: This introduction about the built in waste and motivating people to move to more plant based diet that was more aligned with the planet. And with our bodies, this understanding about our diets and our food systems led to further revelations that shaped the direction of her work

FRANCES MOORE LAPPÉ: If we are creating hunger, it's not inevitable.  It's not just about products. And I started saying that hunger is not caused by scarcity of food. It's caused by scarcity of democracy because for me, democracy means we all have a voice and nobody goes hungry intentionally. So if people are hungry in your society, it means your promise of democracy is unfulfilled. And that's really the guiding thought that that hunger became a symptom and a symbol of the deeper systemic crisis, of which I've been over these 50 years trying to hide it. If I and two not just identify the root problems, but then what practically can we as citizens do and what lessons can we take from others that are so far ahead of us? So it really was freeing me from this simplistic notion of that. “Oh, if we just grow enough”--because now--we have 20 to 25% more food per person than we did then, and yet one in three people in the world does not have access to an adequate diet, so we're still so disconnected from this truth of our situation and then what we know are the solutions which in what for me is democracy. 

KAYTE YOUNG: Diet for a Small Planet started out as a one page document. She expanded it as she realized there was more to explain and it found its way to Betty Ballantine of Ballantine Books in New York. While it became a bestseller and was translated into several languages, it was not an overnight success.

FRANCES MOORE LAPPÉ:  A year after it came out, I had the satisfaction of one review that nailed it and it was in the Boston Globe and I still know the person who did it. He was a young guy, a cub reporter at Boston Globe and his headline was 'Cookbook for Revolution' and I thought ‘oh he got it,’ you know, because the the coverage that it got before really hadn't nailed the profound, I think, political implications-- the democracy implications, and so I was just delighted and and I think that was kind of the beginning. And I started to get more and more attention so it just gradually built over time and I was just totally astonished. Truth be told, I made a D on my first English paper in college. so I love to tell students that because never, never think, never-- because now I've just finished twenty books, so what started out as a concern about the problem of hunger and the role of a plant centered diet in addressing global hunger moved into an understanding about health and about the health of the planet. 

KAYTE YOUNG: I asked Francis about the role of food and farming in our current climate. 

FRANCES MOORE LAPPÉ: Yeah, it's so much more important today, even so much more because we now know the implications. Let's start with climate, Food and Agriculture. The food system contributes as much as 37% of all greenhouse gas emissions 37%. So we think of greenhouse gas emissions. 

You know, we typically think of smokestacks or tailgates. Well, also think our food system and that a great deal of that is in the production of this grain fed meat centered diet, because it just involves so many more resources than because livestock, as many people know, emit, you know cows emit methane, which is a particularly potent greenhouse gas, and just all the processing involved and all of the chemicals that are, have to be in the US system. That chemicals used in chemical fertilizer and all of that manufacturing and distrib.and so moving toward more plants, centered eating uses much less land and involves much less destruction of the rainforest, which are of course really critical to maintain our rainforest for the carbon that they hold. So there's just a win win win, and then on the on the nutrition side, on our well being side. You know, when I wrote my first book, people were so concerned that we couldn't get enough protein from eating in the plant world and many people told me that my book helped create peace in their families, 'cause their parents thought they would die without the protein from meat and I was making the case that is now even more confirmed by the scientists that we do perfectly well on protein without meat. In fact, Americans eat about twice the protein that their bodies can even use, so it's wasted in that sense, and so it's just the truth is, as long as we eat a healthy diet, eat a variety of foods in the plant world and we get enough protein and we don't have to worry about it. 

KAYTE YOUNG: In the introduction to the 10th anniversary of Diet for a Small Planet, which is included in the latest edition, Frances shares the journey that the book launched in her life and in her. I asked her to share some of that path where this work has taken her over the years. 

