Roots to Renewal

Episode Seven: Part 2 of our Conversation with Frances Moore Lappé Coinciding with the Release of the 50th Anniversary Edition of Diet for a Small Planet

September 24, 2021 Hawthorne Valley Season 1 Episode 7
Roots to Renewal
Episode Seven: Part 2 of our Conversation with Frances Moore Lappé Coinciding with the Release of the 50th Anniversary Edition of Diet for a Small Planet
Show Notes Transcript

Sponsored by Tierra Farm. Music by Aaron Dessner.

In this episode we’re excited to share a follow up conversation with our very first podcast guest, Frances Moore Lappé. We are delighted to acknowledge and celebrate the release of the 50th anniversary edition of her seminal book, Diet for a Small Planet

Once again Frankie and our Executive Director, Martin Ping engage in uplifting conversation on topics of the day that are also woven into Diet for a Small Planet: living democracy; the importance of listening, curiosity, and imagination in building frameworks of understanding; and fostering interconnectedness for the ultimate purpose of nurturing life on Earth.

Purchase Diet for A Small Planet
Donate to Hawthorne Valley

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 website at

Hawthorne Valley is a registered 501c3 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. If you’d like to help us in other ways, please help us spread the word about this podcast by sharing it with your friends, and leaving us a rating and review.

If you'd like to follow the goings-on at the farm and our initiatives, follow us on Instagram!

Heather Gibbons (00:10):

Hello, I'm Heather Gibbons. And this is Hawthorne Valley's 50th anniversary podcast Roots to Renewal. Over these past seven months, we've been privileged to share the stories of our friends and contemporaries from around the world who dedicate their lives to 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. Learn more at In this episode, we're excited to share a follow-up conversation with our very first podcast guest Francis Moore Lappé. We're delighted to acknowledge and celebrate the release of the 50th anniversary edition of her seminal book Diet for a Small Planet. Once again, Frankie and our executive director Martin Ping engage in uplifting conversation on topics of the day that are also woven into diet for a small planet, living democracy, the importance of listening, curiosity and imagination, and building frameworks of understanding and fostering interconnectedness for the ultimate purpose of nurturing life on earth. We are so grateful to Frankie for her time and generous spirit and for the opportunity to continue our conversation so that we may share it with you now.

Martin Ping (01:30):

Thank you once again, to be on our podcast, it was only I think, six months ago or so where we had the chance to speak about your recent book then, and a little bit about Diet for a Small Planet in anticipation of this 50th anniversary edition coming up now. And we are celebrating our 50th at the same time. So I feel like we're walking this journey together and I'm certainly grateful for that. I think that your book has stood the test of time. I think your wisdom is more welcome and needed now than ever. We're facing so many challenges. It's hard to avoid having the immensity of the challenges just in our face, whether it's climate, whether it's social challenges and to use your words, we, we need as individuals and as society to come to take seriously, our capacities for expressing our values and interest in common problem solving. And so my question is how do we do that? How do we come together at this time where it feels like we're just division and polarization are having their heyday.

Frances Moore Lappé (02:51):

You start with the fact that I can back up. If we agree on more than we disagree on. And this theme of polarization is something that has been just thrown at us and thrown at us, but actually, you know, it's quite dramatic the, um, percentage of, uh, way more than, than half of Americans agree that you have healthcare that government insurance and everyone access to affordable healthcare that we tackle the climate crisis, that there's too much inequality in our country across a whole span of, of big concerns. There is more agreement than disagreement. And so I wrote a blog. If any of our listeners are interested, it's called, um, the Muzzled Majority the Muzzled Majority, because we don't often hear that majority view and how much we agree. So I just want to underscore that there is more agreement than disagreement and we have much to build on.

