Francis Moore Lappe was born on February 10, 1944. She is most well known for her 1971 book, Diet for a Small Planet, that has sold more than three million copies. The book argues that malnutrition is not a problem of food scarcity, but of bad food policy. She contends that a meat diet is bad for people and for the planet—arguing instead for “environmental vegetarianism” that lowers the impact of agriculture on the earth’s soil and water resources and provides more food for more people.
Lappe describes herself as a child of the 1960s’ social justice advocacy. She initially worked as a housing inspector in Philadelphia. The problems she saw there led her to form an organization that worked for fair practices for poor individuals and communities. Later, as a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley, she hit on the idea that by addressing the realities of food—a fundamental problem that always attracted attention—she could get at the underlying issues preventing a fair and prosperous world for all.
The success of Diet for a Small Planet astounded her. “I had never published anything,” she said, “not even a letter to the editor. I made a D on my first English paper in college, so I did not think I was material for a major publisher in New York.” The book’s combination of addressing big-picture policy issues and recipes that any person could make to improve their health and reduce their ecological footprint embodied the idea of “think globally, act locally,” and resonated with a broad population.
From there, Lappe went on to publish several other books focused on food, but gradually expanding in scope to address ever larger issues of sustainability and democracy. She founded several organizations aimed at getting more information to the public about food, nutrition, environment and democracy. A popular catch-phrase has become: “Hunger is not caused by scarcity of food but scarcity of democracy.”
Today, Lappe has moved away from her direct efforts to reduce hunger and enhance sustainability to focus her attention completely on advancing democracy. She takes her 18 honorary doctorates and long list of awards—including the 2013 “Feisty Woman Award” of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom—into that endeavor.
Kelly, Kathy. 2016. Interview transcript: France Moore Lappe on why she’s Reinventing Herself. Bill Moyers & Company, November 11, 2016. Available at: http://billmoyers.com/story/diet-democracy-frances-moore-lappe-re-inventing/. Accessed February 9, 2017.
Small Planet Institute. Frances Moore Lappe. Available at: http://smallplanet.org/about/frances/bio. Accessed February 9, 2017.