FRANCES MOORE LAPPÉ: Well, as I said, you know, I've said from the beginning that hunger is not about a scarcity of food, but a scarcity of democracy, meaning that people didn't have the power to access the food and to make the same rules to use our resources. Well, right that those who are benefiting from this inefficient system were those who also had power in our political system. To keep it that way right so early on, I knew that I had to devote more of my energy to what does democracy look like that could be strong enough and fair enough to create a food system that worked for all of us and the Earth? And I'm still working on that. And I've tried to sort of weave my way-- to keeping one foot in both, but I did start an organization in the 90s called the Center for Living Democracy. So what I began to describe is my vision of democracy is of a way of life not simply voting occasionally, but really how we live and how how we engage in our workplaces. In our school boards and and see it as something that is essential to who we are as human beings. Our need for power, meaning and connection. I define those as the three essentials beyond food, power, meaning income. And so only democracy can offer that, and so I have been and most recently my organization, the Small Planet Institute has created an online hub. 

We think of it as a place that people can go from whatever most you know stirs their passion. 

Whether it's you know the environment. Whether it's injustice in the workplace, whatever the issue is that they can go to one site and see where they can plug in on the key democracy reforms like voting rights for example, or money out of politics for example. That could allow us all to make fairer rules for all of those arenas of life. And so it's just called democracy movement dot US and we partnered with a big big initiative. We are very small but a big collaborative initiative that ultimately represents about 45 million Americans because it's a coalition of 60 national organizations. So if you add all their members. 

up and they are all organizations like Greenpeace and like Sierra Club and Communications Workers of America who say yeah, we have our issue, whether it's labor or climate. But we know we've got to also be weighing in on democracy reforms, and so I think of it as a movement of movement. 

And it is that is my dream. It's a bit of my fantasy right now, but I'm a believer in naming things can help to create them, so I'm naming it a ‘movement of movements’ for the first time in our history where we have this awareness now. From maybe it's the climate crisis that have given us this awareness that we're all connected and solutions one place are going to affect solutions elsewhere and that you know, we we are one of the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases in the world as you know, I'm sure and so the world can't and we can't to succeed in other ways unless we are addressing that in injustice and that crisis. And democracy is a path wave. My journey on food. I kept asking the question behind the question behind the question and getting down deeper and deeper. I hoped, and suddenly I realized wait, the most important question is why are we together creating a world that not one of us would choose because no one gets up in the morning and says yes, I want another child to die of hunger today? Or yes, I'm going to figure out what I can do to heat up our planet today. We don't do that, so what's up with us that we are creating a world that none of us would individually vote for right. And so I came to believe in what I now call the power of ideas, that what is unique about our species. It's both a gift and of great hazard is that we see the world through culturally determined filters. Albert Einstein says it is theory which decides what we can observe and throughout history you know scientists come up with a theory and they then they fit everything into that until it kind of cracks and then they have to come up with another theory. That's what he's saying that we that we fit everything into a filter. That's the problem for us and that we got locked into this premise. What I think of is the premise of scale. City and both of scarcity of goods in the world and goodness in us. So I like the two G's, the scarcity of goods and goodness. And once we start that premise, that human beings are fundamentally flawed and that there's not enough to go around, then we don't trust ourselves to make decisions together, and we try to look for some alternative sorting out mechanism because we were not capable and in the 1980s. In the late 70s, nineteen 80s, there was a lot of focus on. Yes, there's only one pathway and that is letting the market determine outcomes. And so Ronald Reagan famously told U.S. government is not the solution. Government is the problem and put forth the market as the way to determine outcomes. But of course, it's not any kind of market, it's a market with one rule essentially, and that is do what brings highest return to those who already have wealth. So wealth accrues to wealth accrues to wealth, and you end up with such concentration that actually you have more experience of scarcity. More hunger because of wealth concentration, but you start 'cause OK if you started this negative premise you end out at very negative place, and so my whole life is about recognizing that actually human beings can be that way very selfish and and competitive and materialistic. But we also show every day our capacity for fairness and cooperation and empathy. For others, and So what matters is the rules that we create together that either bring out the worst in us, or the best in us, and that contrast is the foundation of getting us out of this spiral of negativity and spiral of finger pointing and spiral of you know, just suffering and we now rank below any European country in, for example, infant death rate and longevity that we're way down there. So why it's II think it's because that we feel powerless in face of this idea of a market that determines outcomes fairly when it does not, and we can still have a market, but one with fair rules that prevents the kind of monopoly power that is now in control. 

