Friday, October 9, 2009

Diet for a Small Planet - A book review

I first became aware of Diet for a Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappé when it was referenced in Samuel Fromartz's Organic Inc.: Natural Foods and How they Grow. It turns out, Diet for a Small Planet is an almost 40 year-old look at the connection between world hunger and how we eat; and, more importantly, what we can do about it. It has also, I found out, been updated in a 20th Anniversary Edition, which is the one I picked up at our local library.

Lappé begins by walking us through her personal journey into third world countries as she sought to get to the bottom of world hunger. She finds that it is not, as many think, a shortage of food, but rather the imbalance of power between people and a wealthy few (whether government or corporation). A trend, she notes, that she sees more and more in the United States as only a few corporations monopolize the entire food system.
[W]e can see where this blind production imperative has taken us - away from values that Americans have always associated with democracy, and toward a "landed aristocracy"; away from dispersed control over land, and toward a highly concentrated pattern of control; away from a system rewarding hard work and good management, and toward one rewarding size and wealth alone. As I suggested earlier, ours is becoming the kind of farm economy that I have see at the root of so much injustice and misery in the third world."
The book can then be divided into three themes, the problems with food currently gracing our supermarket shelves, what we can do about it, and a near 150 pages of recipes to inspire change in your own diet.

Problems with our food infrastructure and diet

First thing's first. We can't change our food habits if we don't know what's wrong. Interestingly enough, much of what Lappé discusses are food infrastructure pitfalls in 1971 is still true today. First, she delves extensively into how the cheap cost of meat and processed foods mask the true cost of goods (ground water depletion, soil erosion, government subsidies, etc) and how grains are fed to animals instead of a hungry population (so that it can be sold for more money to wealthier populations). And second, that there have been dangerous changes to the US Diet that make it unhealthy for our bodies, the environment, and the world. Check this out...
  1. Protein from animals instead of plants
  2. More fat
  3. Too much sugar
  4. Too much salt
  5. Too little fiber
  6. Too much alcohol
  7. More additives, antibiotic residues, and pesticides
  8. Too many calories
Wait, just sec. Yep, originally written in 1971. Any of this sounding familiar?

What we can do about it

But as is so often the case, the question really comes down to, what can I do about it? And here's what I loved most about this book: Lappé believes in the power of the individual to change the world.
[H]ow can we take responsibility for the future unless we can make choices now that take us, personally, off the destructive path that has been set for us by our forebears.
We don't have to be anyone special, she tell us. We just need to use the talents we have to make changes in our lives and in our communities. Change is happening, she says, "we don't have to start the train moving. It is moving! Our struggle is to figure out how to board that train, bringing on board all the creative energy we can muster."

If you are reading this blog, chances are you are already on this train. The trick, though, is that to continue our journey, we must be ever vigilant, learning each and every step of the way. She reinforces this as she advocates not a vegetarian diet (which is what I would have expected), but rather one of mindful awareness.
[F]reedom is not the capacity to do whatever we please; freedom is the capacity to make intelligent choices. And that is what this book is all about - gaining the knowledge we need to make choices based upon awareness of the consequences of those choices.
May you read and be inspired.

Recommended: to those interested in world food infrastructures as well as how our diets affect our bodies and the world around us
Rating: 3 of 5 stars
This and tons of other great eco-book reviews can be found at the Blogging Bookworm. Be a bookworm today and check it out!


Beany said...

A great review.

I think Marion Nestle in Food Politics also mentions how old the message of good eating habits are. I was somewhat surprised when I first found that out.

The thing about individual action is I feel that one should do it not to inspire others, but because it is the right thing for one to do on a personal level. Taking care of my body now will (hopefully) mean that it will be good to me in the latter part of my life. If I gain some fans along the way..then that isn't too much of a bad thing, now is it?

Heather @ SGF said...

Beany -Yeah, we over think nutrition WAY too much. Nestle's "What to Eat" had the same message.