Monday, December 22, 2008

Getting a Grip with November's Sustainable Mother of the Month

It is with great excitement that I announce November’s Sustainable Mother of the Month, Frances Moore Lappe. She has inspired millions to embrace a more sustainable diet and to question America’s grain fed, meat based diet. Her first book, Diet for a Small Planet, has sold over three million copies and has been called “the blueprint for eating with a small carbon footprint since long before the term was coined”. Authors Michael Pollan and Barbara Kingsolver have both proclaimed that Diet for a Small Planet and Ms. Lappe’s most recent book, Getting a Grip: Clarity, Creativity, and Courage in a World Gone Mad, are must-reads for President-Elect Obama. In addition to authoring 16 books, Ms. Lappe is the co-founder of Food First: The Institute for Food and Development Policy, the World Future Council and most recently the Small Planet Institute.

My Aunt Catherine (one of last month’s Sustainable Five) told me about Ms. Lappe’s body of work after hearing her speak in Gloucester, Mass. last summer. After reading, Diet for a Small Planet, I approached Ms. Lappe, who despite her incredibly busy schedule with speaking engagements and foundation work, generously offered up her time for an interview. I had the privilege of speaking with her last week and came away with a more optimistic and hopeful outlook on how we as individuals, and ultimately members of the global community, can affect change and come together to solve the problems of not only our environment, but of global poverty and hunger. Below are highlights from our conversation; however, my words do not do it justice, and I recommend that everyone visit the Small Planet Institute website to see how you can get involved and read Getting a Grip and Diet for a Small Planet to get a better understanding of Ms. Lappe’s philosophy.

SM: The first edition of Diet for a Small Planet was published in 1971. You've been at the forefront of the environmental movement in the 70s, the 80s, the 90s and now. Are we seeing a resurgence of 70s ideals or have you seen steady growth throughout the decades and are we just finally reaching a tipping point? If so, what took so long?
FML: I feel personally an enormous change has occurred in the last fifteen years. In my book Democracy’s Edge the chapter on food is called Choice – it is about living democracy and how citizens are engaging at an individual level. At the time that I wrote the 20th Anniversary Edition of Diet for a Small Planet, I didn’t see this in the food movement, then more than 15 years later when writing Democracy’s Edge, I observed a huge change. Now I would say the food movement is at the forefront of the living democracy movement.
That said, while individually and locally people are making a statement with their food choices, at a global poverty and hunger are both getting worse. I try to capture this in Getting a Grip. To quote my good friend “Things are getting worse and worse and better and better faster and faster.”
We must as a society reframe our core assumptions about how the world works. In Getting a Grip I argue that the dominant ideas driving our world are mal-aligned with nature, including human nature. They are based on the false premise of scarcity and lead us actually to create the very scarcity we say we fear.
SM: Can you define a “living democracy”?
FML: Living Democracy is a dynamic culture grounded in the values of inclusion, fairness, and mutual accountability. As voters, workers, students, employers, parents, community members and clients, we all shape its norms and expectations. Living Democracy is never finished. The market can remain open and fair only in a democracy where wealth is kept widely dispersed. To establish such democratic governance, the power of money cannot influence political decisions. In Living Democracies, citizens work to remove the influence of wealth from public decision making. They view the market as a tool, not an automatic device beyond human reach. They use their polities to decide what should be a market commodity (and what is too precious to be allocated by the market) and to create “values boundaries” (from environmental protections to anti-trust laws) around the market’s functioning.
SM: In 2007 a U.N. official called the growing practice of converting food crops into biofuel "a crime against humanity,'' saying it is creating food shortages and price jumps that cause millions of poor people to go hungry. As an expert on global causes of hunger, how do you feel about ethanol and other biofeuls?
FML: I see it as a symptom, just as I do our crazy grain fed and meat centered diet. With the world food crisis becoming more and more critical – what ordinary person would have thought to come up using corn to fuel our cars? No regular person asks for these things. It is only corporations operating outside of a democratic framework and driven by one rule — highest return to existing wealth. They help transform plenty into scarcity for so many.
SM: In Diet for a Small Planet, you say changing the way we eat will not change the world, but it may begin to change us and then we can be part of the changing world. Do you still believe this is true today?
FML: I recently found the original manuscript for Diet for A Small Planet. In it I describe how I used to feel powerless walking into a super market but that once I learned about the origins of my food, I felt I had power – knowledge is power. In Getting a Grip I use the term Power Shopping – where you make choices based on your knowledge. My friend Hans-Peter Durr said that once we understand ecology we see “there are no parts, there are only participants, and every choice we make is involved”. How we use food to get to these deeper questions about democracy is very important.
I want to see us as a society link farming and nutrition. Ultimately, using food as the thread to link democracy and ecology and food is great place to start. Here in Boston a school district has started serving fresh food and no junk food and the kids love it. It is incredibly positive. I am a firm believer in the power of ideas but we’re trapped into a world view of our economy versus our principles. We’ve got to use the food movement to crack that nut.
SM: If there was one thing you could get people to change beyond their diet, what would it be?
FML: I tend to not prescribe a particular focus. What I propose is a frame shift. The issue behind all the issues is: how do citizens to gain their voices? The issue isn’t diet, or energy, or lightbulbs. It is democracy itself. In Getting a Grip I go into greater detail on how to achieve a living democracy. I am also invovled in the network called Strengthening Our Nation’s Democracy. We have proposed to the Obama Administration to create an “Office of Citizen Engagement” to bring citizens in to be problem solvers. My goal is to create a more living democracy so that no matter who you are and what you care about you can engage.
SM - In a blog entry on Huffington Post, you call on Obama to help move our democracy to a new historical age. What is your greatest hope for the Obama Administration?
FML: During the campaign, Obama said “It’s not about me. It’s about you.” I only hope that this approach is realized and that he really invites us in. If that were to happen.. then wow. We can’t make this change happen, unless citizens are engaged. The kind of changes required are so deep, we won’t make them unless we feel we are part of it.
SM: In 1985 you wrote, What to Do After you Turn off the TV. You wrote this before 24 hour children's television/pre-school on TV, video games for toddlers, and Baby Einstein DVDs for infants. What can you tell our readers about how raising your children without television impacted their development and your relationship with them?
FML: I have a two year old granddaughter now and I wish that we could get that book back in print. Not having a television was one of the best choices I ever made. I shared custody with my children’s father and I never wanted to lose a moment with them. I never even used a babysitter. Now I am so incredibly close to both of them. They are both such creative people, my son Anthony created Guerrilla News Network and recently published his first graphic novel, Shooting War filmmaker and my daughter Anna is also a writer (Grub – Ideas for an Urban Organic Kitchen) and works with me at the Small Planet Institute in addition to having her own site promoting a healthy local sustainable diet for all called Eat Grub. I can’t help but think they are so creative because we would come home from work and school and they would sit and write or draw while I cooked dinner. They had the opportunity at a very young age to explore their imaginations through art and the games we made up. I strongly believe that the more we can engage children and the more we can trust them to explore their own minds the better off they will be.
SM: So you co-founded the Small Planet Institute with your daughter Anna, tell me about your work, working with your daughter and how our readers can support your work.
FML: The Institute is my daughter and I doing our thing — helping to awaken people to their own power and giving them tools to create a world that works for all of us. My most important work right now is Getting a Grip, as it speaks directly to the turn we need to make right now. I want to encourage people to take advantage of resources on the website and get re-engaged in our democracy. On the site there is also more information about Anna’s Take a Bite out of Climate change campaign. Finally, The Small Planet Fund was created to to support courageous movements bringing to life citizen-led solutions to hunger, poverty, and environmental devastation around the world.
SM: What is your favorite, recipe or meal from a Diet for a Small Planet?
FML: A couple Christmases ago Anna and I made the walnut cheddar loaf. It was a great holiday treat.
Walnut Cheddar Loaf
5 to 6 servings