KAYTE YOUNG: My guest this week on Earth Eats is Frances Moore Lappé, author of Diet for a Small Planet and author of 19 more books on world hunger, the environment and living democracy. We'll be back with more from our conversation in just a moment. 


Kayte Young here. This is Earth Eats. Thanks for joining us for a conversation with Frances more Lappé. In the introduction to the 50th anniversary of Diet for a Small Planet, Frances Moore Lappé outlines what she names 10 food related assaults on life that have arisen or gotten worse in the last 50 years. I asked her if she could talk about some of those 

FRANCES MOORE LAPPÉ:  This was what was so shocking to me when I began the research for the 50th. I knew that on many levels we had gotten worse, that things had gotten worse, but I wasn't really aware of how extreme. And of course we've been talking about the climate crisis and to how the climate crisis wasn't even in our consciousness when I wrote my first book. And now we know that it's food system is a major contributor, and the grain fed meat that I was identifying--way 50 years ago--is the major force behind the negativity in climate impact of our food system. So that is a big big factor I didn't anticipate, but I think in addition I wasn't really aware of how destructive f species overall, our food system is and are generally our economies are but particularly our food system, that David Attenborough, the natural historian, has said that we are facing the 6th great extinction of life on Earth. That 40% of insect species are expected to be extinct in the next few decades. That's terrifying if you know anything about biology atall, so there is this crisis and then I go on to talk about, for example, the nitrogen pollution that I was not really aware of, but there's an expert in Virginia University who says that it is the disruption of the nitrogen cycle is worse than the carbon cycle. And what he means by that is that because of this chemical fertilizer we use nitrogen leeches into waterways and makes it so all the way down to gets into the Gulf of Mexico where there is now an aquatic dead zone the size of the state of Massachusetts. And that's not even on the mental map of most people who are aware of other kinds of problems in agriculture. So I have to say writing the 50th anniversary, what? Ding Ding Ding Ding. You know it's the it's the moment to wake up, wake up and that's--I really do believe that-- that, you know, most people do want to do the right thing and do have emotional feelings about life, you know, plant world, it's not we're not just into our own species and they can appreciate the sorrow. I  know that I've seen these studies where just having a tree outside your window, for example, can reduce teenage depression by a certain amount of percentage, you know, that we're so unconsciously even tuned into nature that, but I think that if we spread this news of the destruction of nature that our species is causing I think there will be kind of an outpouring of desire to correct that because in the process, as I keep pointing out too, we become healthier plants in her diet is associated with a longer life and less incidence of the number of major diseases, certain kinds of cancers, and so I see it as a win win. You know that what we turning to embrace the impact of our of our economy on the wider networks of nature that we ourselves directly our species, directly benefits as well. I should have also pointed out that I had, even though I knew that our diet had degraded, but didn't realize the extent. For example, 60% of the calories that Americans now eat, hold virtually no nutrition that our diet has become so much more of these manufactured ultra processed foods. I call them food products and it turns out industry has done the research to figure out how to be most addictive. To in creating these packaged products that give us lots of calories and lots of salt and sugar but virtually no nutrition. And that has so advanced since I was a kid, and even since I wrote Diet at age 26, so that was one thing, Kayte, that I hadn't really appreciated. How bad--think about it. 60% of the calories that we eat offer us no nutrition. So in general our government says that virtually none of us meet the nutritional guidelines that they have set out. And we lead the world in meat consumption. I also learned that the World Health Organization in 2015 said that processed meat is a carcinogen, a carcinogen, and that red meat in general is a probable carcinogen. And yet, how many parents know that? When they feed their kids hot dogs. Right, there's just so much that we can learn from. Well, learn about what's wrong with our democracy because it's not protecting us. 

It seems like the first thing democracies should do is to protect our public health and yet and yet and yet, you know, look at these statistics and the rate of diabetes since I wrote Diet for a Small Planet in the United States has quadrupled. And if you take all the pre diabetics in our country and people who have diabetes, it starts approaching half of our population. It's most, you know, most of those are still there. But about from 10 to 13% of Americans actually have the disease. Type 2 diabetes.

