In September of 2001, just before the event that would change America’s image of itself in relation to the rest of the world, Susan Witt interviewed Frances Moore Lappé for a radio program on the environment. A transcription of that interview follows.
Susan Witt: What do you think is the most pressing issue facing the environment over the next ten years?
Frances Moore Lappé: The most pressing issue is that our mental map is going global. We are being told that the global market is our salvation. I was in China in the late 1980s when the state farms were being dismantled, and the loudspeakers that ten years before were broadcasting Mao aphorisms were now carrying the message that the market will make everyone wealthy. The new global religion, with its false notion that the market mechanism can somehow allow us to reconnect with the earth and protect the earth, poses
our greatest environmental threat.
In Hope’s Edge, the new book my daughter, Anna, and I wrote together we look for examples of the market becoming re-embedded in community. Only in recent history has the market been torn out of the community, out of the culture, and become the all-controlling force, with everything reduced to market value. Our greatest hope is that there will be an awakening to the fact that the market is simply a tool.
Susan Witt: Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future of the environment?
Frances Moore Lappé: I think you would call me a possibilist. From what I have observed, having spent so much of the past year traveling to places that are part of the emergence of a new/old way of relating to the earth, I definitely think it is possible that we will awaken from the trap we are in of believing that everything can be reduced to market value, and I want to do everything I can to make the possible happen.
Susan Witt: Why is food your organizing issue?
Frances Moore Lappé: Food is our most direct daily link to the earth. It also bonds us to one another. Food has always played a role in human culture and ritual. In community the breaking of bread together has been a bonding ceremony of human culture. Food is connected with celebration. The message of my life’s work, and certainly of the book I’ve written with my daughter, is not “you should,” not “Oh, help me carry the burden of saving the world.” Rather, it is that we can all be attuned to our deeper needs to connect with one another, to be effective in the world. That is the root of our joy. I think food captures that celebratory element. Our book has sixty vegetarian recipes from leading chefs like Alice Waters, Molly Katzen, and Laura Robertson. These are wonderful people who wanted to contribute to the book in order to celebrate the progress that has been made over the thirty years since my first book appeared.
Food has tremendous power; it is something we all need to survive, something we all love to talk about. It is quite quantifiable. We can argue about what kind of housing we need or what kind of transportation we need, but we know how much and what kind of nutrition human beings need to thrive. So it is arguable that many of us are not getting the kind of nutrition we need, and this is increasingly true for those who live in the “wealthy” countries as well. It is not only food scarcity that causes malnourishment; for the first time in human history many of us are overfed rather than underfed.
Food is rapidly being commodified today, being removed from culture at an incredible rate of speed. A new MacDonald’s is opening somewhere in the world every five hours. I just read that Coca-cola is now the largest employer in Africa. How do we reclaim something so basic to our animal and our cultural past? Because our connection to food is so personal and yet so universal, I see it as an entry point for finding ways to restore our connection to the earth.
Susan Witt: What changes have you seen in the food industry since the publication of your first book, Diet for a Small Planet, in 1971?
Frances Moore Lappé: Two contradictory trends have emerged. On the one hand MacDonald’s restaurants are proliferating, food has become increasingly debased, and there is widespread malnutrition from overeating what’s not good for us. On the other hand, more and more people are eating whole foods, seeking out food grown without pesticides, food grown by local producers. More people are eliminating meat from their diet, which is healthier and avoids harming animals.
I read in the paper recently that vegan hot dogs are now being sold at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. And at the supermarket near where I live in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a really standard supermarket, there is now a small organic section and a certain amount of locally produced food. The Community Supported Agriculture movement didn’t exist when I wrote my first book. The farmers’-market movement, which has burgeoned in the past six to eight years, was yet to be born. So there are many signs that people are discovering the joy of reconnecting to the earth through food.
Susan Witt: Please describe your new book.
Frances Moore Lappé: The book is a sequel, not an update, to Diet for a Small Planet. The title is Hope’s Edge: The Next Diet for a Small Planet: Life Beyond Globalization. It describes a mother-and-daughter journey on five continents. We observed an emerging trend that is still largely invisible: people are reinventing the market with more humane values, respecting the earth, respecting community. It was a journey on which we saw people filled with fear of change who nevertheless sometimes experienced moments in which they became conscious of the disconnect between their life and their deepest values. Do they deny this awareness and go on in the cycle of fear, or do they step out of it to meet new people and connect with a more positive cycle? The book has a lot to do with fear but also with what is emerging to counter that fear in positive ways.
The book begins and ends with the theme of perception. We human beings are so much the product of who we believe we are. We live according to a dominant mental map with five thought traps that Anna and I have identified, traps that make us create the scarcity we fear. We keep replicating who we believe we are. If we believe we are simply encapsulated egos for whom accumulation is the goal, then that is what we will go on doing. But if we are able to pause, to recognize our deeper needs for connection and for effectiveness in the world, then we can let go of that ersatz meaning tied to consumption and find a more satisfying life. So the book is a multi-level, mother-and-daughter exploration of the key questions for our planet.
Susan Witt: Thank you.
Frances Moore Lappé is the author or co-author of sixteen books, including her 1971 bestseller, Diet for a Small Planet, which awakened readers to the human–made causes of hunger and the power of our everyday choices to create a hunger-free world, and most recently World Hunger: 10 Myths (2015). Her books have been translated into 15 languages and … Continued
Susan Witt is the Executive Director of the Schumacher Center for a New Economics, which she co-founded with Robert Swann in 1980. She has led the development of the Schumacher Center’s highly regarded publications, library, seminars, and other educational programs, which established the Center as a pioneering voice for an economics shaped by social and ecological principles. Deeply engaged … Continued