Roots to Renewal

Episode One: A Conversation with Frances Moore Lappé about the Power of Hope

March 01, 2021 Hawthorne Valley Season 1 Episode 1
Roots to Renewal
Episode One: A Conversation with Frances Moore Lappé about the Power of Hope
Show Notes Transcript

March 1, 2021 | Roots to Renewal

Sponsored by Tierra Farm | Music by Simon Frishkoff

In this, our first episode, Hawthorne Valley’s executive director Martin Ping engages in an uplifting conversation about the power of hope with special guest, activist thinker, Frances Moore Lappé. She is the founder of Food First and the Small Planet Institute, and is author or co-author of 19 books about world hunger, living democracy, and the environment, including her seminal book, Diet for a Small Planet published in 1971. A 50th anniversary edition with a new opening chapter will be released this fall, and her latest book, It’s Not Too Late: Crisis, Opportunity and the Power of Hope can be previewed on her website 

3:35  Frances’ new book about climate: It’s Not Too Late: Crisis, Opportunity and the Power of Hope

4:50 Hope has power to organize our brains toward solutions.

 5:55 Our thoughts have enormous power - thoughts relate to our fundamental beliefs and are shaped by dominant culture - as we believe, so we see. And if we believe in possibility, so we see it. 

7:45 Diet for a Small Planet and zeitgeist of the time – what was going on in the early ‘70s that contributed towards writing of this book? 

8:35  How food helped Frances find her path – “If I could understand why people go hungry, that would unlock economics, and politics for me – that was my best intuition I ever had...there’s more than enough food for all of us and we’re actively creating scarcity – the experience of scarcity out of plenty no matter how much we’re growing. And so to me, that was the best news ever…we’re creating hunger, so we can end hunger.” 

10:55 Connecting to our purpose in life – following our intuition. “The highest compliment I’ve ever been paid was, ‘Frankie, you ask the question behind the question!’ The ultimate question is, ‘Why are we together creating a world none of us would choose?’” 

11:45 “Idea that what is special about humanity is that we see the world through filters that are culturally created, and we can’t see what’s outside of that… we’re trapped in a series of blinders – the scarcity mind...that’s what we have to break. Food in many ways can help us to break that.” 

12:45 “Asking the question behind the question throughout our lives is the most satisfying way to live.” 

12:52 Final word on what gives Frances hope now. “Hope is not what we seek in evidence…but what we become in action together.” 

14:08 “We were born at this unique moment in human history on our planet where so much is at stake. What an honor. What an honor to be alive right now.” 

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Heather Gibbons (00:00):

Welcome to Hawthorne Valley's new podcast Roots to Renewal. We're excited that you've decided to join us! While podcasting isn't a new storytelling medium, it is new for us. We decided to embark upon this journey as part of our 50th anniversary celebration, Hawthorne Valley was founded in 1971 to create a space that fosters social and cultural renewal through the integration of agriculture education and the arts. While we've grown and evolved quite a bit over the years, our mission and commitment to our work has remained the same. As we mark our 50th anniversary, we want to share not just our story, but the stories of our friends and contemporaries from across the globe who dedicate their lives in purposeful pursuit of meeting the ecological, social and spiritual needs of our time. Roots to Renewal is made possible by the generous support of Tierra Farm, a family owned environmentally conscious manufacturer and distributor of organic dried fruits and nuts.

Heather Gibbons (00:55):

Learn We're grateful for their continued support and the support of grassroots contributions from listeners like you. To make a donation visit Hawthorne back slash donate. If you'd like to support us in other ways, consider sharing this episode through social media or leaving us a review wherever you listen to this podcast. In this episode, we are thrilled to share an uplifting conversation between Francis Moore Lappe and our executive director Martin Ping. Founder of Food First, and the Small Planet Institute, Francis is the author or co-author of 19 books about world hunger, living democracy, and the environment beginning with the 3 million copy Diet for a Small Planet in 1971. A 50th anniversary edition with a new opening chapter will be released this fall and her new book, It's Not Too Late: Crisis, Opportunity and the Power of Hope can be previewed on her website, small The list of Francis's accomplishments and accolades is impressive and long, but a few highlights include receiving the Right Livelihood Award, considered an alternative Nobel in 1987 for "revealing the political and economic causes of world hunger and how citizens can help remedy them." And the James Beard Foundation, Humanitarian of the Year Award in 2008 for her lifelong impact on the way people all over the world think about food, nutrition and agriculture. We are so grateful she took the time to speak with us. So without further delay, let's listen in.