KAYTE YOUNG: In doing the research for the 50th anniversary, Francis had to face all of these places where the things she talked about in the original Diet for a Small Planet and the 10th anniversary edition. And the 20th and food 1st and the other books and projects she has worked on over the years. These things she was warning about weren't getting better. They were getting worse. 

In addition to what she just mentioned here, she notes vast hunger continues amid plenty.  Much of modern livestock production has become what she calls ‘a destructive, cruel and dangerous nightmare.’ Soil loss and degradation continue at rates far beyond what nature can rebuild in time and underground water for irrigation is disappearing, hastened by a meat centered food system. In the face of all this, I wanted to know how Francis Moore Lappé hangs on to hope. 

FRANCES MOORE LAPPÉ: Well, I find that hope in people in the world and in the US who are creating this what I call a spiral of empowerment, starting with the presumption that humans can be both good and evil. It all depends on the rules we set and they are working to set the rules that bring out the very best in our species and what keeps me going is not I'm not an optimist, I define it this way. Is that in the world of everything is connected in this world. We know that the ecological truth and everything is in continuous change and therefore we are all Co creating our reality moment to moment. In such a world, it is not possible to know what's possible, and I'm saying that all humans need is to have a sense that their acts could possibly make a difference. Just that sense of possibility. So I call myself a possibilist, not an optimist, and that is a critical condition for me because I know for myself you I don't know the outcome of my work, but I think it's possible that if more and more Americans absorb this truth that I'm sharing with us that they're going to be motivated to make the changes that will make a difference. And I often say that the only choice we don't have in such a connected world, the only choice that we don't have, is whether to change the world, because every act we take and don't take is sending out ripples and we'll never know the impact of our choices. But we do know that they are sending those, and so the more we learn about those that can be sending positive signals out for a more efficient health. Your diet for all then hey, why not do that because you know, I've loved to focus on food to the extent I've been able because it's something we make choices every day. And so it's like saying OK, every day I can make a choice multiple times that sends out, you know. So if we eat organic food, if we can afford it and we choose it, we know what we know that we're helping farm workers for one, not just our earth and all those insects that get protected, but we know that half of farm workers get poisoned by by pesticides every year and so that's a great joy, right? If I'm choosing organic, if I can? Yeah, I don't like paying that extra bit, but it's worth it because I'm protecting the Earth's creatures and my own species out there bringing me this food. So there's joy in this alignment and. I think that food offers that alignment in this very sort of literally palpable way, so that's what keeps me going and then stories what I call stories of possibility that we all should be sharing. Stories of what people are doing to step up to align with these needs for power, meaning and connection and creating real democracy. At every level. In the new opening chapter I quote one of my heroes Jules Preddy, a professor in the UK who tracks all across the world the emergence of self-governing. A local groups that are creating sustainable communities and sustainable farming and feeding everyone in in their community, and he counted the arising of 8,000,000 new such groups around the world, whereas he started a couple decades ago he had only added up about half a million and now 8,000,000 in 20 years are rising and one of them I got to meet. I went to India and I went to visit a group that I had read about that I was so impressed with a group of women of the lowest caste women. First of all, women in India don't have a lot of voice in general, especially not the lowest caste. They had started coming together in their community. They told me and they shared these intimate story. Season brought tears, but they said hunger was everywhere in their in their community and they as women had no power. And about 20 years before I met them, they had started every week after their kids were in bed, they started meeting and just sharing their you know, their little bit of change and collecting enough money that first one, then two could get land a little bit of land and start growing healthy food and start marketing it in a way that they were able to profit instead of just selling it and getting up. So they started doing that and started eating more healthfully and they took me out into their acres that had like 20 crops of different healthy things in one acre. They got their own radio program, so they got to share this news and now this gives me chills that now these healthy millets, which are much much better for us than white rice. Now in the local Indian community there's-- they are using those in school lunches. They're getting the food from these women farmers and they were just ecstatic. Their lives have been totally changed and it was, and now 75 villages are part of this network, and as they raced after me after all this wonderful exchange, I started heading to my car and they raced after me and they said “oh we forgot to tell you the most important thing!” and I turned around and they said, “most important thing that we learned from our sanggam, our village women’s group, is courage.” Courage. And so that's become a theme of my life-- is that the courage it takes in this moment and that, you know, we think ‘oh, some people are courageous, I'm not courageous.’ but I would just think that actually no,  all of us want to feel that we count. And to do that, it means taking some risk, and that's what defines courage for me, risking breaking a bit with the norm of your family or your community and doing something new. That is risky and I I love some to share with people what happened to me when I was really scared once and my of breaking with the pack and my heart started pounding and I said, oh I think I'll just rename that my inner applause going off and so we the time is now to believe that we all can become courageous. Courage is required. Goodness is not good enough. Our planet is at stake and we've got to do what we thought we could Not do. 

