“Hunger is not caused by a scarcity of food, but a scarcity of democracy.” —Frances Moore Lappé
It was the early 1970s. With books like Paul Ehrlich’s The Population Bomb captivating readers across the country, fears were growing that the world faced imminent, widespread famine. My mother, Frances (at the time a 26-year-old grad school dropout), wanted to understand why. As she sought out the answer in the stacks of UC Berkeley’s Giannini Agricultural Library, she realized she was asking the wrong question: there was more than enough food to feed the world. Yet she was also alarmed to discover the vast resources going to raise livestock in industrial operations—and creating such waste at the same time.
As she dug deeper, her animating question became: Why does hunger persist in a world of plenty? That question would lead her on her life’s path and the answer she uncovered would become one of her most-quoted mantras: Hunger is not caused by a scarcity of food, but a scarcity of democracy.
She shared her insights in what would evolve from a one-page handout into her 1971 book, Diet for a Small Planet. In its pages, she would help readers connect the dots between the then-emergent industrial animal agriculture system and injustice in the food system. It also gave people a tasty way to buck that system with more than 100 plant-based recipes.
Fifty years later, my mother’s book still feels so relevant. Today, a whopping 80 percent of global agricultural land is used to feed livestock while providing less than 20 percent of our calories. Compared with 1970, we’ve increased our meat intake—with the average American now eating twice as much protein as their bodies can even use. And our food system, including environmentally destructive factory farming, has an enormous climate toll as well: as much as 37 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions come from the sector.
With a new opening chapter that shares lessons my mother has learned over these past five decades, the 50th Anniversary Edition of Diet for a Small Planet includes a fully revamped recipe section showcasing some of our favorite plant- and planet-centered chefs, including Real Food Reads stars like Yasmin Khan, Chef Sean Sherman, Bryant Terry, Mark Bittman, and Luz Calvo and Catriona Esquibel (made possible thanks to the careful curation of recipe developer Wendy Lopez).
We at Real Food Media are thrilled to share this book with all of you as the work is a reminder of the power of going deep on big questions about the world around us. We love it when those questions bring us to the delightful tastes and textures of the abundant, delicious, and diverse world of plant-centered eating.
In community and solidarity,
Anna on behalf of the Real Food Media hive
Photo credit: Paige Green for Diet for a Small Planet