2 T. oil for sauteing
2 c. chopped onion
1 c. coarsely ground black walnuts
1 c. grated cheddar cheese
2 T. lemon juice
2 eggs, beaten
salt to taste
2 T. nutritional yeast
1 t. caraway seeds
1 1/4 c. cooked brown rice (1/2 c. uncooked)

Preheat oven to 350.
Heat oil and saute onions until translucent. Mix with remaining ingredients and put in an oiled loaf pan. Bake for 30 min.
Complimentary protein: rice & milk products
(suggests serving it with a cheese sauce and sprinkled with whole walnuts)
People always say they love lentil soup recipe.
Bengali Lentil Soup
1 cup red lentils
4 cups water
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 cup canned tomatoes
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon yellow or black mustard seeds
2 teaspoons jalapeño pepper (1/2 small), seeded
4 cups onions (2 large), finely sliced
5 teaspoons garlic (3 to 4 cloves), sliced
1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
Add lentils to water in a large saucepan. Add turmeric and stir. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 20 minutes until the lentils are soft. Add tomatoes and salt, and cook for a few minutes longer. Reduce heat. Meanwhile, heat oil in a skillet. Add the cumin seeds and mustard seeds and sauté until fragrant, for just a few minutes. Cook at a low heat and be careful not to burn the seeds. Add jalapeño, onions, and garlic, and cook until golden brown (about 10 minutes). Add onion mixture to lentils and cook for a few minutes longer, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat. Add fresh cilantro leaves to the lentil soup and cover to steep for a minute. Serve while hot.
SM: How do you stay motivated to change the world? Perhaps more importantly, how do you motivate others to change the world in the face of a global economic crisis?
FML: I think the main thing is to recognize is that this turn towards an ecological world view does not represent sacrifice. It is the way to healthier and richer lives with better and healthier jobs. The worse myth out there is that facing the climate crisis has to involve a trade off. So much of the current framing around the environmental crisis misrepresents the problem and the solutions. It feed into the stress and insecurity we feel now and leave us feeling hopeless. I want to see us shed this disempowering world view. Our collective society must make a mental shift to achieve true change.
SM: Please share anything else you would like with our readers regarding sustainable motherhood and/or living a more sustainable life?
FML: The only other thing I often say to people when they feel stymied in anyway is that they should practice the buddy system. People should find at least one person who is passionate about the change they want to see. Especially now with all these wonderful tools like meet up and face book it has become easier to find like minded individuals. Having just one buddy can empower us to engage and keep you motivated to stay at it when thing look glib.

No comments: