Friday, October 9, 2009

Diet for a Small Planet

I first became aware of Diet for a Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappé when it was referenced in Samuel Fromartz's Organic Inc.: Natural Foods and How they Grow. It turns out, Diet for a Small Planet is an almost 40 year-old look at the connection between world hunger and how we eat; and, more importantly, what we can do about it. It has also, I found out, been updated in a 20th Anniversary Edition, which is the one I picked up at our local library.

Lappé begins by walking us through her personal journey into third world countries as she sought to get to the bottom of world hunger. She finds that it is not, as many think, a shortage of food, but rather the imbalance of power between people and a wealthy few (whether government or corporation). A trend, she notes, that she sees more and more in the United States as only a few corporations monopolize the entire food system.
[W]e can see where this blind production imperative has taken us - away from values that Americans have always associated with democracy, and toward a "landed aristocracy"; away from dispersed control over land, and toward a highly concentrated pattern of control; away from a system rewarding hard work and good management, and toward one rewarding size and wealth alone. As I suggested earlier, ours is becoming the kind of farm economy that I have see at the root of so much injustice and misery in the third world."
The book can then be divided into three themes, the problems with food currently gracing our supermarket shelves, what we can do about it, and a near 150 pages of recipes to inspire change in your own diet.

Problems with our food infrastructure and diet

First thing's first. We can't change our food habits if we don't know what's wrong. Interestingly enough, much of what Lappé discusses are food infrastructure pitfalls in 1971 is still true today. First, she delves extensively into how the cheap cost of meat and processed foods mask the true cost of goods (ground water depletion, soil erosion, government subsidies, etc) and how grains are fed to animals instead of a hungry population (so that it can be sold for more money to wealthier populations). And second, that there have been dangerous changes to the US Diet that make it unhealthy for our bodies, the environment, and the world. Check this out...
  1. Protein from animals instead of plants
  2. More fat
  3. Too much sugar
  4. Too much salt
  5. Too little fiber
  6. Too much alcohol
  7. More additives, antibiotic residues, and pesticides
  8. Too many calories
Wait, just sec. Yep, originally written in 1971. Any of this sounding familiar?

What we can do about it

But as is so often the case, the question really comes down to, what can I do about it? And here's what I loved most about this book: Lappé believes in the power of the individual to change the world.
[H]ow can we take responsibility for the future unless we can make choices now that take us, personally, off the destructive path that has been set for us by our forebears.
We don't have to be anyone special, she tell us. We just need to use the talents we have to make changes in our lives and in our communities. Change is happening, she says, "we don't have to start the train moving. It is moving! Our struggle is to figure out how to board that train, bringing on board all the creative energy we can muster."

If you are reading this blog, chances are you are already on this train. The trick, though, is that to continue our journey, we must be ever vigilant, learning each and every step of the way. She reinforces this as she advocates not a vegetarian diet (which is what I would have expected), but rather one of mindful awareness.
[F]reedom is not the capacity to do whatever we please; freedom is the capacity to make intelligent choices. And that is what this book is all about - gaining the knowledge we need to make choices based upon awareness of the consequences of those choices.
May you read and be inspired.

Recommended: to those interested in world food infrastructures as well as how our diets affect our bodies and the world around us
Rating: 3 of 5 stars


Kale for Sale said...

My husband read this book years ago and is always bringing it up. It may be time for me to give it a go too. It's unfortunate that the text is still relevant but quite amazing that she can continue to inspire. That's always a good thing. Thanks for the review.

SusanB said...

I read this book back in the 1975 and while I continue to think of it whenever I hear similar themes raised, it is forever unfortunately linked in my brain with her cookbook of the same era and its obsession with "complete protein" in every dish and some very bad meals I had therefrom.

hmd said...

Kale for sale - definitely worth checking out.

Susan - in this version, she definitely lays off the food combining. It is still mentioned but I didn't thing it was a focus which is something Chile warned me about.