Hope's Edge
The Next Diet for a Small Planet
Frances Moore Lappé & Anna Lappé
Putnam, New York (USA), 2002
448 pages, including, bibliography, index and recipes.

This sad paradox of the over- and underfed reflects, we agreed, a global economy that is creating never-before-seen wealth alongside deepening suffering. The pay of America's CEOs leapt 535 percent during the '90s, while most working people barely kept ahead of inflation. And those who now control as much wealth as half the world's people could fit into Anna's high school auditorium.

I knew my kids were right —that their generation was frustrated and longed for help in making sense of it all. But I also knew that I didn't need to redo Diet for a Small Planet. It still stands. What was needed, we realized, was a book that takes off where the original stops. For over these three decades, despite accelerated environmental decline and worsening diets, I had been witnessing another story take shape. I wanted to tell that story —one of an emerging shift in our understanding of our place on the planet. That's what I wanted my children's generation to be able to see.

(Frances Moore Lappé & Anna Lappé: Hope's Edge, p. 7)

On genetically modified organisms:

Apparently responding to anticipated criticism, the professor proclaims with Ivy League authority that, well, maybe we here in the rich countries can afford to be skittish about potential risks in the genetic engineering of seeds; after all, we have plenty to eat. But our skittishness jeopardizes the future of the poor abroad because they need genetically modified seeds to produce more food to stave off hunger. Then, for half an hour, the discussion hovers around only one question —the possible risks in using genetically engineered seeds.

I sit up straight with alarm, as I realize that even after all these years, no one is challenging the premise that scarcity causes hunger. I want to stand and shout out: We're still asking the wrong question! Not only is there already enough food in the world, but as long as we're only talking about food —how best to produce it— we'll never end hunger, nor create the communities and food safety we want. We must ask a different question:

How can we build communities in tune with nature's wisdom in which no one, anywhere, has to worry about putting food —safe, healthy food— on the table?

Asking this question takes us far beyond food and ultimately brings us back to food —as you will see in the lives of people we meet on our journey. It takes us to the heart of democracy itself: to whose voice gets heard in matters of land, seeds, credit, trade, food safety —all stuff that can sound dry and abstract. It can, that is, until it comes to life in real people risking their lives and claiming their voices —people like the Brazilians you'll meet who are facing down big landowners to create vibrant communities, the villagers in Kenya who are turning back the encroaching desert, and the Bangladeshi women who are taking huge risks to free their families from hunger.

(Frances Moore Lappé & Anna Lappé: Hope's Edge, pp. 16-17)

Thirty years ago, this model of the world as a take-it-apart-and-put-it-together machine held our culture's imagination. It still does, but it's gradually giving way to new images of how the world works. When I wrote Diet for a Small Planet, "ecology" was an obscure scientific term. Today, it's everywhere, eroding our mechanical mindset and teaching us to think in terms of relationships; to see the interconnectedness of all life. New communications technology —preeminently the Internet— encourages us to think not in isolated parts but in networks, in connections. And those distinct parts? Well, they dissolve right before our eyes.

(Frances Moore Lappé & Anna Lappé: Hope's Edge, p. 48)

In the dominant mental map, we learn that we must leave outcomes to the "market," and in today's world, that means to an industry that disconnects the providing of food from what our bodies need to thrive. In fact, it means leaving our decisions about our diets to a very clever food industry that has hit on a glitch in our biology and exploited it big-time. The glitch is that we humans evolved what nutritionists call a "weak satiation mechanism" for fat and sugar —meaning that once we start eating them, it's hard to stop. Eons ago, when we were roaming hunter-gatherers and high-fat, high-sugar foods were scarce, the trait served us well. When we made the kill or found the beehive, it was advantegeous to binge, you might say. But when fat and sugary foods aren't scarce, the trait is mighty dangerous. Fortunately, I learned by my own little experiment on myself that if we eat more like our ancestors did, we don't have to fear evolutionary programming.

Through another lens I see something more: Because so much about our culture denies our senses, we increasingly consume food that we take no time to enjoy and that is literally killing us. Once reduced to a commodity, food doesn't engage our senses. In fact, we are taught to mistrust them. We tolerate fast food not because we "lack good taste," but because we've lost touch with our natural sense of taste, with all its subtleties, and with the role food has always played in bonding us to the earth and to one another. Alice and Cathrine are determined to reverse this loss and help us to see how we've been hurt by the thought traps and how we can free ourselves from them through our senses.

(Frances Moore Lappé & Anna Lappé: Hope's Edge, pp. 57-58)

We've just met Dirceu and Vilmar at the MST's Curitiba headquarters this afternoon. We invited them so we could find out more about why they god involved with the MST. The pizza place was their idea.

"I was a seminarian," says Dirceu, whose cropped blond hair and flushed face make him look more like a surfer, "but felt I wasn't doing enough. I decided my faith called me to actually do something more practical." MST became that something.