Frances Moore Lappé (03:52):

However, I think what you're alluding to is that we now have come to get our news from very different sources. Uh, so in a way it's surprising, there's so much energy because, uh, those who lean red or are Republican identified, tend to tune into Fox for example, and those who lean blue, uh, re the New York, you know, turn to the New York Times, um, and NPR, for example. So we do, um, get our news from different sources. And that is a problem because, um, I could go on about this, but there was a premise that was very much established from the 1950s on that, uh, democracy needed to have voices interacting with one another voices that disagreed and different points of view. And therefore we had in place what was called the fairness doctrine, which required broadcasters to present more than one point of view. And then that was wiped out during the Ronald Reagan era. But that was really understood that our speech had a public purpose as well as a private freedom purpose. And so I think returning to that idea that how do we ensure that diverse views actually engage with one another is a top priority for me.

Martin Ping (05:18):

Yeah. And that freedom of speech and, like hearing multiple perspectives also, um, goes to another question, which is the importance of listening. And you certainly speak to that in your book and really highlight that, that in order to have a healthy society, we need to become better listeners. I remember, uh, Jacob Needleman, he gave a beautiful talk out of his book. Why Can’t We Be Good, where he describes listening as a moral act. And I, I think of my own physiology and that I come into the world with two ears and one mouth, and I think God will ever learn to use them proportionately. That would be a good start for me, but I'm wondering if you can say more about how this seemingly simple act of listening can precipitate change and, and what role does interest play in fostering that deeper listening?

Frances Moore Lappé (06:17):

Yes. And that is so problematic if we are just in these silos of different news sources, but I think the key is asking questions, asking questions personally, what I tried to do, say, for example, on the power of the free market mythos, the word that you used in your, in your outreach to me, or the free market ideology, um, to start there and say, okay, what is a free market? And how do we have a market where everyone can have a voice in it in true freedom, instead of, instead of just attacking is often people who are troubled by this concentrated form of what I call brutal capitalism. They can be heard as saying that they are anti-free market. And I love to sort of turn that around and say, Hey, I want to talk to you. How do we actually have a market that's free in the sense that we can all participate in it, that our voices are heard?

Frances Moore Lappé (07:16):

And we have choices, not just for what is bringing in the highest return, but of what we really need, for example, in the food industry, nobody that I know of ever said, oh, yes, I want ultra-processed foods in which they've taken out nutrients and thrown these additives at me. I mean, we didn't ask for that, but there was a lot of research done about how to market it. So I think part of listening is really starting with, okay, where can we agree? I mean, I think a market economy, uh, can work much better. I don't think we have many examples of a top down economy that has, that has worked, but how do we truly make it democratic in the sense that we have guard rails on it? So that dangerous things aren't sold to us, you know, often people talk about the free market, but I love to say that all markets have rules, whether those rules are just the rich richest dominate or like in our country, we have the rule that you can't sell, um, uh, harmful drugs. They have to be approved. You can't sell harmful, you know, foods that will make people sick. So I just think part of listening is really trying to go for the heart of what we can agree on, because I think a lot of people, whether red or blue are very, very discouraged about how things are working right now.

Martin Ping (08:43):

Yeah. You speak, I know in your book of the importance of imagination, and of course you've written other books, like What to Do After You Turn Off the TV, and you know, how do we enrich imagination to help us in our thinking, beyond the problems that we've set up for ourselves or find ourselves in. And that resonates very well here at Hawthorne valley, which is, you know, with the Waldorf school where we're recognizing imagination as one of one of the key tools. And just to think of the word image and to think, well, how do we think in images or think pictorially? And I, I think your book does that. And now when you're bringing up, uh, markets and the economy, I'm thinking of all of a sudden of Kate Raworth's book, Doughnut Economics, she also says, we should think in pictures and she does this picture of the doughnut. And essentially the outer ring is the planetary limits that we should learn to live within the natural laws of the planet that we're on. And then the inner ring is the kind of, I would call it the social contract below which no one should fall. Everyone should have a decent life. And, and I think it's so eminently doable. Like we could, we could figure that out and by listening to each other and by following some of the other recipes in your wonderful book.

