What’s on your dinner plate tonight? It’s likely that it’s been influenced by a book published by one woman 50 years ago: mega-bestseller “Diet for a Small Planet” by Frances Moore Lappé. The book revolutionized how tens of millions of people approach food, literally “changing the way we eat” (said The New York Times). With the book now out in an updated, 50th-anniversary edition, Lappé and her daughter, food systems expert and bestselling author Anna Lappé (“Diet for a Hot Planet”), will discuss this legacy, their work’s radical expansion, and their remarkable mother-daughter partnership in Mother, Daughter, Collaborators (Plus the Book That Changed the World of Food) at the Bay Area Book Festival on Mother’s Day, Sunday, May 8, at 2 p.m. at the Freight & Salvage. This conversation comes to the festival in partnership with Bioneers.
Over the past two decades, the Lappés’ Small Planet Fund has raised nearly $1 million for citizen-led solutions to hunger, poverty, and environmental devastation around the world. Two of these have won the Nobel Peace Prize since the Fund’s founding. Today, Anna helms Real Food Media to combat corporate industrial-food spin (it includes a monthly book club, #RealFoodReads). And Frances tirelessly promotes her vision for “living democracy.”
Bring Mom on Mother’s Day: a conversation with famous mom-daughter duo, the Lappés! General Admission wristband ($15) covers all indoor programs, including this one. Or priority tickets only $12 each. Indoor masking and proof of vaccination or recent negative COVID-19 test required. For details see https://www.baybookfest.org/faq/#COVID22
Read on to savor a taste of the Lappés’ wisdom, hope, and exuberant vision, one meal and bold idea at a time.
Bay Area Book Festival: Frances, the 50th-anniversary edition of “Diet for a Small Planet” came out last year. What are the starkest contrasts you see between now and 1971?
Frances: In 1971, experts told us we’d hit the Earth’s limits, making famine virtually inevitable. What shocked me was discovering the extreme waste built into grain-fed, meat-centered diets. We were creating the experience of scarcity no matter how much food we grow. Shifting to ecologically produced, plant-centered eating is what I came to call, “my act of rebel sanity.”
What seemed like a great choice in 1971 is today a no-contest necessity. What I didn’t grasp then (not fully) is that our diet has become a threat to life itself: quickening climate chaos, undermining health, concentrating wealth and power, and drastically reducing biodiversity.
BABF: There’s resistance, especially in America, to going meat-free. How can we mainstream plant-based food choices?
Frances: Fifty years ago, [writing about eschewing meat] was heresy — especially coming from a young person from “Cowtown” (Fort Worth, Texas)!
I believe the most effective approach is to “invite” others to discover its virtues, not to scold. Plant-centered eating is a way to feel like part of the solution [to climate chaos], through personal choices we make every day. How great is that!
BABF: Anna, you also highlight individual food choices in “Diet for a Hot Planet.” In these days of Doordash and COVID concerns, what are eco-friendly measures that don’t break the bank or derail tight schedules?
Anna: I was thrilled as I dug into the research for “Diet for a Hot Planet” to learn that the diet my mother and many others have been espousing for decades is best for the planet, our bodies, and the climate.
But many people don’t have a real choice at all: renters can’t choose induction stoves, low-income homeowners can’t choose solar panels, and people living in communities without access to good, healthy food can’t choose organic or climate-friendly food. The reality is that no one of us, and the decisions we make as consumers, will ever be enough to address the climate crisis. So, we need to shift from a “you-should” approach to focus on the corporate giants driving us over the climate cliff, and the government regulators who are letting them.
BABF: Returning to individual dinner tables: Anna, can you give us a glimpse of the Lappé dining experience — and conversation — growing up?
Anna: It was the “Diet for a Small Planet” kitchen that readers would imagine: loads of brown rice, dried beans and lentils, huge salads. The closest thing to junk food was rice crackers, peanut butter, and honey!
My most salient memories, though, centered around my mom’s work. I remember marching in Central American solidarity rallies in San Francisco with her, being taken on research trips to Guatemala and to visit farmworker organizing efforts in Ohio. From a really early age, I understood that our country’s foreign policy and labor policies enabled so much injustice to flourish and shut out so many from securing basic human rights.
BABF: For both of you: What’s your take on hope? Where do you find it and how do you sustain it?
Anna: I don’t want to stoke nihilistic despair: I’m frustrated by the aging Boomers seeming to careen toward “it’s all over” dystopia. “OK, Doomer” — as the youth climate activists might say — you may have thrown in the towel, but there is still hope: there is still work to do, battles to be fought, and nourishing meals to be enjoyed.
Frances: We can get there [to a place of mitigating the climate crisis], but it involves a huge political challenge. We often think democracy means elected government and the obligation to vote. But “living democracy” involves the wide dispersion of power leaving no one powerless; transparency in public life; and “mutual accountability.” Simply blaming others is never enough. It’s not an endpoint but a never-ending, very human journey. And I’ve found that people love how food ties it all together.
Hear more from the Lappés about how you too can help create a healthier, more equitable, and delicious world… and amazing partnerships. Tickets for their Bay Area Book Festival program, Mother’s Day, May 8, 12:30pm.
Find 100 other programs at the Festival at baybookfest.org!