"Christianity and MST are similar," Vilmar adds. "They both value people and oppose social discrimination. They are against the accumulation of capital by the few."

At this, most of the Christians I know would cringe. At home, most Americans assume that opposing capitalism is tantamount to endorsing communism —and communism, well... didn't Marx call religion the opiate of the people? But here, Vilmar is saying that it's impossible for him to be true to his Christian faith and, at the same time, to accept the suffering capitalism brings about in his country.

While Vilmar bites into an oozing slice of garlic pizza, Dirceu finishes his thought: "Capitalism cares only about production; it doesn't care about the individual."

It strikes me as we sit here with these two earnest young men, thousands of miles from our home in capitalist America, that what they're saying contradicts all we're taught about the value of capitalism: We're told it is the victory of the individual over the state. Here, Dirceu and Vilmar are saying that capitalism means the subordination of the invididual to those who control production, and to the state backing them. Since we arrived, we've been hearing about MST creating businesses to function within the market, so it's clear that it's not the market itself that these young men find violates their faith. Rather it's the elevation of the market above all other values, including people's dignity and health.

(Frances Moore Lappé & Anna Lappé: Hope's Edge, p. 77)

The conversation brings to mind something João Pedro had told us when we talked with him about the earliest days of the MST. He explained the process of poor people gaining the courage to stand up for themselves —during a time, as he says, "when any mention of land reform could get you arrested, even though it was mandated by the constitution.

"The first step is losing naïve consciousness," João Pedro emphasized, "no longer accepting what you see as something that cannot be changed." (I'm amused by the irony that here in the US it's the opposite. A person gets labeled naïve who believes that things can change.) "The second," Joãa Pedro continued, "is reaching the awareness that you won't get anywhere unless you work together.

"This shift in consciousness, once you get it, is like riding a bike: no one can take it from you. So, you forget how to say 'yes, sir' and learn to say 'I think that...' This is when the citizen is born.

"This change of consciousness is hard to measure statistically," João Pedro reminded us. "You can't count it the way you can the number of families we settle or the number of hectares the MST makes productive. But it is equally, if not more, important."

(Frances Moore Lappé & Anna Lappé: Hope's Edge, p. 80)

Declaring that the present approach to land reform just isn't working —proven by continuing violence in the countryside and millions still waiting for land— the World Bank, with the Brazilian government's support, has come up with an alternative. It's been piloted in several Brazilian states and just received World Bank's go-ahead.

The Bank calls its approach "market-based" land reform because it takes the government out of the process. In the present approach, it's the federal land-reform agency that determines which land is idle, determines its value in the courts, and expropriates the land for the landless — a process that can be excruciatingly slow. (Remember, the Batrches had been waiting years for official title so they could move out of their plastic shacks). So, says the Bank, remove the government, simply bring "willing sellers" and "willing buyers" to the table, and the result will be more efficient and effective.

But the MST disagrees. They, along with most groups working for land reform in Brazil, are worried about the World Bank plan. I think I understand, at least partly, why the MST is so worried.

The Bank's strategy, in a nutshell, is to encourage small groups of the landless independent of any organized movement to select land that they want and then negotiate a "fair market price" with landowners. The government then backs the landless with loans for buying the property and for initial investment to make it productive. It seems straightforward, but there's one big hitch. There is no such thing as a "fair market price" in Brazil's countryside. Most landowners didn't pay for their land in the first place. They either inherited it or received it in exchange for political favors... or, remember the grilagem (the cricket fraud)? During the 1960s and '70s, huge areas were essentially given away as the military government encouraged relocation into the country's interior. Also, the MST asks, how can a desperate, landless family with no social power hold out for a fair price from wealthy people who likely have no urgent need to sell? And why would the better-off sell anything other than the least-fertile pieces of their land?

That's why the MST sticks to its position: The government must remain responsible for determining which land is unproductive, assigning value to it, and transferring it fairly to landless people. And to keep the pressure on, the MST's land occupations are vital.

(Frances Moore Lappé & Anna Lappé: Hope's Edge, pp. 89-90)

You see, for years I'd been smitten by the drama of Bangladesh-born Grameen Bank, meaning "village bank" in Bengali. In less than two decades, Grameen has achieved what many thought impossible —built a lending institution for the poor that actually works, putting loans in the hands of over two million borrowers, almost all of them poor women. While the loans may seem tiny in Western terms —$160 on average— they make life-and-death differences here: often the difference between havinga roof on one's house, or not; having food for one's children, or not.

Grameen's success has even generated a whole bew buzzword —"microcredit"— and brought its charismatic founder, Professor Muhammad Yunus, international acclaim. The Workd Bank has tapped Yunus to advise on how to spread microcredit worldwide, and replications have popped up in more than fifty-eight countries. President Clinton even suggested that Yunus should receive the Nobel Peace Prize. Yunus himself claims microcredit is so potent it can "put poverty in the museum."

