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Click here to read the Frances Moore Lappe story in Spanish on MI HÉROE

by Kathy Crockett
My Hero

Frances Moore Lappe

For more than thirty years, activist, advocate, and author Frances Moore Lappe has courageously fought to raise awareness of the ways in which hunger is caused and of the ways in which we can end it. She possesses the kind of optimism and courage it takes to go beyond just pointing out the problem and has been making huge strides to be a part of the solution. Ironically, many of the nations that grow the food that we eat can't feed their own people. Lappe is a unwavering champion for their cause, striving to solve the problems of hunger and empower all people with the resources and options to relieve these nations' suffering.

In the late 1960s Frankie, as Frances Moore Lappe is known by most, was studying food supply at the Berkley college library when she had an epiphany. Spread before her were grain charts, United Nations agricultural tables, a slide rule, and pages of scribblings and equations. All of her calculations led her to one conclusion: that it was possible to feed and nourish every person in the world. Her discovery that year has shaped her life, and has helped to open the eyes of the world on the issues of protecting the planet and feeding ourselves in a healthful, respectful and inclusive manner for all. When Lappe first began sharing her ideas, they were unique and not many people shared her perspective; vegetarianism, the organic movement, nor the health food industry were as strong then as they are today. Even though she knew that she would face criticism and skepticism, Frankie also knew that her ideas could help resolve suffering for millions around the planet; and no amount of intimidation or ridicule would be worth keeping quiet.

Frances Moore Lappe didn't know that her words would be the ones to open up a movement, but for her, speaking out was worth a try. She believed and continues to believe that anybody can make change; that there is a great deal value in taking action. Nobody knows which person, which voice, which pair of hands, will be the one to push through change, but if every hand does its part to give a little shove, then we will all see the benefits come about. Lappe sees this mutual responsibility within all citizens as a way to end needless suffering from hunger. "Hunger is not caused by a scarcity of food, but by a scarcity of democracy," she argued.

Intent on finding the best way to get the word out and beginning to solve the problem, Lappe wrote a book, entitled Diet for a Small Planet. The book, however, had a slow start gaining popularity, as vegetarianism (and other conscious practices on nutrition, farming, and the environment) was still a radical movement at the time, but she wasn't deterred. Indeed, the book did catch on; since its publication in 1971, Diet for a Small Planet has sold more than three million copies. It launched her on a life journey to create healthier and more efficient ways to nourish people in every pocket of the globe.

Frances feels that the problem of hunger will not be solved from the top down, with governments shipping food to those countries in need. It has to start from the ground, giving people a base to create their own ways of nourishing themselves. With Joseph Collins, she founded Food First in 1975. Still going strong thirty years later, Food First researches the causes of hunger and organizes work to help give the poor a voice, access to land, and the knowledge of ecology and environmentally friendly farming.

Frances Moore Lappe with Daughter Anna
When she saw that there was more work to be done to help people see how democracy--conversations and lobbying among ordinary citizens, not just government officials--could end hunger and environmental destruction, Lappe left Food First. Collaborating with her daughter Anna, she co-wrote the companion book to Diet for a Small Planet. The book, Hope's Edge, follows visionaries around the world, chronicling their efforts and successes to bring about a healthier planet. Along with her collaboration on the book, Frances Moore Lappe also founded a second organization with Anna to create communities that work for all. The Small Planet Institute's cast of volunteers helps villages find their own values and maintain real democratic forums to enable positive change.

All of Frankie's words, work, and activities show that she is not afraid to tell the truth. It is really quite astounding to see how much good can come out of standing up for your values and beliefs�and many others have seen this good come from Lappe. In fact, Artist Robert Shetterly included her in his 2003 portrait exhibition, entitled "Americans Who Tell the Truth." She has also been awarded with many honorary degrees and received numerous honors and distinguishments for her work throughout the global community, among them the Rachel Carson Award (2003) and the Right Livelihood Award (1987), an international award that is often known as the alternative Nobel Prize, for "her vision and work healing our planet and uplifting humanity."

Frankie blends a smoothie by peddling
For Frances Moore Lappe, food is a bond that we all share, and the key to a healthier world is to ensure that everyone has access to it. Those with a surplus of food need not simply hand out food; but instead they need to teach people suffering from hunger how they can feed their communities and help them establish confidence in their ability to provide for themselves. Even as everyday citizens we have the power to take on hunger by paying attention to the choices we make in the grocery store and at the dinner table. The decision to choose fruit and vegetables grown without pesticides trickles down to improve the health of the farmers who produce what you end up eating. When you put the organically-grown banana in your breakfast cereal, you are helping to eliminate the farmers' exposure to pesticides that cause deadly illnesses. While many Americans have the power to opt for the double cheeseburger over the organic spinach salad or vice versa, we also have the power to change our eating for the good of our own health and the health of the planet and to help others do the same.

