New Mindset Needed to Effectively Protect Earth's Ecosystem

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Posted July 17, 2013

Interview with Frances Moore Lappé, author of 18 books, including the three-million copy "Diet for a Small Planet", conducted by Scott Harris


When Frances Moore Lappé wrote her first book, “Diet for a Small Planet,” in 1971, little did she know that her research would move a nation to reconsider what they ate and how modern agriculture and factory farming negatively affected world hunger and the planet’s ecosystem. The book, which sold 3 million copies, extolled the virtues of a vegetarian diet and changed the way a new generation thought about food, nutrition and health. You can trace today’s popularity of organic food, the mainstreaming of vegetarianism and healthy food marketing strategies to many of the ideas written in Lappé’s, “Diet For a Small Planet,” published more than 40 years ago.

Lappé would go on to cofound the Institute for Food and Development Policy, known as Food First, with Joseph Collins in 1975, with a mission to educate Americans about the causes of world hunger. Along with her daughter, Anna, Frances Moore Lappé founded the Small Planet Institute in 2001 to promote a concept they called “Living Democracy,” a culture in which citizens infuse the values of inclusion, fairness and mutual accountability into all dimensions of public life.

In her most recent book, “Ecomind: Changing the Way We Think, To Create The World We Want,” Lappé argues that humanity’s capacity for making the world healthier and more sustainable, is undermined by seven "thought traps" that leave us mired in fear, guilt, and despair. She proposes specific "thought leaps," as correctives to the "thought traps," turning challenges into opportunities. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Frances Moore Lappé about the ideas presented in “Ecomind” and her assessment of the movements that have organized in response to the global climate crisis.

FRANCES MOORE LAPPÉ: What I'm asking us is to really look at some of the core foundational assumptions of our worldview, what I call our mental map, as regards the environment because I've learned now, that the reason that we are creating together a world that none of us as individuals would choose is because of the big ideas we hold that keep us from seeing solutions and keep us trapped. I flip what I call seven "thought traps" kind of disempowering ideas, and I turn them around on their head in a way, and say, wait a minute, is that really true? Is there another way that is more empowering, that is more ecological, that is more evidence based?

BETWEEN THE LINES: Thanks for that. If I could just read briefly the seven thought-traps that are discussed in the book: The first one is no growth is the answer. Consumer society is the problem. We've hit the limits on finite earth. We must overcome human nature to save the planet. To save our planet, we have to override humanity's natural resistance to rules. Humans have lost the connection to nature. And the seventh dire one: It's too late. It's too late to do anything, just throwing up our hands.

But you know, I was very much encouraged by the first thought trap that you talk about, which was "no growth is the answer." I've always thought that the problems in our economic system – I'm sure I share this with many of our listeners – that this constant drive and race to grow and grow and grow is a huge part of the problem of why we're destroying the planet, bull-dozing forests and burning things up and creating climate change. But you're saying that the framing it like that is possibly detrimental to fixing the problem. And I wonder if you'd just expand on that.

FRANCES MOORE LAPPÉ: Yeah, because it sounds common-sensical, right, when you put it that way and how can I possibly disagree with you? And of course, on one level, it's correct. But what I'm suggesting is that it keeps us in the – I think of the non-ecological worldview of quantities, that our problem is additive, that it's too much, too much, that if we just cut back. But of course, if we really look at it deeper, we realize that it's not a quantity problem, it's more of a systems problem, it's a relational problem. And what we're currently doing now is actually more waste and destruction than it is real growth.

But what I'm really saying is that if we just focus on growth as the enemy, then we're blind to the way that our system is actually creating more waste and destruction than growth. So that's where I start in my flipping that around.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Frances Moore Lappé, right now, we have groups like and many other associated groups around the country trying to work on public consciousness raising around global warming and climate change and trying to prevent the building of the Keystone XL pipeline, and a lot of other fights around mountaintop removal coal mining, things we talk a lot about on this program. How do you think they're doing things right or doing things wrong in trying to raise consciousness, you know, get everybody on board in terms of a consensus that we have to change our policies and change our economy to a great extent to survive what is already coming in terms of these extreme weather conditions – drought, the failure of crops, everything associated with the disappearance of fresh global water and the like?

FRANCES MOORE LAPPÉ: Uh, hum. Well, I certainly admire all those folks that you just mentioned. My desire, however, my emphasis,is what I want to figure out how to put all my energies forward better than I have been, is: How do we put a canopy over all that? I'm a child of the 1960s, and I loved being alive during that time, when I felt like I was part of a movement. It went way beyond what I was working on.

I was a community organizer in Philly in anti-poverty organizing in African-American neighborhoods. But I felt I was part of a women's movement, part of an ecology awakening. It was one glorious movement. Whereas, today I feel that there's isn't that sense of a canopy over us all. And I think that canopy, of hope, if you will, it's got to be that we know we're also taxing besides our special interests, our particular issue, that we're also recognizing that we've got to get money out of control of our political system to really break through and shift the whole system. And that is a bipartisan issue. More than 80 percent of us agree that corporations have too much power in our political system. And I call it the mother of all issues, and it's where we can all come together not abandoning our particular environmental or poverty or other issues, but knowing that we're really going to the root of it.

Frances Moore Lappé is author of 18 books, including the groundbreaking “Diet for a Small Planet.” Her newest book is titled, “Ecomind: Changing the Way We Think, To Create The World We Want.” Find out more about Lappé’s books, articles and projects by visiting Small Planet Institute at

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