(Frances Moore Lappé & Anna Lappé: Hope's Edge, pp. 105-106)

Yunus believes he and his colleagues, through trial and error, have planted a new kind of bank bearing a new kind of fruit. Yunus really got us thinking. Just what are the assumptions that underlie our banks? Anna and I later teased out five that are so pervasive most people don't see them.

The Deciders. Bankers decide who gets a loan and for what; only they have the expertise to tell a "good" risk from a "bad" one.

The Guarantee. The bank's guarantee, if you don't repay, is its right to seize your property. So poor people can't get credit because they lack property; they have no collateral.

The Owners. A bank's shareholders are not the same people who are its borrowers. Otherwise, you'd end up with a mess of conflicting interests.

The Secrets. Banks can't do business in public or make their records public. That's private stuff.

The Motives. Banks are not in business to improve society but to make money for shareholders and to provide a service to those with money.

We all assume that somebody, somewhere, figured out that these rules had to be this way. In any case, it's working, isn't it? But to Yunus, the very fact of poverty is proof the way we are doing things is not working, so he took these five givens of banking and stood each one on its head.

(Frances Moore Lappé & Anna Lappé: Hope's Edge, pp. 109-110)

To being to grasp the scope of Grameen, imagine this: You pass through the sliding glass doors of Fleet or Citibank and sit down at the customer-service desk to ask about a small business loan. "Sure," says the banker, "we can help you. But here are pledges you must take home and commit to memory. Come back when you can recite them, and then we'll proceed with your loan application."

You look down to discover that in order to get your loan you must pledge not to batter your spouse and to stand up against sweatshop labor abuses.

You are shocked —I would be— that a bank is getting "personal." How dare it get involved in strictly social questions!

Then I catch myself: US banks do have social impact. Big time. Discrimination against minorities and banks' flight from poor communities go a long way to explain why so many of our inner cities are troubled. So, I ask myself, as Yunus did: If banks have a social impact, why shouldn't they consciously acknowledge it and strive to have a positive one? Where is it foreordained that an organization lending money can't also have the goal of improving society?

(Frances Moore Lappé & Anna Lappé: Hope's Edge, pp. 111-112)

Like Dahlia, poultry tycoon Frank Perdue started small, but today Perdue Farms ia $2 billion business in an industry notorious for low wages, dangerous working conditions, harsh treatment of the chickens, and serious pollution. Certainly, Perdue is no model for liberating people or protecting the environment. So what would keep Dahlia from following in Frank's footsteps?

When we ask Yunus, his answer is intriguing.

Part of it, he believes, is that Grameen builds in peer pressure. "She still has to go to center meetings," the weekly member gatherings like those we visited, at which women make loan decisions face to face. "She is still part of a group," Yunus reminds us, "no matter how rich she is."

For Yunus, part of it is also simply the magic of microcredit. Credit availability itself is protection. "This person cannot exploit Grameen members, because what she has, they have, too: access to credit. So, if they think. 'I can do that,' they can borrow money and follow her as a role model, as a mentor."

But the idea that the availability of credit protects against exploitation assumes everyone can be an entrepeneur. As I look at my own country and my own experience in two nonprofit start-ups, I know how hard it is to make a business go. It is exhausting and totally demanding. Does everyone have even the physical stamina? Perhaps Yunus is right that virtually any of us could successfully manage our own at-home weaving operation or a small stall selling groceries, but as Bangladesh becomes a more complex economy, so will the generation of small businesses.

(Frances Moore Lappé & Anna Lappé: Hope's Edge, pp. 129-130)

During our travels, we meet an American nun who tells us about working with a church-sponsored microcredit program in San Francisco. Microcredit was surely no quick fix in her eyes. As she put it, it takes a lot more than a small loan to start a viable business in the US, where marketing has become a virtual science and filing business tax forms uses a small grove of trees. For her, in an American urban setting, microcredit did not get to the root of the poverty everywhere around her.

(Frances Moore Lappé & Anna Lappé: Hope's Edge, p. 135)

These are the exact words I'd chosen almost ten years ago to capture my own vision of democracy and to name my organization, the Center for Living Democracy. I used "living democracy" to remind us that democracy is a way of life, something we practice every day —not something done "for us" or "to us." Over the years, some who've followed my work seemed bewildered by my choices. To some, democracy seemed a diversion from my anti-hunger path. But I had learned that to get to the roots of hunger I had to look at democracy itself —who makes decisions, whose voices are heard. Here, Navdanya similarly uses "living democracy" to express a vision that goes beyond the manmade, the institutions. It's a democracy that embraces all living things. The fruit and fish and flowers of the poster are a celebration of this idea.