Frances Moore Lappé (10:04):

Yes, I love that. I love that. And again, it's a framework of understanding that all that human beings create the rules together. It's not that there are no rules. Uh, there have to be rules and norms that we set and respect. And I think that our capacity to do that is so profound, but we have been, so this idea that in perhaps the most dangerous, um, is this idea that fundamentally, all you can count on is human selfishness. And of course, uh, Adam Smith of The Wealth of Nations is often misused to convince us that who we are the idea of just this, self-interest driven market, but actually Adam Smith, um, uh, himself talked about how we, we thrive. We thrive because we know that, uh, self-love is how is our depends upon our love for our neighbor and our neighbors love for us. And, uh, also this whole notion of the survival of the fittest really misunderstands Darwin because in Descent of Man, you know, he said, he said that actually in tribal societies that we judged what's good or bad solely as it affected the welfare of the whole tribe, not just our little being.

Frances Moore Lappé (11:27):

And so I think this idea that we're just selfish, little shoppers is a big obstacle to believing in ourselves as truly capable of democracy. The key to me is that we know what brings out the best and the worst in us. And so let's get about setting the rules and norms that bring out the best. And I often talk about three premises for societies to work a needs, uh, a wide inclusive distribution of wealth. And we need transparency. That is, we need to know what's going on. And we need a culture that's really about, not about blame, but about mutual accountability. And I often quote, um, uh, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, who said some are guilty, but we're all responsible. And so that idea that we can get out of the blame shame game, which I think is so much in our culture, because we're told, oh, the market is fair, and if you're not making it, then it's your fault. And so I think there's a lot of shame which then turns to blame. So I think this, this, this other way of thinking that we fundamentally have this capacity for being brilliantly social and creating good rules that work for the whole tribe, so to speak, um, and that we can be very selfish if the rules really encourage that, or bring out the worst.

Martin Ping (12:52):

You mentioned that the word interest comes from interest to be among. And I just think that's so beautiful. It's so wonderful to connect to what is the source of meaning in these words. And then you, you quote this Bernard Crick, the more realistically one construes self-interest, the more one is involved in relationship with others.

Frances Moore Lappé (13:15):

Yeah. I should thank you for quoting him again because I've forgotten how brilliant that line is. And absolutely true. And you know, I like trilogies three things I can remember, right? So I was talking about the conditions that bring out the best in us. And another one of my trilogies is talking about our deepest human needs, uh, beyond the physical is our need for agency power. That is, you know, power is in other words that often you think, oh, power that's bad, but power comes from the word posae in Latin, which is just our capacity to act power is our capacity to create. So we need that. And we need a meaning in our lives, I believe beyond just staying alive and we need connection. And so with other people in community. And so I say, we need power, meaning and connection. And in fulfilling those needs, and in, in with those needs, aren't met in a socially constructive way.

Frances Moore Lappé (14:15):

Then what happens, what happens is gangs because they can meet those needs negatively or terrorists. You think about it, they're meeting some people's need even to kill themselves to sacrifice their lives, but for power, meaning and connection. So as long as we understand that this is not a few people, I think it's virtually all of us who need those needs met. And in our culture, we don't really acknowledge and feed and give people opportunity for those needs. And that's what I think the democracy movement, uh, I love to capitalize the D and the, in there that the democracy movement is all about giving people that sense of power and meaning and connection.

Martin Ping (15:01):

I'm a deep in a book by Karen Barad called, um, Meeting the Universe Halfway. And it's, uh, it's a book on quantum physics - way in over my head, but, uh, she speaks about a gentle realism and it connected me when I, when I was reading your draft for the 50th Anniversary edition, where you actually talk about agency and power. And you also mentioned, why is it that the vision that you're putting forward in that book is sometimes thought of as idealistic or, and not realistic, and who gets to define that?