KAYTE YOUNG: her book, she talks about the power of these personal choices we make each day and how what I refer to as voting with your fork or voting with your dollar. These acts are important for steps. But she emphasizes that we must work for structural change as well. 

I asked her to expand on that thought. 

FRANCES MOORE LAPPÉ:  Yeah, I like to think of it as, every choice we make that aligns us with the world that we want--makes us feel more empowered and more desirous to make the next that that. 

That's it's not, it's not a, you know, escapism. But it strengthens us-- we become more convincing to ourselves and therefore to others. So these individual choices are important. But the key is that this should hopefully to make us feel that, Oh yeah, what's next? What's next? And for me that constant reminder is like a string around the finger. You know that every choice I make well, what are the biggest choices that we are making now? Essentially, who sets the rules? And now we know that in 19 states, the Republican Party has been pushing for making it harder to be a living democracy person participating in voting foundation of democracy. So we know there's a big push back on, on a fair democracy, and this is the moment talk about what we can do to wherever you are to see what's happening in your state. 

And that's why on this website democracy movement US you can go to Indiana. You can go to any state and see what are the big issues on democracy reforms that give U.S. citizens a  voice, because now, just to give you a number, there are 20 lobbyists, corporate lobbyists in Washington whispering in the ears or taking out to lunch, you know? Our people that we've elected to represent us there. So we're outnumbered 20 to one in terms of who's, you know, who's at their-- at their door, so to speak. 

And so we, the citizens, have to speak up and change those rules so that we don't allow that kind of lobbying which many more effective democracies don't allow. 

So that kind of thing it's--I want so much because for my friends and I feel it too that that engagement is not the dull duty. You know the burden on your shoulders that you have to carry in order to get your deserts of personal. That's the old frame of thinking about democracy. It's just a dull duty and I came to talk about it for myself, ‘The thrill of democracy’ and I came up with that term when I marched from Philadelphia to Washington in 2016. And honestly I didn't know if I could walk 10 miles, right? So it was definitely doing that, which I wasn't sure I could do. If it's somehow making it to DC arriving at the capital of about 100 of us as the Capitol Dome came into focus, I realized ‘Oh my gosh, this is life changing’ that I looked at that Dome and I said ‘Oh yeah, they work for me. They work for me and I should never lose sight of that for one second,’ and the more that all of us as citizens could have that. Experience if they work for me and then to feel that other aspect of the thrill of democracy was having bonded with strangers, you know people, I would never thought would share this deep value and ex you know a Wall Street banker. And a professor of something unrelated at MIT, you know, people--I would never have met and we all had this passion for democracy. And so I think that is part of the thrilling experience of getting engaged, and that's there for all of us to feel that thrill and democracy is who we are. It's our feeling that ‘yes, we do have power and meaning and connection with others in our lives. 

On the deepest questions for our children and us.’

KAYTE YOUNG: I'm speaking with Frances Moore Lappé researcher, activist, organizer and author of the groundbreaking book published 50 years ago, Diet for a Small Planet. I'm speaking with her on the campus of Indiana University where she visited as a William T Patten lecturer and as the recipient of an honorary doctorate degree. Stay tuned for more from our conversation after a short break. 


This is earth eats. I'm Kayte Young and my guest today is Frances Moore Lappé, author of the 1971 Best selling book Diet for a Small Planet advocating ahead of its time for a plant centered diet. This year marks 50 years since the book was first published and we've been talking about what hasn't changed or has worsened since. Her book first came out and she has shared some of what inspires her to continue this work. Frances had another story she wanted to share from an urban setting. 

