Author and educator Frances Moore Lappé discussed American distrust in democracy and how it affects the country’s agricultural practices on Feb. 23 in the McCarthy Forum.
Lappé is the author of 19 books, including “World Hunger: 10 Myths in 2015” and the 1971 bestselling book, “Diet for a Small Planet.” Her newest book, “Daring Democracy: Igniting Power, Meaning, and Connection for the America We Want” is to be released on Sept. 26, 2017.
Her mission – to change the way people think about democracy and assuage their fears.
Institutions and experts tell the public that food scarcity is still a huge problem, even though there is more than enough food produced in the world for everyone, said Lappé.
Through her years of analyzing world hunger, Lappé found that scarcity is not actually the problem.
“Scarcity is the overarching way that we see the world,” she said.
People believe in the myth of food scarcity because they assume the system can’t be changed, said Lappé. Humans separate themselves from one another since they believe each other to be selfish and competitive – therefore, they feel powerless.
In correlation to world hunger, Lappé said people are creating conditions that bring out the worst in us. Conditions such as concentrated power, economic meltdowns and government secrecy cause people to distrust the democratic state. Consequently, people think there’s not enough goods or “goodness” in the world.
Lappé argues that a scarcity mindset leads to a downward spiral that “makes us feel we can’t do anything to get out of the hole we’re in.
“We end up creating this quickening spiral of powerlessness that generates an almost incomprehensible level of wealth concentration worldwide,” said Lappé.
The world produces 40 percent more food than is consumed, Lappé said. Half of the world’s grain goes to feed livestock and three-quarters of all agricultural land is used for livestock, but only 17 percent of all calories human’s consume are from livestock.
Dominant industrial and agricultural systems have their downsides such as water pollution and soil erosion, Lappé said.
These systems are treated “like a miracle drug. You just take the side effects in stride because the cure is what you need,” she said.
That is completely the wrong metaphor, said Lappé. Agricultural systems have enormous consequences on climate impact and water waste.
Lappé said if people continue to turn over fate to dominant systems and power concentrated markets, then fear will continue to narrow our vision and democratic disconnect will increase.
“What we believe about how things work is important because it determines what we can see and what we cannot see,” said Lappé.
A mind that shifts from fear of scarcity to alignment creates a spiral of empowerment called an “EcoMind.” Lappé said an EcoMind is a term she uses to describe the connection between life and the laws of nature. If someone is thinking with an EcoMind, they are accepting that continuous change in action, or even inaction, can affect the life around them.
Lappé said with an EcoMind, one can look at themselves as a whole bundle of characteristics. “We look at ourselves in a different light. Yes, we can be competitive and selfish and materialistic and even brutal, but what else do we have to work with?” she asked.
By creating a more positive mindset and building confidence, people will begin to create conditions that bring out the best in all of us, said Lappé. Eventually, if people continue to work on themselves, then the government will have to answer to them.
About 20 years ago, Lappé visited a group of women in Andhra Pradesh, Southern India. There, she found women living in hunger, fear and sickness, using pesticides because they were told to and surviving off of white rice.
Since Lappé’s visit, the women have come together and pledged to stop using GMOs and chemicals. Now 15 percent of the farmland in their state is non-pesticidal managed. The women even convinced the state government to acquire millets instead of white rice for school lunches, since they are a healthier alternative.
In West Africa, Lappé said the people of Niger were forced to cut down most of the trees under colonialism to create more farmland. Since then, small farmers have enforced the regrowth of trees and incorporated the practice of agroforestry, which has tripled their crop yields.
Lappé also met Wangari Maathai, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004. Her story started out in 1977 with seven trees on Earth day, Lappé said. She developed a movement of women villagers who planted trees all over Kenya to reclaim the desert. By the time Lappé got there, Maathai and her team had grown over 20 million trees.
Maathai went on to team up with the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) to create Plant-for-the-Planet, said Lappé. Now Maathai and UNEP have planted more than 13 billion trees.
“This theme of ‘it’s not possible to know what’s possible’ is really the lesson of developing an EcoMind,” said Lappé. “This idea that we are all connected, change is continuous, we’re all co-creators – the meaning in life is just finding where our place is.”