Written by Kathy Crockett
My Hero

Photos courtesy of The Small Planet Institute
Last changed on: 1/23/2014 4:07:13 PM

The Small Planet Institute Through volunteers and various media outlets, The Small Planet Institute works to encourage the creation of communities that work for all.

Food First Co-founded by Frances Moore Lappe more than 30 years ago, Food First works to "eliminate the injustices that cause hunger."

Read MY HERO story on Frances Lappe by Rosemary Pritzker

Read another story about Frances Moore Lappe on myhero.com

Read what Frances Moore Lappe has to say in the following excerpts,
which are courtesy of The Small Planet Institute.

Frances Moore Lappe
In Her Own Words

Some of the 20th century's most vibrant activist thinkers have been American women--Margaret Mead, Jeanette Rankin, Barbara Ward, Dorothy Day--who took it upon themselves to pump life into basic truths. Frances Moore Lappe is among them. --The Washington Post

My Story... With the release this fall of Democracy's Edge, I will have traveled a journey of more than three decades. At each stage I've tried to pull away the next layer of causation to grasp the roots of needless suffering. I've wanted to help free myself and others to act on our deep yearning for effectiveness in the world and for solidarity with our fellow humans.

A scarcity of democracy... But where is this democracy strong enough to end hunger? And what does it look like? Unable to answer, I knew I had to probe more deeply. Believing that solutions did not lie in some new blueprint or dogma handed down from on high, I wanted to engage Americans in thinking through the values that could guide them in finding solutions for themselves. So I wrote Rediscovering America's Values, a dialogue on freedom, the market, democracy, and justice. I hoped the dialogue in this book would trigger thousands of others in homes and church basements across America.

Soon I began to see that a richer, more inclusive practice of democracy was already emerging. But, I realized that it was sadly still invisible to most people and easily reversed. So in 1990 I left Food First to found The Center for Living Democracy in Brattleboro, Vermont. I wanted to help people see that effective democracy--capable of ending hunger and environmental devastation--was more than a particular structure of government. It is a living practice, a vibrant culture of mutual responsibility. In 1994 my book The Quickening of America: Rebuilding Our Nation, Remaking Our Lives (Jossey-Bass) brought this vision to life in real stories across every dimension of American public life.

Knowing that we humans take our cues from each other, I sought to create a democratic "social multiplier" by spreading stories of regular citizens in action. Why not a national news service? In 1995 I became founding editor of The American News Service and over the next five years our terrific staff placed solutions-oriented news stories in more than 300 papers, including almost half of the nation's top 100 newspapers by circulation. Because of ANS, millions of Americans read about people like themselves coming up with creative solutions to problems that ranged from education to race relations to the environment.

Hope in action... Then in 2000, my children encouraged me to return to my roots, linking all I'd learned about democracy, hunger and the crying need for people to see real examples of hope in action. So my daughter Anna and I traveled on five continents to write Hope's Edge: The Next Diet for a Small Planet, released in 2002. In it, we pick up where the original Diet leaves off. We identify the roots of needless misery in the dominant "mental map" that blinds us to solutions in our own interest. Through the narrative of our journey, readers meet movements of citizens breaking free of this destructive mental map. They show us possibilities for going beyond today's consumerism and the isolation of me-first capitalism to both heal ourselves and our planet.

While writing Hope's Edge, I was a visiting scholar at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Department of Urban Studies and Planning, at the Center for Reflective Community Practice. Anna and I were so happy when Jane Goodall called Hope's Edge: "Absolutely one of the most important books as we enter the 21st century."

My current excitement... I've just completed Democracy's Edge, a sequel to The Quickening of America, to help people fight despair and learn from living democracy emerging in America. Democracy's Edge will be released by Jossey-Bass in November.

Over these 30-plus years I have experienced our world moving rapidly in two directions at once. In one I see heightened violence, polarization, environmental devastation and fear. In this direction lies deepening despair because people now see that thin democracy-- something do to us or for us--cannot solve these problems.

In the other direction, I see Living Democracy emerging. People in all walks of life are rejecting the "daddy politics" of thin democracy. They are taking responsibility, claiming their voices and innovating successes across challenges as diverse as education, economics, criminal justice and food. Their impact is already so great--albeit still largely invisible--I could never have imagined it possible when I began my journey.

So, as never before on our small planet, we humans can see a clear choice. Choosing Living Democracy means choosing to act. And therein lies hope, for one thing I've learned in these three decades is this: Hope is not what we find in evidence; it is what we become in action.


Frances Moore Lappe is also featured in the book, My Hero as she writes
about her hero Wangari Maathai

Diet for a Small Planet
by Frances Moore Lappe

Getting a Grip: Clarity, Creativity and Courage in a World Gone Mad
by Frances Moore Lappe

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More Featured Women Heroes


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