(Frances Moore Lappé & Anna Lappé: Hope's Edge, pp. 155-156)

"The Land Mortgage Bank has sent foreclosure notices to a third of the households here," explains a heavy man in a deep purple turban. "Other notices are due soon. You see, to promote the Green Revolution [to get farmers to embrace the industrial model], the government subsidized the price of the inputs. Now we have to pay the full price, and it's much higher than we expected. Plus, our crops are failing. Almost every farmer in this village is indebted five to seven lakh." This is roughly equivalent to between $10,000 and $15,000 —more than three times what the average Indian in this region brings home in an entire year.

(Frances Moore Lappé & Anna Lappé: Hope's Edge, p. 160)

Under British rule, Kenyans were told that their religion was immoral and their traditional crops were backward. From a priest friend of Wagari's we learn that, upon discovering that the local word for "prayer" meant something akin to celebration, the colonialists were appalled. They taught the Kenyans a new word which carries a meaning closer to "beg." Suddenly prayer shifted from celebration to supplication. And traditional foods? Africa's cereals were often relegated to categories with pejorative connotations, referred to as "coarse grains," "minor crops," or "famine foods." Later, multinational companies, eager to unload Western grain supluses, sold Africans on the notion that crops unsuited to Africa, like wheat, were superior. One ad directed at parents read, "He'll be smart. He'll go far. He'll eat bread."

Add to these defeating messages Kenya's decades of dictatorial and corrupt government, combined with Western aid agencies and development programs pumping their solutions into the country, and I see the value in the Green Belt Movement's working to "unteach" helplessness, to redeem indigenous knowledge, and to strengthen villagers' sense of their rights as citizens.

(Frances Moore Lappé & Anna Lappé: Hope's Edge, p. 175)

The economists' rationale, which I'd first read ad nauseam decades ago, is that specialization in export crops like coffee makes sense because countries should grow what best suits their climate and soils, and then —according to the hallowed theory of "comparative advantage"— sell on the international market and use the profits to buy what they need that grows best elsewhere. Anna tells me that thirty years later her university economics textbooks still argue that David Ricardo, the father of comparative advantage, was right.

And, even though Ricardo's prerequisite conditions hardly hold in today's world, comparative advantage remains a central tenet of the globalization religion sweeping the planet. Indeed, by the mid-1990s, the export focus had been taken so far that forty-four countries worldwide were deriving from 60 percent to almost 100 percent of their foreign exchange revenues from a single commodity.

In the mid-70s, Joe Collins and I —writing Food First in our cramped office above the A&P grocery in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York— questioned an overconfidence in export crops that makes a people dependent upon imports for basic food survival. "Food self-reliance doesn't necessarily mean producing everything the nation eats," we wrote, "but producing enough of its basic foods to be independent of outside forces."

Once on the cash-crop export path, the "outside" forces to which one becomes exposed include decisions by other countries suddenly to produce your export crop. In a recent case, the Vietnamese government jumped on the globalization bandwagon and began subsidizing its farmers to grow coffee. Out of nowhere, Vietnam rose to become the world's second-largest supplier —helping push coffee prices down to their lowest level in decades. Now, this little village on another continent is feeling the effect.

Also, when David Ricardo extolled the benefits of comparative advantage, "capital" couldn't move —couldn't pick up and leave, say, Flint, Michigan, and head to Tijuana, Mexico. Now that corporations can and do, Ricardo's arguments no longer hold. In fact, a country's comparative advantage may lie in nothing "natural" at all; it may only be that its businesses are willing to exploit their workers more hearlessly.

(Frances Moore Lappé & Anna Lappé: Hope's Edge, p. 176)

Neglected by government agronomists and development agencies, more than 2,000 African native grains, roots, fruits, and other food plants have now dwindled so much that some scholars call them the "lost crops of Africa."

In working to revive these "lost crops," Mumo stresses that it's not just sentimental pining for the past. And, as she talks, I think back to Negi in India and Farida in Bangladesh; of their parallel efforts to reclaim and spread their seed heritage. "Over centuries, Africans had learned to cultivate food that worked in this environment," Mumo says. "We grew root crops such as cassava, arrowroot, and sweet potatoes, as well as groundnuts [peanuts]. We grew pumpkins, all kinds of things.

"These were all crops that could be kept a long time, either because you could store them underground, or, like pumpkins, you could keep them and they wouldn't rot. As long as you don't break the pumpkin's neck or puncture the skin, it can survive a long time.

"Many root crops will last for years underground, where they are naturally protected from insects and the sun. These crops are the ones that bridged the harvests and fed us during droughts," Mumo explains. "Now we're getting seeds from Green Belt, seeds for groundnuts, sweet potatoes, millet —foods that won't dry up and die if we don't get rain."

