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Diet For A Small Planet, 1971

[Boston Globe - opinion]

I can't explain exactly why I feel the need to feed her, but I arrive on Frances Moore Lappé's doorstep in Belmont lugging lunch. It's partly that I'm excited about harvesting and sharing the first asparagus and tender lettuce of the season, but maybe I'm more invested in a homage of sorts to the woman who flipped over the food world like a snowglobe in 1971 with the publication of "Diet for a Small Planet."

Back then, at the age of 26, Frances Moore Lappé crunched the numbers to discover what no one had yet said: that there were enough calories in the world to feed everyone and that "Hunger is human-made." Nearly half the world's supply of grain fed livestock while millions starved: 16 pounds of grain produced one pound of beef, with a small proportion of the world consuming a hugely disproportionate amount of its food resources, she said. Three million copies of "Diet" later, she's more relevant than ever as the tsunami of global food crises she foresaw crashes down around us.


"When I wrote 'Diet' in 1971, it was heresy to suggest anyone could have a healthy diet without eating meat. And here I was, a young woman from Fort Worth, Texas, the heart of cow country," she says with a laugh.

More than ever, she has some things to say about food that upend the status quo: "I hate the term "conventional" that Whole Foods uses to describe nonorganic produce," she told me. "What's conventional about using chemical pesticides? The farmworkers using them have a life expectancy of 49 years."

"Improvisational" is the term Lappé likes to use to talk about a food consciousness that makes the best use of local, flavorful ingredients.


When she steps out on the stage at Lincoln Center, she'll be honored for 40 years and more than a dozen books devoted to food advocacy. But what people will see is a slim, effervescent 60-something woman who looks terrific - not in a great-for-her-age way, but just terrific, period.

If she could be pressed into poster-woman service for vegetarianism in that red dress and we could divert some of the $40 billion we spend every year on contrived diet-related books and products toward fresh, organic food, we'd have a different world.


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