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Monday, July 05, 2010

We need to rescue our food system from corporate control

I have one very well worn, tattered, and browning copy of Diet for a Small Planet whose recipes I used over and over again from the day I first bought it over 40 years ago.

My copy of Recipes for a Small Planet disappeared to the UK on a trip my eldest daughter made one year to visit home.

I think of how things have changed over these decades and wonder if corporate greed will cease, and corporate responsibility will take hold.

It is tough to imagine. All one has to so is to look at the take over of the natural food market place by Heinz, Colgate, and others. These takeovers have shown me that the good brands and good food we used to be able to purchase has become too many boxed food items loaded with toxic canola oil and sweeteners.

You have to learn discriminating food purchasing, and get back to basics for this to have a chance.
Global Food Problems Are About Justice Not Scarcity
By Frances Moore Lappe

In 1969, as I tried to grasp the root causes of hunger, I struggled to absorb the shocking picture my simple research was uncovering: While world food experts cried “scarcity,” in truth we bright humans were—and still are—creating hunger out of plenty. We’d turned our food system into a scarcity-creating machine, and were undermining the Earth’s food-producing potential, too.

I’ll make a one-page handout, I thought. I’ll pin it up here and there and we’ll all catch on, won’t we? For no one would do such a crazy thing, if they only knew.

My handout became a book, Diet for a Small Planet, which showed how our newly emerging diet—based on grain-fed meat produced with chemical inputs—reflects neither our bodies’ needs, nor what the Earth can sustain.

That was then.

Today, hunger’s toll breaks all records, and we’re now facing another huge downside to our reductive, extractive approach to farming: a warming climate. My daughter, Anna LappĂ©, has just released Diet for a Hot Planet, which continues the conversation I helped to start. She shows how much our global food system now drives the climate crisis—even more than transportation.

I’m beyond proud. It’s a fabulous book (moms have a right to say what we think), shocking and empowering at once. And in June the U.N. Environment Programme released a report backing up her message, calling out industrial agriculture, particularly large-scale livestock production, as among the world’s most energy-intensive and environmentally destructive industries. Among the UNEP’s recommendations? We individuals adopt plant-centered diets to lower our own carbon “foodprints.”

The report also highlights how agriculture itself can be part of the solution: Ecological farming actually binds carbon in the soil, and its abundant crop varieties can boost biodiversity. So it’s not agriculture per se, but a certain kind of agriculture, that threatens our planet (and our health).

I could never have imagined, writing my little handout 40 years ago, that today I’d be living in a world in which earth-friendly, hunger-ending farming is proving its potential from Ethiopia to Brazil to India to the U.S.—but where citizens still go along with policies spreading hunger and the destructive, corporate-controlled industrial farming that helps to cause it.

Clearly, we have to dig much deeper.

So, while I celebrate the UNEP’s call-to-diet-action, I wish the report had framed the problem more precisely. It names population and economic growth, which increase consumption of animal products, as culprits. Ernst von Weizsaecker, an environmental scientist who co-chaired the panel, is quoted in press coverage saying, "Rising affluence is triggering a shift in diets towards meat and dairy products.”

I wish the UNEP had emphasized that population growth and our kind of economic growth (producing vast waste) are themselves symptoms of deeper problems.

Almost all population growth in the next 30 years is predicted to be in poor countries, in large measure reflecting the lack of power many women have over their fertility and the dearth of economic opportunities available to them.

And the destructive planet-heating food production and distribution we now experience are themselves consequences of a particular kind of growth—centralizing control of farmland, processing and distribution by national elites and global mega-corporations; power that both reflects and strengthens their political influence. The deepening, gross inequities that result do in fact spur consumption of animal food by the better off—animal products produced using environmentally egregious practices.

But might the UNEP’s frame emphasizing “growth” itself as the problem further distract us from the root problem, deepening worldwide power inequities?

If, by contrast, we were as societies redressing power inequities and reclaiming our democracy from private interests, and if our world’s poor majorities were gaining access to land and agroecological knowledge, enabling more local food distribution, too, then it’s possible we’d see the meat question differently. We’d see that those without access to animal food could produce and consume modest increases, integrating livestock into healthy farming—and reducing our collective climate impacts.

Of course, as author of Diet for a Small Planet, I also know that for the world’s minority who now consume much more protein than our bodies can even use, eating less animal food is great for our health and useful in sending countless messages through the market for saner use of resources.

But that’s a very different proposition than suggesting that overconsumption causes the crisis, and that less is the primary cure.

So I applaud all who are now embracing planet-friendly diets. Hurrah for us! But let such a diet serve as a daily reminder—a string around our fingers that we notice at least three times a day, reminding us of the root of our ecological and hunger crisis: the concentration of corporate power. From there, all that good plant food in our bellies can not only enhance our health, but also bulk up our courage to name this deeper challenge and take it on.

Frances Moore Lappé wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit news organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. Frances is the author of many books including Diet for a Small Planet and Getting a Grip 2. She is co-founder of Food First and the Small Planet Institute, and is a YES! contributing editor.

© 2010 YES! Magazine All rights reserved.
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Mae said...

may i suggest a documentary based on a book i think you would enjoy?

its called Botany of Desire, the documentary was done by PBS (one of the best i've EVER seen) and the book was written by Michael Pollan.


Unknown said...

Excellent program! I used some of his information about apples in an issue of my newsletter, herbalYODA Says!

Mae said...

awesome!! glad to hear it! i'm such a huge fan of Pollan.

Anonymous said...

"eating less animal food is great for our health"

'.. There was no evidence of a threshold beyond which further benefits did not accrue with increasing proportions of plant-based foods in the diet.

Humans are frugivores - not carnivorous omnivores (nor herbivores). See -

"integrating livestock into healthy farming."

Reality: Global Perspective -

"Healthy farming" = Veganic. What is veganic agriculture?


john the dopamine king said...

you had me til you mentioned warming, at that point, all credibility goes out the window.
i think that is quite an unfortunate title your daughter chose for her magnum opus.

genetically engineered foods and nanofoods are a much more important topic, but you won't become a best seller of famous covering the subject.

Unknown said...


I am not sure you can tell the difference between Francis Moore Lappe and me.

I think she makes a very valid point about corporate control of food. It doesn't mean I may or may not agree about global warming.


Sorry you are a limited thinker.

Dark Mistress said...

Having just watched "Food Matters" I am interested to seek out both books referred to here. Yes - it has changed a lot in the last 40 years - more than we can keep track of. Corporations are terrifically efficient at producing for profit, but that is where their responsibility ends. We as consumers have to get informed and up-skill on order to take control of our own health. Good post - will continue to pop in from time to time.

Dark Mistress said...

Having just watched "Food Matters" and being on my own nautral health journey I agree with what is being expressed here. A lot has changed in food production over the 40 years - more than science can keep up with. I will keep an eye out for the books above. Corporations are great at efficient production for profit but that is where their responsibilities end. We as consumers have to take responsibility for our own health and choose what we do and don't accept from Agribusiness. Thanks for the post. This site has legitimate information so will drop in from time to time.