Frances Moore Lappé (15:40):

Yes. And to me, it's, it is the most realistic. It's saying that it's saying that we humans know that we can be capable. I mean, having grown up during World War II and the Holocaust, I mean, I know I was born right in the midst of that. And we know now, if we didn't know, before that human beings can do the unspeakable to each other, and if the conditions are wrong. And we also know from our finest examples of ours own society and others, that humans can just achieve incredible, good acts and, and, uh, that help all of us. So we know that we can be either. And that's the big teaching is that if we accept that it's not blaming those bad people, but it's taking responsibility for setting, enforcing the rules that bring out our, our best selves. That is, you know, our capacity for the connectedness, right.

Frances Moore Lappé (16:40):

And our need for, uh, meaning, uh, beyond our own survival. And so I feel so strongly that this sense of ourselves is key to the whole question now of life on earth. And so that's why when I wrote with a young man, the book, uh, Daring Democracy that we emphasized, how much engaging within this rising democracy movement, met our needs for what we call the thrill of democracy, that idea of, of having meaning together and doing what we could, could not do. And that excitement when we do and meeting strangers who shared our passions and, and realizing that we do have a voice that we're really the people in Washington really worked for us. We dropped this whole idea of adult duty being, you know, to make democracy work and enliven with this is a way of living together that matches what humans most need, including big thrills, you know, uh, by doing what really takes courage with others. 

Martin Ping (17:47):

You point out in Diet for a Small Planet that, that we've inherited a kind of materialistic and mechanistic understanding of the world out of the age of enlightenment. And some now referred to as the story of separation, which is, I suppose, not entirely untrue, but also not a complete story. And you speak to it a deeper truths of our ultimate interconnectedness and interdependence. And I'm just curious, what do you think prevents people from this early experiencing this as, as a deep slice of reality,

Frances Moore Lappé (18:24):

I would go back to my view of that shaming that is built into the messaging around the market saying that, oh, it's, it's competitive. And therefore, if you don't make it, then it's your fault. And I think shame is one of the most difficult emotions for people to cope with. The only tool seems to be, to blame others. And so one of the theme songs of my life is that we see the world not as it is, but as we are through culturally determined filters. And so I say that, you know, typically people hear the expression seeing is believing, but actually no, no, no. For human beings believing is seeing, um, uh, Albert Einstein I'll go there to the, to the top. He said it is theory, which decides what we can observe. And so I think the more that we who have a worldview that we have connectedness of as one term, lots of her told me, uh, Frankie in life, there are no parts only participants, uh, Hans Peter Durr.

Frances Moore Lappé (19:34):

And I just love that the more that we share, uh, find ways to get across this idea that we are all creating each other moment to moment. There are no parts only participants, and that we're not blaming. I mean, I've tried to avoid blame blaming language, uh, entirely, but, but rather really to look at the, the social conditions that bring out the best of the worst. I, I just think there's so much evidence that if we could bring people together, that's why I, I, so I, so had wished that when Obama started developing Obama Care, they call it, uh, that we could have been in libraries and community centers across the country, looking at different options and talking about them, you know, and I still want that idea out there. I know this is been playing out in something called participatory budgeting. Have you ever encountered participatory budgeting

Martin Ping (20:36):

Only where we work here,

Frances Moore Lappé (20:38):

Uh, where you work there, but anyway, it, it, it was, it is a phenomenon that began, I believe in Porto Alegre Brazil, where portion of the municipal budget was left to an assembly of citizens to decide how to allocate that. And it's gone global now, but that these are just signs of what's possible. I think, and on the energy front, Georgia brought together people from the Sierra Club and people very concerned about the high cost of nuclear power. They brought them together and, uh, jokingly were called the green tea party. And they came up with solutions that have, um, created a lot of renewable energy and Georgia made it one of the top 10, I think, in the country. And at one measure of, of a type of renewable energy, I think it's, um, so I really believe in this deliberative democracy approach.