FRANCES MOORE LAPPÉ: In terms of where I take inspiration, how I stay a possibilist, I got to visit the very large Brazilian city, Belo Horizonte, about a decade ago, and I went there because the city government had actually set the goal of zero hunger. We are going to end hunger. In Belo Horizonte. 

And several million people. And the way that created a shifted frame where the leaders there said everybody is involved with food and hunger. So we have to bring in the church community. 

Small and large farmers, the working class, the, the labor movement. All you know the urban garden, all those people and help create this multifaceted initiative and so they did that and they you know just you know just one example, they said, “OK, the local farmers around us can have a farm stand and have free city space for it if they, you know, agree to to come and to to offer these at a price that people in the neighborhoods can afford.” And it was a win win for everyone and I could go on and on-- popular restaurant They call them, where I could get great lunch for $0.50, you know, so they, in a decade had reduced the child mortality by something like 60% in one decade and they were on their way and I got to interview the founder, Adriana, a person who was coordinating it all, and I said, “Adriana. 

What do you think of, you know this progress?” and she started to tear up and I immediately had the translator say, “ Why is Adriana--why is she crying?” And she said, “what upsets me  is how easy it is to end it.” and what she was saying to us is what was breaking her heart was that, you know, this is not rocket science to use that cliche, this is this is doable. And why didn’t we start before? It's so easy to end it. And it was one of the most moving moments of my life, so that really, you know, the idea that a major urban center could make this kind of change just by saying OK, we can do this and bringing all voices together. Yes, that's the kind of thing that we need to learn about and to share, because hope feeds hope. And hope it's power. I've learned that from the neuroscientists, they tell us that hope actually organizes our brains towards solutions, so telling a a solution story is a revolutionary act. 

KAYTE YOUNG: I had to ask Frances more Lappé about the recipe section of diet for a small planet. 

FRANCES MOORE LAPPÉ: The recipes have had a makeover for the 50th edition. My daughter really stepped up  Anna,Lappé and she found a wonderful recipe developer very, very skilled, Wendy Lopez who went through all the recipes and made sure that the soy grits were out. No, so it grits. 

And also my daughter teased me, she said, “mom, did you realize you had 70 references to margarine?”

KAYTE YOUNG: When diet for a small planet first came out in 1971, the sugar industry paid a few scientists at Harvard to publish reports that named saturated fat as a leading cause of heart disease, to shift the focus away from sugar. As a result, popular nutrition advice steered consumers towards low fat and nonfat dairy products away from butter and towards margarine. Margarine was considered the healthful choice at the time. These days olive oil and coconut oil, or even straight up butter in moderation, are seen as better options. And we have a link to a story about that at 

FRANCES MOORE LAPPÉ: So all the margarine is out and now really healthy vegetable oils are in but just a lot of tinkering with the herbs and spices. And then we have 13 or so recipes from very distinguished plant based chefs around the country. And we also have more of a dimension of Indigenous diets, because of course this diet, this plant centered diet that I started recommending in the first book, this has been the way we have eaten for eons of time. 

KAYTE YOUNG: I asked Frances if she could share a favorite recipe from the collection. 

FRANCES MOORE LAPPÉ: I'll just what popped into my mind is kind of the spirit of the book is a recipe called Roman Rice and Beans, which I came up with way back. OK, rice and beans. We all know what that tastes like but I thought, oh, what if I shifted it? From more, from a Latin orientation, like using it with tortillas or something and turned it into an Italian dish? It's all the herbs and veggies are altered to give it a kind of Italian twist and it just shows how easy it is to just think outside the box. Sort of an experiment with plant based and and also just whatever you have like in that. Recipe besides the herbs and all that whatever you have in the in the vegetable bin, you could use pretty much. What I hope to help people experience. Is that just having fun in the kitchen and just being a creator and not feeling intimidated by recipes but just inspired by recipes? Until you find, you know, what you and your family most love and that's the whole spirit of my recipe section. 

KAYTE YOUNG: As we were wrapping up our conversation, I asked Frances if there was anything she would like to add.