(Frances Moore Lappé & Anna Lappé: Hope's Edge, p. 178)

During the '80s, commodity prices dropped worldwide, devastating countries like Kenya that are dependent on export-crop income. Yet, under pressure from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to pay off debt, the Kenyan government pushed even more of its economy onto the export treadmill to earn foreign exchange, even encouraging the export of natural resources, like wood. No wonder Wangari is as motivated by her Jubilee 2000 work as by her work with Green Belt; they are integrally linked.

She reminds us what this has meant for Kenyans. Servicing its foreign debt eats up almost half the country's GNP and amounts to $20 million each year more than the government spends on health and education combined. Kyaume's school principal told us school fees increased without warning this year —more than doubling for secondary schools— so now, many more families can't afford to send their kids to school. When we'd asked people in Kyaume why school fees went up, no one could explain. Now, Wangari tells us that he government hiked the fees to finance the debt.

Cutting government funding for schools, Wangari reminds us, is also connected to the International Monetary Fund's "structural adjustment programs." Though the term has always sounded a bit like a chiropractor's helpful realignment, what it really refers to are strict conditions a country must meet to receive loans from the Fund. They include cutting government spending, mainly by shrinking subsidies and services such as education and health care.

(Frances Moore Lappé & Anna Lappé: Hope's Edge, p. 188)

Paul explained to us the way fair trade works: Imporers and roasters pay a fee to a fair-trade certifier —in the US it's his organization— and a premium per pound of coffee, allowing Paul's group to put a fair floor under prices coffee farmers receive —no matter what the zigzag of the world market. Like certifiers in Europe, TransFair USA ensures that coffee with the "Fair Trade Certified" label meets specific criteria —that, for example, the coffee is produced by democratically organized small farmers with full knowledge of market prices.

(Frances Moore Lappé & Anna Lappé: Hope's Edge, p. 199)

"Church groups are used to boycotting products from companies doing things they don't like. Now they have a tool for saying what they do like, for a 'buycott'. In the San Francisco fair-trade coffee campaign, stores saw a big increase in sales of coffee stickered with the fair-trade label. We can explode the myth that Americans are not willing to pay for values," Paul told us, exuding the same buoyant optimism he brought to helping build successful coffee cooperatives in Nicaragua. "We can show that the consumer is a sleeping giant."

(Frances Moore Lappé & Anna Lappé: Hope's Edge, p. 208)

Since I wrote Diet for a Small Planet, Europe has taken the fast track toward American-style farming —bigger and bigger farms that are more and more dependent on multinational suppliers of seeds, chemicals, and machines. The Europe of small, quaint villages surrounded by family farms is vanishing. During the 1990s, a quarter of a million European farms disappeared from the land.

In France, a single-minded production focus has places this relatively small country among the world's top agricultural exporters. At the same time, food, always a source of national pride for the French —as for many Europeans— has become a cause of anxiety. Scares about mad cow disease, unsafe poultry, and contaminated drinking water have shattered many Europeans' faith in the people entrusted to secure their food.

(Frances Moore Lappé & Anna Lappé: Hope's Edge, p. 213)

Hannes is working with others in Europe to shift EU policy from the current "productivity model" to a "quality model." That means changing the focus from generating the maximum tonnage of grain or meat or milk to caring for landscapes, protecting diversity of wild and cultivated plants and animals, and ensuring that the economy works for the community, not the other way around.

There's a buzzword for it, Hannes told me. It's being used from the halls of the European Parliament in Brussels to the World Trade Organization's headquarters in Geneva. The term is "multifunctionality," and while it may sound just about as dry and uninspiring as a word can be, in its own clunky way it conveys agriculture's multiple dimensions. Agriculture is never just about quantity. It's also, and always, about providing safe and nutritious sustenance, preserving the environment and a rural way of life, and keeping people from crowding into already stressed cities.

Multifunctionality —this shift in focus from quantity to quality— is also about respecting the history and culture that root people to a place —whether it's Bordeaux produced in Bordeaux or whether it's olive oil in Greece, where, Hannes says, farmers are convinced they produce the world's finest.

This rootedness to the particularity of place is the opposite of attitudes in the US, where our drive toward uniformity promises that hamburguers we bite into in Boston will taste the same in Billings.

(Frances Moore Lappé & Anna Lappé: Hope's Edge, pp. 215-216)

But two moments in his life —his moments of dissonance— forever changed how Jean-Yves thought about farming and himself.

"During the late '70s," Jean-Yves explains, filling our glasses with bottled water, "we began hearing more and more about hunger in the third world. Meanwhile, I knew we here in Europe had mountains of butter and rivers of milk. I thought, how wonderful —we can ship surpluses to those who need them more.

"But I started learning that giving away or selling our surpluses at low prices to the third world ends up making prices so low that small, local farmers in those countries are destroyed. What I thought was helping was actually part of the problem.

"I wanted to do something. So a group of us contacted other milk producers in France and started educating them about the impact of exporting our surpluses."


"Once I saw how exporting our surpluses could be damaging," Jean-Yves continues, "I started seeing how how our importing feed for animals was also contributing to the problem of world hunger.

"It was immoral to me that Brazil would be exporting feed for livestock in Europe while hundreds of thousands of its own people were starving. I was shocked when I realized that the French dairy cow has more buying power than a hungry person in Brazil." (As you hear Jean-Yves talk abot his 1970s revelation of the clout of French dairy cow, remember that today in Brazil two-thirds of that country's grain goes to livestock, not to people.)

(Frances Moore Lappé & Anna Lappé: Hope's Edge, pp. 218-219)

"Today, consumers don't realize we pay for our food not just once, but many times. We pat at the store, yes. But we pay again in taxes going to subsidies for the biggest producers, who don't need them. We pay a third time in the costs of pollution we endure from large farms destroying our soil, water, and air. Then we pay again in social services for those squeezed out by factory farms. And we pay again in the costs of urban crowding and sprawl.

"So, sure, you can say the price tag of our network's food is often a little higher —producing sustainably costs more in labor, for instance— but conventional foods are not really less expensive. It's just that their costs are hidden.

"The future of sustainable agriculture is in the hands of the consumer —as consumers, we must literally start seeing price differently," he [Jean-Yves] says adamantly. Here in Brittany, Jean-Yves is reminding Anna and me that the sleeping giant must wake up and get educated. And Jean-Yves' challenge may not be as daunting as one might assume. Already, one recent opinion poll has found that two-thirds of Europeans are willing to pay more for organic food. And when we get home, we will discover that in the US, too, the giant may be more awake than we'd thought. Four out of five New Yorkers polled recently say they'd pay extra for food grown in ways that safeguard water quality.

(Frances Moore Lappé & Anna Lappé: Hope's Edge, pp. 222-223)

The night before the festival, at the university, during the question period after José [José Bové] and I spoke, a young man in the audience rose. His lanky frame held an obviously heavy heart. He told us his family's farm had just folded, and he asked what his generation could do to keep the family farm alive.

"We just weren't efficient," he said.

I felt so bad for him. The very fact that family farms are folding is proof that they're inefficient, goes the standard line —and many farmers swallow it. Bearing the loss is hard enough; blaming yourself makes it even worse. But he'd bought the myth, too —the myth that the big, industrial farming model is most efficient, even though studies measuring input against output now prove that the most efficient farms are actually medium-sized family operations.

I can identify with the young man, and with these farmers. I've had difficulty, too, in fighting the miyth that survival proves efficiency. In debates with agricultural economists, I've had a hard time not getting pulled onto their turf, where the hidden costs of industrial agriculture are ignored —the costs, for instance, of their polluting our environment, of their eliminating jobs, of their providing dangerous working conditions— all borne by us taxpayers and hidden in the subsidies that the biggest farms get. (By last count, the top 10 percent of US producers received 61 percent of our agricultural subsidies.)

But even those who quantify small- and medium-sized farm efficiency often only count how much land, chemicals, fuel, and abor get used up to produce so much. What is difficult to calculate, and challeging to measure, is life. It may sound corny, but there is no other way to say it: the life of the farm family sustained by love of the land. The life of the rural community centered around healthy farms. The life of animals living free from misery and disease. The life of the soil itself —the millions of microorganisms that live or die in every handful.

I so wish there had been time that night to say to the young man: "Don't swallow their line. Staying in business doesn't mean you're efficient. It may mean you're willing to eke every bushel from your land, despite the damage it brings. It may just mean you're so big you can cash in on large government subsidies."

(Frances Moore Lappé & Anna Lappé: Hope's Edge, p. 247)

"We're registered nurses, and we were seeing higher and higher rates of certain diseases, even some diseases that people never used to get," he says. With his short-cropped hair and wire-rimmed glasses, Matt would fit as well in the ER as he does here.

"Asthma, attention deficit disorder, cancer, depression, obesity, fibromyalgia —an arthritis-like condition— they're all up. That's a scary thing," he says.

For the Sharps, there is no doubt: Americans are getting sicker —even dying— because of what they eat. But, they remind us, it's not just a matter of our food choices. The quality of our food is eroding as well.

"Our big farms have stripped our topsoil by using chemicals and overusing the land. We can't have healthy food without healthy soil," Matt says.

Matt's caution reflects a deterioration in food quality borne out by official surveys which show nutritional values declining in many commonly eaten vegetables. Our drive for production, over all else, has eroded even the nutrition in foods we eat precisely because we think they're going to be good for us!

But it's not just the plants that are affected. "Animals have been affected by the production drive, too," Matt says. "They're pushed to grow faster and bigger, and their lives are spent almost entirely in concrete-floored feedlots. These animals are getting more stressed and more sick.

"Most of the farmers around here," Matt says, bringing home his point, "are spending more on veterinarian bills than I do on my mortgage.

