by Hilary Oliver
Food prices skyrocket. Millions suffer from hunger. Food companiesâ profits soar. And still, this woman has hope. Instead of feeling powerless, depressed or overwhelmed, Frances Moore LappÃ© sees possibility and sheâs ready to go for it. And she wants you to join her.
Since her bestselling, evergreen book Diet for a Small Planet (Ballantine Books, 1971) first questioned the sources of world hunger nearly four decades ago, LappÃ© hasnât stopped looking for answersâand finding them. She founded the Small Planet Institute in 2001 with her daughter Anna LappÃ© to explore and define international conceptions of democracy and social change. She has traveled around the world, searching out stories of hope and courage where communities have come together to influence policy and help each other in times of need. Her countless books, articles and blogs are full of promiseâof new ways to look at agriculture, food and democracy itself.
In her latest offering, Getting a Grip: Clarity, Creativity and Courage in a World Gone Mad (Small Planet Media, 2007), LappÃ© gives a fresh perspective on the notion of power, and presents a new mindset to readers who want to change the world but get discouraged with power imbalances or feel trapped by right-versus-left rhetoric.
Scarcity vs. abundance
"The dominant conception of reality is grounded in a premise of scarcity," LappÃ© writes. "There just isnât enough of anythingâfrom love to jobs to parking spots." And itâs exactly that sense of deficiency that LappÃ© wants to dispel. Since the release of Diet for a Small Planet, her gospel has been that there is plenty of everything on Earth, including food. Itâs just poorly distributed.
"Weâre creating scarcity with rising food prices," she says. "Itâs predictable and preventable." But instead of picking out a politician or regime to pin blame on, LappÃ© has a completely positive outlookâone she would like to be contagious.
"A study of 286 farming projects across 57 countries looked at almost 13 million farmers who were moving toward sustainable, agroecological practices on almost 100 million acres. After four years, it found an average 79 percent increase in yields. And we can feel confident that those higher yields are actually filling the stomachs of the communities that produced them," she writes on news blog The Huffington Post.
A new set of glasses
LappÃ© believes one key to surviving the spiral into a feeling of powerlessness is to change perspective. In Getting a Grip, she lays out an alternative spiral of empowerment that starts with acknowledging that humans are capable problem-solvers with deep needs for fairness and the ability to cooperate. She outlines a manifesto for democracy in which humans feel empowered and the rights of corporations canât trump those of the individual.
Once people quit pointing fingers and begin working for solutions, LappÃ© offers fresh ideas about how to handle fear and a new vocabulary for democracyâone that helps change-makers communicate more accurately and powerfully. One important change she encourages in the battle for hope is the shift from focusing on issues to looking for entry points.
"Issues overwhelm," she says. "They hit us as distinct problemsâpiles and piles of them." Entry points, instead, are deliberate actions that "strengthen the flow of causation, putting in motion the spiral of empowerment."
"For example, take the food-pantry approach that has grown so enormously, but is not something in and of itself that can alter the system, unless one is coupling it with active advocacy, a point thatâs interrupting the spiral of powerlessness," she says.
While LappÃ© is all about shifting individualsâ mindsets regarding power and responsibility, she also calls for changing the rules. "The mindset might be, âOf course I can pay employees a living wage,â" but thatâs not enough, she says. "I know people who have started companies with venture capital, but then had to sell out to people who donât share their values in order to survive. Thatâs the way our economy is structured. But what we need is bothâto go in with all your values and also change the rules."
LappÃ© is positive about values-driven companies in the natural and organics industry, but warns, "We canât trust the goodness of even the best companiesâif they hold too much power, itâs a problem. â¦ Itâs clearly not enough to make a good product anymore. People are facing hunger at the current prices."
LappÃ© has found shining examples of the food industry working within communities for fairness, health of residents and health of the environment. She points to community-supported agriculture proÂgrams, Seattleâs local food initiative and the efforts of The Onion River Co-op, in Burlington, Vt., to make healthy food accessible to all.
So how can an idealist stay chin-up in the push for fairness, environmental respect and healthy values? "I think itâs the company we keep," LappÃ© says. "Weâre co-creating ourselves." Thatâs why she seeks out stories of possibility and fills her writing with examples. "These stories are not in the corporate media," she says. "Make sure your news diet is as good as your food diet.
"Joyful living, Iâm convinced, happens when we hit that spot where a potent entry point that touches root causes fires in our own deep passions," she writes in Getting a Grip. "I know that when I first discovered that spotâmy mid-20sâ âahaâ that our daily eating habits make huge ecological and fairness ripplesâit set off a personal revolution, and Iâve been forever grateful."
Frances Moore LappÃ© will give the keynote address at Natural Products Expo East at 9 a.m. Friday, Oct. 17, in the Grand Ballroom of the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVIII/number 10/p. 30,32