Martin Ping (02:28):

Your book, Francis, Diet for a Small Planet, as much as anything changed the trajectory of my biography towards a different relationship to food, which really led me to Hawthorne Valley in the end. And I've been here now for 30 plus years doing this work. And you know, something that we're trying to do with this podcast is to emphasize more the people, part of it because in the end, it's really about our relationships and, you know, the cultivation and care that we take around our relationships. That's going to carry the day we're living in pretty sobering times. And I feel like your work and certainly your latest work, which I had the opportunity to read this past weekend. It's giving us permission to have hope. So why don't we start with the new book it's titled it's not too late crisis opportunity and the power of hope. And I'm curious, what was your goal in writing this book?

Francis Moore Lappe (03:31):

Well, I call it my accidental book because I never intended to write a book about climate, but I got through another project. I got introduced to so many positive stories about what were happening in the United States. You know, it is one of the top two greenhouse gas emitters in the world. And yet alot is happening here that I had no idea was happening. And it gave me such energy and hope and fired up about getting more solar panels on my house, et cetera. So I just wanted to share the lessons that I was learning about what kind of tools are working at the state and local level to shift things to green energy and then stories about people stepping up and implementing this. And so that was the origin of it. It was just desire to share what I found so encouraging and therefore motivating.

Martin Ping (04:24):

If we lose sight of those hopeful stories, it's easy to begin to despair and that doesn't help right now.

Francis Moore Lappe (04:31):

Despair is our worst enemy. Now let me just say on that point that I've made this clear distinction, that hope has power. First of all, that hope actually helps organize our brains. According to the neuroscientists, organize our brains towards solutions. So that's what I mean by despair is our worst enemy. And I argue that we do not have to be optimists. We do not have to be able to predict the future and say, yes, I'm optimistic that things will turn out well, I've lived long enough and studied our history long enough to know that human beings can step up and do step up when they see any possibility of success. Even if the odds are very low, as long as they truly believe it is necessary. And that's where we are. So, you know, we just do what we can and with the best tools we can and with the best energy we can. And that's what I wanted to show people is actually happening here in the United States

Martin Ping (05:33):

That resonates strongly for me. And I even wonder if that, uh, not only rests in our deeds, but even in our thoughts,

Francis Moore Lappe (05:42):

That's another theme song of my life. Yes. That our thoughts have enormous power. And to look at what I've focused on so much in my life, really since Diet for a Small Planet is that our thoughts very much relate to our fundamental beliefs, that those are shaped often by the dominant culture that is telling us, you know, what is reality. And so we have to be very careful that we're not trapped within a view of life that is actually contributing to our demise. I quote often Albert Einstein, who says it is theory, which decides what we can observe. So it's not seeing is believing, you know, which we hear that and throw that out a lot. No for human beings believing is seeing. So we have to understand that as we believe so we see. And if we believe in possibility, we begin to see it. And so I do think our thoughts in that way, having enormous power, and we share those assumptions with others that either broaden our vision or shrink our vision. And so that's really foundational that watching the thoughts that reflect belief systems and then challenging those that may be really limited and limiting others and our close associates.

Martin Ping (07:06):

That calls to mind, uh, words from David Whyte. We shape ourselves to fit the world and by the world are shaped again, the visible and invisible working together in common purpose to produce the miraculous.

Martin Ping (07:23):

So you mentioned you were 26 and you were looking for a pattern since diet for a small planet came out in the same year that Hawthorne Valley Association incorporated 1971. I'm wondering if you could say more about what were you sensing was zeitgeist at the time, what was going on that contributed towards your writing of Diet for a Small Planet?

Francis Moore Lappe (07:49):

It was certainly the waking up of the environmental movement. I think the first earth day was right in there. I mean the Silent Spring had come out a few years earlier, so there was a huge awareness. Rachel Carson had just sounded such an alarm. And we also had frightening books about population growth. So all of that was in the air and I was really desperate to find my path. And then I thought, ah, food, food. Yeah. Everybody's interested in it, everybody has to eat. If I could understand why people go hungry, that would unlock economics and politics and everything. For me, that was my best intuition I ever had. And then I took my dad's slide rule. Nobody knows what a slide rule is today, but my dad taught me how to use it. And I went to UC Berkeley, agricultural library. I found a friendly librarian and because my husband Mark Lappe was a post-doctoral fellow.

Francis Moore Lappe (08:48):

I had access to everything at Berkeley and I, I sat there and I started putting the numbers together, literally, um, no fancy numbers, mainly they were just addition and subtraction and a few percentages. And I said, wait a minute. There's more than enough food for all of us. And we are actively creating scarcity, the experience of scarcity out of plenty, no matter how much we're growing. And so to me, that was the best news ever. And I wanted to put it on a handout and go around Berkeley, California, where I was, and just say, look, we're creating hunger so we can end hunger. That is fabulous news. And then like so many things in life you think, well, I should know a little bit more about that. And so it grew and grew and grew, and that then became Diet for a Small Planet.