"Older farmers can remember Ol' Bossey living as long as twelve years, but now the average is closer to four. It's common knowledge among farmers that a lot of hamburguers, bologna, and other meat that's ground up is made from culled cows —dairy cows culled from the herd because they're so sick and worn that it's better business to turn them into meat before they die anyway. If I wasn't growing my own animals —if I didn't know where my meat was coming from— I'd be a vegetarian... maybe even a vegan."

(Frances Moore Lappé & Anna Lappé: Hope's Edge, pp. 252-253)

Before we climb up the low hill to the pasture, José —his signature pipe in hand— chuckles as he says in a strong French accent, "America is the most communist country ever."

The Sharps look more than a little stunned. If I hadn't heard José talk about totalitarianism at the food festival, I might not have grasped his meaning, either. It's that all of us, every thing, is being squeezed into one giant system, in this case a certain way of growing our food and raising our animals. In this system, decisions are far removed from people, and the decision makers are oblivious to the impact. José sees us all becoming the same —like the frightening images of gray, uniform communism so familiar to my generation growing up with the Red scare.

(Frances Moore Lappé & Anna Lappé: Hope's Edge, p. 253)

Introduced after World War II, pesticides seemed to hold great promise for high-yield, risk-free farming. So, by the mid-'90s, the US was using roughly 1.2 billion pounds of active pesticide ingredients each year —that's about five pounds for every persn in the country and 20 percent of the world's pesticide use. We'd also become a major pesticide exporter, even of pesticides deemed too hazardous to allow here. The goal of it all is, obviously, to reduce loss to pests, but we've been losing that fight, too. Despite a tenfold increase in pesticide use, the share of crops lost to pests has nearly doubled since World War II.

(Frances Moore Lappé & Anna Lappé: Hope's Edge, p. 258)

Before we say goodbye, John stresses to us that there's a lot more to the farmer's dilemma than what and how he or she grows. They get low prices for a reason. When farmers try to sell their products, they face only a handful of corporate buyers, so they have virtually no bargaining power. Yes, farmers can reduce costs by shifting away from chemicals, but they can also take charge of their predicament, he says, by getting rid of the middleman, marketing directly to consumers. This way, they could get a fair price without consumers having to pay more.

(Frances Moore Lappé & Anna Lappé: Hope's Edge, p. 259)

"In Slow Food, we want to stimulate markets for endangered foods," Tami says. "The Ark is one way. Food tastings are another. Our first event in this area was an apple tasting at an orchard with hundred-year-old apple trees and forty-three varieties to taste."

I suppose many Americans would see Tami's efforts as quaint —interesting, but irrelevant— but maybe not if they were aware that, worldwide, 95 percent of our food requirements are now being met from fewer than thirty plant varieties. To appreciate the narrowness of this genetic base, remember our earth is home to literally millions of plant species, many of which have not even been identified. So the Ark of Taste is not just for our pleasure, although certainly it is that, but also for our viability.

(Frances Moore Lappé & Anna Lappé: Hope's Edge, p. 268)

On this, our last day, we want to learn about the farming business, and specifically marketing. All the farmers we've met are inspiring, yes, but are they economically viable? While spending on food in this country since I wrote Diet for a Small Planet has jumped from roughly $100 billion to $500 billion a year, the amount going to farmers has only crept up, with virtually no rise since 1980. Today only twenty cents of our food dollar goes to the farmer, down from forty-one cents in 1950 —the rest goes to all the other stuff, from advertisers to packagers to distributors.

(Frances Moore Lappé & Anna Lappé: Hope's Edge, p. 269)

As we emphasized from the beginning of the book, we need a practical way to act on our new sense of possibility. We need a way to "get off the bus," as Wangari would tell us, and climb onto one that's headed in a direction we ourselves have chosen. We need an entry point.

In Brazil, the entry point for the landless is, understandably, getting one's own land. From there, formerly voiceless peasants beging together to ask, "What kind of community," and, even, "What kind of Brazil, do we want?" In Wisconsin, the entry point is healthy food and saving the family farm, and from there a multifaceted reweaving of city and countryside begins to emerge. In India, the entry point is the seed, as farmers reclaim indigenous knowledge, and from there they being to question government and corporate-promoted farming practices.

But the lesson of these stories isn't to wait for moments of dissonance to strike. As has been true for so many we met, by simply taking action we create dissonance; we put ourselves in a new place.

(Frances Moore Lappé & Anna Lappé: Hope's Edge, p. 281)

Five liberating ideas helping us find our way:


Cutting through the scarcity illusion, we're able to see potential abundance all around us, even in what is now waste. We realize that growing food in ways that sustain the earth and people is not only productive but linked to the changes essential to slowing population growth.


Now we can see that the image of ourselves as merely selfish materialists is but a shabby caricature of our true nature. We would never have survived as a species if it wasn't for our need —and our capacity— for effectiveness and connection.


