“We need empathy, cooperation, a sense of fairness;we need to remove the power of private wealth over our political system.”Frances Moore Lappé
Forty years after writing Diet for a Small Planet (1971), Francis Moore Lappé is still an icon for the whole food movement. Her book, written when she was only 26 years old, influenced the vegetarian movement and discouraged people from eating red meat. She argued that industrial meat production was wasteful and might be a cause of global food scarcity.
“She started talking about a low carbon footprint years before the rest of us did,” said Dr. William Schlesinger, president of the Cary Institute, during his introduction to her Friday evening lecture on March 23.
Her book sold three million copies and was referred to by critics as a “manifesto on food politics,” as influential as Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. It was a life-changing and groundbreaking book for many young people, who embarked on a different lifestyle after realizing that their food choices could have an effect on global poverty and food economy.
“I was a desperate young woman 41 years ago, when the population bomb exploded and I read Paul Erlich’s book predicting that millions of people would go hungry and billions would be undernourished. I asked myself, ‘Why hunger in a world of plenty?’ Why were we creating a world we would never as individuals choose?”
Getting to an environmental rationale for vegetarianism was new. The bookstores had nothing like this on their shelves. “We carried that book around in our back pockets like it was our Bible,” recalled early vegetarian activist Connie Salamone, who now lives in Wassaic and who attended the Cary lecture. “Up until the 1970s, vegetarians did not use an environmental argument; previous to that time, it was only the ethical and health issues that called for vegetarianism.”
Karen and Michael Iacobbo, authors of Vegetarian America, a History, (2004), say in their book, “Numerous vegetarian advocates credited Diet for a Small Planet with having a major influence on their lives. … Lappé explained very clearly that a cow had to be fed 21 pounds of grain to produce one pound of meat for human consumption. The timing of the book could not have been better. American’s concern over world hunger was peaking. The TV was beaming images of starvation from Bangladesh into our living rooms. The environmentalists had Silent Spring and vegetarians had Diet for a Small Planet.”
“After reading Lappé’s book, all of a sudden people whose only contact with a cow was a carton of milk knew how many pounds of soybeans were needed to feed a cow and how many hungry people around the world those same soybeans could have fed,” said Victoria Moran, another vegetarian health writer.
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