Martin Ping (09:34):

Incredible. It makes me feel, you know, at Hawthorne Valley, in addition to managing about a thousand acres of farmland biodynamically, we have a K through 12 Waldorf school on the campus, and it makes me feel all the more responsible to these young people, how to connect someone to that they could hear an intuition and follow it like you did, how important that is that we can connect to our own destiny path and our own sense of purpose in life and bring something into the world, you know, that wouldn't otherwise be there. Very moving.

Francis Moore Lappe (10:11):

Yeah. It was such a great gift that I could have that freedom that was so many things came together at that moment to give me that freedom, to just ask my own questions.

Martin Ping (10:23):

I guess, you know, we come back to today and say, what are the questions we should be asking now? What, what do we see as the most evident need of our times or the questions that we really want to focus on?

Francis Moore Lappe (10:37):

Well, the highest compliment I think I've ever been paid is a dear friend of 30 years, who said, Frankie, you ask the question behind the question. And so I think we can all do that ourselves. We get a good question. Then we, then we have to keep saying why, why, why, why? And so sometime in the nineties, I guess I came up to my ultimate question. I haven't quite gotten beyond, but it is why are we together creating a world that none of us as individuals would choose? Because none of us know people who say, yeah, I want to make sure that child dies today of hunger or yeah, Let's heat the planet a little bit more so that we're all toast. So why are we together doing that which as individuals we think is just unconscionable? And so that question then led me to this idea that what is special about humanity is that we see the world through filters that are culturally created, and we can't see what's outside of that.

Francis Moore Lappe (11:33):

And we're trapped in these various, um, this is how I write the new chapter and Diet for a Small Planet. We're trapped in a series of, of blinders. I call it the scarcity mind. We start out with the premise of scarcity of goods and goodness. And then we distrust government and we over our fate to a market that concentrates wealth. And then that leads to misery. That then reinforces our view that we're just these selfish little competitors, right? So it's, it's self-reinforcing, and that's what we have to break. And I think that food in many ways can help us to break that certainly the scarcity scare around food and the joy of embracing ways of eating that are aligned with the earth reinforces our confidence in ourselves and others. And so that's my biggest question, but I think asking the question behind the question always throughout our lives is maybe the most satisfying way to live. You know,

Martin Ping (12:33):

I want to end on what gives you hope now and how you can encourage those listening to maintain and connect to that capacity of hope.

Francis Moore Lappe (12:44):

I often say that hope is essentially not what we seek in evidence, but what we become in action together, that is the key acting together. And yes, we can be as I'm working now on this book, in my lap on climate change, yes, we can develop the evidence, but fundamentally it is a state of being - hope is a state of being that we can only achieve through action together. And that's then of course, I've laid out my philosophy about we don't have to be optimists. Thank goodness, because it would be very hard for me. All we need to do is be a possible-ist to believe that the possibility that our actions matter and that's all human beings have ever needed to step up. And in this moment, that's what we need. It's the do or die moment that think about the blessed thing that we, everybody listening. We were born in this unique moment of human species on our planet, where so much as it stake, what an honor, what an honor to be alive right now. I just look at it that way. And so glad to be in conversation with someone I feel so aligned with and so glad to be alive for the 50th anniversary of the book that I never imagined happening.

Martin Ping (14:08):

Thank you very, very much, Frankie. This has been the most uplifting afternoon. And I'm grateful that you're so rooted in your being-ness and that you are bringing into the world with what is needed right now. Frankie, thank you so so much,

Heather Gibbons (14:27):

If you would like to learn more about what you can do to help strengthen democracy here in the U S visit Francis's new project, there, you will find underreported stories of states, counties, and cities on the frontier of change already achieving democracy reforms, making a difference in our lives. You'll find ways to put despair aside and stay inspired, meet new allies and friends, and make a difference on the mother of all all issues, democracy itself. Thanks for listening to Hawthorne Valley's Roots to Renewal podcast. We are an association comprised of a variety of interconnected initiatives that work collectively to meet our mission. You can learn more about our work by visiting our Hawthorne Valley is a registered 5 0 1 C3 nonprofit organization. And we rely on the generosity of people like you to make our work a reality. Please consider making a donation to support us today. Special, thanks to our sponsor Tierra Farm, who makes this podcast possible and to Simon Frishkoff for providing our soundtrack. Finally, we'd like to thank Emma Morris for her amazing editing skills. We couldn't do this without her tune in later this month to hear conversations with activist and environmentalist, Bill McKibben and renowned urban designer and landscape architect, Herbert Dreiseitl.