From 1971 to 2011 – two books by Frances Moore Lappe

In 1971, Frances Moore Lappe published Diet for a Small Planet, and a significant number of my contemporaries became vegetarians. Not me, but I picked up a few still-favorite recipes from the book. In 2011, she released EcoMind – Changing the Way We Think, to Create the World We Want. She wrote 16 books in the interim. Her books have been translated into 15 languages. She founded at least three organizations and received more than a dozen honorary doctoral degrees.

Lappe’s message can be summarized as follows: there is no shortage of food (current or immediately pending) and no environmental crisis. We can solve the world’s seemingly pressing problems by redistribution and better utilization. We just need to think “differently” and approach issues from a viewpoint of abundance and possibility.

I didn’t read either of these books completely. (Who “reads” a cookbook?) I was supposed to read EcoMind before attending a workshop with Lappe a few weeks ago, but I only got through a few chapters. 

When someone advocates “thinking like an ecosystem”, all kinds of red lights flash in my brain. AN ECOSYSTEM DOES NOT THINK. It exists because it works. Not to help the species or organisms within it or outside of it. If it works, it persists. I’m reminded of a conversation I had with a person who trying to find a reason why ticks (the nasty little blood sucking kind) exist. Having just plucked one from my son’s neck, I was not in the mood for philosophy. “TIcks exist to make more ticks. THAT’S ALL.”

In her workshop, Ms Lappe was not using the “think like an ecosystem” approach. I hope that’s because she recognized its limitations.

Ms Lappe’s book are subjected to extensive fact checking, so I (largely) accept her assertions. But, if she is right, why has she had relatively little impact (that I can see)? One reason is that the framework has shifted. She may be right about food resources, but what does she offer to current discussions of climate change?

Ms Lappe’s most recent book EcoMind reminded me of another author I encountered several decades ago, the feminist Sonia Johnson. Her first book, From Housewife to Heretic (1981) was highly concrete. In 1987 she wrote Going Out of Our Minds: The Metaphysics of Liberation in which it seemed to me she argued that if we changed the way we think about ourselves, our (feminist) problems would be resolved.

Yes, we should, at times, examine our assumptions. But “just” changing our attitudes isn’t enough.

I will probably read further in EcoMind, but for now I won’t be recommending it to my friends.


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