Now we can turn technologies —even the market itself— into tools, not tyrants. Scientific tools can help us —but only when citizens draw values' boundaries for their applcation.


Now breakthroughs in science and technology allow us to perceive the interrelatedness of diverse problems and their solutions. We have the tools to build on nature's genius and tap the best of ancient wisdom. We can also see more clearly the power in the ripples our own choices make in solving the world's problems.


Now it's clear that global corporate capitalism —economic life cut off from community life— is not inevitable, nor fixed, nor the best we can do. Millions are letting go of all "isms" —ideologies with one unchanging endpoint. They're re-embedding the market in values respecting nature, cultura, and themselves.

(Frances Moore Lappé & Anna Lappé: Hope's Edge, p. 283)

Breaking free from the scarcity trap, many are seeing abundance where thirty years ago we saw scarcity; resources where before we saw waste.

Official UN tallies of food that is actually available tell us we have only 2,000 calories a day for every person on the planet —sufficient, but only barely, for us all to survive. Sounds precarious! But more and more people now recognize the abundance such an estimate hides.

It's so low in part because every day, for every woman and child alive, 1,700 calories in grain are going to livestock, which at best can return only 400 calories to us in meat. Since almost half the world's grain now goes to animals, even modest shifts toward plant-based diets would free up vast resources.

(Frances Moore Lappé & Anna Lappé: Hope's Edge, pp. 284-285)

Interestingly, one of the biggest "experiments" in sustainable farming began not by design but by a twist of history. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, suddenly Cuba was cut off from its source of pesticides (used by its farmers at twice the intensity of those in the US) and other ingredients of industrial-style farming, including petroleum. It was clear: Go organic or starve. Now, 60 percent of Cuba's non-sugar acres are organic. And urban gardens —with vegetable production doubling or tripling each year since 1994— supply 60 percent of all vegetables consumed in the county.

(Frances Moore Lappé & Anna Lappé: Hope's Edge, p. 287)

Walking down the hall at MIT during a break in our travels, I ran into a colleague who'd read our chapter on the MST in Brazil. "You know, many see the MST as a Leninist organization," she told me, "very undemocratic."

Later, speaking at the University of Wisconsin, no sooner had I uttered my last word than a woman in the audience stood to challenge me: "You should do your homework," she said, "Don't you know the Grameen Bank, despite all the hype about loans to women, is really a sexist organization?"

Noticing that I didn't bristle in either of these moments, I realize how much I'd absorbed this fifth liberating idea from everyone we met. It's that we can toss out all "isms," including any notion of a prefab model —something finished, done, delivered. In that spirit, I don't have to, or want to, defend the MST or Grameen, claiming they are models to be mimicked, exemplars to be transplanted wholesale. They're not perfect. Grameen and the MST, and really all the groups whose stories we share, are just examples of the millions of people worldwide, experimenting, struggling, failing, and succeeding in carving new paths and creating a world in line with their deepest values.

The people we met are pushing the edge of possibilities, not asserting that they've reached an endpoint. They are modeling creativity, not modeling models. It's this human capacity for creativy that Anna and I want to celebrate: the notion that by our nature human beings are never finished.

(Frances Moore Lappé & Anna Lappé: Hope's Edge, pp. 306-307)

The night that Reverend Timothy Njoya spoke with us in Green Belt's cozy Nairobi guesthouse, Anna and I lay in our bunk beds talking long after the generator shut down and we turned the lights out.

Like Wangari, Njoya had faced condemnation and bloody attacks for daring to question the Kenyan government and support democracy.

Shaken by his ability to tell with laughter and joyful energy his story about almost being murdered, I had to ask, "Dr. Njoya, isn't fear a natural response to threat? Isn't it instinctual? Even people who haven't faced violence experience it, so how have you mastered your own fear?" My heart was pounding.

Sitting deep in the cushioned armchair, his sweet face framed by a stiff white priest's collar, Njoya paused for only a moment. Then he said, "Fear is an endogenous energy —it comes from inside us, not outside. Endogenous energies that form fear are the same ones that form courage. Endogenous energies are neutral. So you can channel them into fear, paranoia, or euphoria —whatever you choose."

He jumped up from his chair, surprisingly agile for his age and all he's suffered. "Imagine a lion," he said, crouching. "When a lion sees prey, or a predator, it senses fear first. But instead of lunging blindly in defense or in attack, it recoils." Njoya moved back too, leaning on his left leg and crouching lower. "The lion pauses a moment, targets his energies. Then he springs.

"We can do the same. We can harness our would-be fears, harmonize our energies, and channel them into courage."

His whole body, his whole life, seemed to tell us, yes, this is possible.

(Frances Moore Lappé & Anna Lappé: Hope's Edge, p. 309)

Entertaiment Factor: 6/10
Intellectual Factor: 6/10