FRANCES MOORE LAPPÉ: I just want to underscore how joyful it is to feel that one is making choices based on what's best for yes for me, but also for other of my species and for the earth itself. It's just a joyful way to get motivated then, and I hope that some of our listeners would go to democracy movement dot US and Small Planet Institute. I would love to hear from you. I just hope that we can be in conversation and because I want to get better at what I do and hearing from everyone is the way to do that. 

KAYTE YOUNG:  her final thought:

FRANCES MOORE LAPPÉ: Be courageous and have fun with that feeling of ‘yes I can do it. 

I'm part of the solution.’ 

KAYTE YOUNG: That was Frances more Lappé. She's the author of the best selling book from 1971. Diet for a small planet. This year she's celebrating the 50th anniversary of the book with a new addition including updated recipes and new stories of people making a difference in our food systems across the globe. Frances Moore Lappé visited the campus of Indiana University in November of 2021 as a William T Patent lecturer and recipient of an honorary doctorate degree from the University. Find links to the Small Planet Institute democracy movement dot US and more at Earth eats. Earth eats is a radio show and a podcast, and we also make videos featuring recipes from my home kitchen. Payton Knobeloch produces them with videographers Jacob Lindauer and Jacob Lindsey. 

We've got recipes, savory and sweet, stovetop and baked, and one of my favorites is his cinnamon pecan filled bosc pear, cloaked in a flaky pastry. Baked until golden and served with a honey lemon chamomile sauce. You'll find all of our recipe Videos when you search for Earth eats on YouTube where you can like and subscribe. That's it for our show this week. Thanks for listening. We'll see you next time. 

(Earth Eats Theme Music)

RENEE REED: The Earth Eats team includes Eoban Binder, Mark Chilla, Toby Foster, Abraham Hill, Payton Knobeloch, Josephine McRobbie, harvest public media, and me Renee Reed. Special thanks this week to Frances Moor Lappe,  Indermohan Virk and Heather Packard. Our theme music is composed by. 

Erin Toby and performed by Erin and Matt Tobey. Additional music on this show comes to us from the artists at Universal Productions Music. Earth Eats is produced and edited by Kayte Young and our executive producer is John Bailey. 


Frances Moore Lappé sitting in an armchair holding a microphone and smiling, arms raised as if in animated speech. Bookshelves in the background of a well lit room

Since the release of her first book in 1971, Frances Moore Lappé has not stopped advocating for a more sustainable food system. ( Manahl Marielle)

“I often say that the only choice we don’t have in such a connected world, the only choice we don’t have is whether to change the world--because every act we take and don’t take is sending out ripples and we’ll never know the impact of our choices.”

This week on Earth Eats, a conversation with Frances Moore Lappé. She’s the acclaimed author of the groundbreaking book, Diet for a Small Planet, celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. She’s co-founder (with her daughter, Anna Lappé) of the Small Planet Institute: living democracy, feeding hope. Lappé has continued the work she began a half-century ago, of bringing analysis and insight to the study of our food systems--and how they need to change for our own health and for the health of the planet.  

Frances Moore Lappé visited the campus of Indiana University this week as a William T. Patten Lecturer, to receive an honorary doctorate degree and to celebrate the publication of the 50th anniversary edition of her legendary book, Diet for a Small PlanetShe received her undergraduate degree from Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana in 1966 so her visit to Indiana was a coming home of sorts, as well. 

For those listeners too young to know about Diet for a Small Planet, or those otherwise not exposed to it, it can be difficult to explain the impact that it has had. In the interview, Frances tells how the book came to be, and where the work has taken her over the years. 

One of Lappé's key questions is, 

Why are we together creating a world that as individuals none of us would choose?

This question has led her to expand her activism from the rhealm of food to include democracy. Her organization, The Small Planet Institute has joined forces with The Democracy Movement, in what she calls a "movement of movements." Her hope is for everyday citizens to connect and to find the courage to work for the change we want to see in the world.

Hear the interview with Frances Moore Lappe in this episode of Earth Eats

[note: There is a story mentioned in the conversation about the sugar industry influencing nutrition science publications. You can find a New York Times article about that here.]

Music on this Episode:

The Earth Eats theme music is composed by Erin Tobey and performed by Erin and Matt Tobey.

Additional music on this episode from Universal Production Music.

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