Martin Ping (21:40):

Yeah. And for good reason, I think, and I'm so glad always for the illustrations and the reminders, uh, that move beyond the kind of contrasting and polarized views that seemed to permeate the headlines. When you mentioned the German philosopher friend, uh, for some reason, it, it called to mind a Swiss philosopher. I once heard who gave this incredible picture of, he said there are two futures. He called one futorum and one adventus. And futorum he said was the future that we put in our, in our diaries and plan, you know, day planners and all the plans we make and we think are going to happen. And he says, of course, oftentimes they become birdcage liners or something else. They don't always work out the way that we think, and adventus is the future that's actually coming towards us. And that is what we're going to meet. Uh, sometimes regardless of our conscious planning. And I don't know why that came up, but I, as we have this conversation, I'm, I I'm reminded that, uh, we have to work with, with both, we have to plan, but we also have to be remain open to what it is that's coming towards us and be prepared for.

Frances Moore Lappé (23:10):

And, and one of the things that I most benefited from, from this call to write the 50th anniversary edition with the new opening chapter and the updated recipes and new recipes from top chefs, the reason, um, one of the reasons that I was so eager to do it is that I wanted to share some stories from the global south, from the poorest people on earth, who are coming together and showing us the way I think this is, you know, humbling, maybe, you know, we think, oh, we in the industrial world, we're ones who have the answers, but I tell the story of this group of women who were the lowest caste women in India, uh, the Dalit women in Uttar Pradesh, where I visited them a number of years ago and realized that they were part of many villages of women who have moved away from chemical, um, corporate driven agriculture and created ecological farming in their communities.

Frances Moore Lappé (24:12):

And have completely ended hunger in their communities and, um, in the process have, um, for example, the school lunches were just serving white rice, which is very low nutrition. And now in some of these states, these women are working in the, the state government is procuring their healthier grains. Um, and they, the people I visited there had their own radio station. They petitioned the eight years to get the radio station so they could share what they're learning. And, uh, so I got to visit them and sit around, uh, on their straw mats and hear their stories. And as I was leaving their village, the most touching and moving moment happened because I was leaving the village. I was just in light of what I learned and toward the taxi was taking me back to the city. And I heard these voices, wait, wait, wait, wait.

Frances Moore Lappé (25:07):

You know, kind of calling at me and what they said. They said, oh, we forgot to tell you the most important thing. And I said, what? And what we gained from our women's group, most important thing was courage, courage. And I just thought that spoke volumes that, uh, by coming together and because they had the men, their husbands had always been dominant. And, um, they had just gone along with whatever. And by coming together as a group, the women found their courage. If a man in these villages hits a woman, the whole group of women goes to him and says, no, that doesn't, that does not allow any more in our village. That's just one example. I also tell a story of Niger or one of the world's poorest countries where farmers have learned that trees and crops go together. They're not competing. So they have shown this, this whole pathway that is increased yields of crops while it's absorbed carbon, you know, to meet the climate crisis because they've encouraged trees to grow among the crops. And I could go on and on and on about all the multiple, uh, synergies in the crops and the trees, but now it was spreading through a number of parts of Africa. So I just wanted to encourage people to reach out for those stories of possibility. I call it, uh, and they are often a rising among the poorest.

Martin Ping (26:39):

Well, it's, uh, you’ve answered my final question in a way we all need these stories where my question was going to be a Frankie, where do you find the courage to, to, uh, continue this good work that you're doing against all of the odds and noise out there and, and, and real, you know, certainly not to make light of it, real challenges with pandemics and drought and heat and floods and wildfires and social unrest. It's, it's, uh, it's important for us to maintain that sense of hope and be possible-ists, and also to take courage and I find your book and your life and your work, a real source of inspiration in that direction. So I can't thank you enough.

Frances Moore Lappé (27:33):

Oh, Martin, I thank you too. I just wanted to offer one more tool. If I may…

Martin Ping (27:38):


Frances Moore Lappé (27:40):

Because after, um, uh, I took part in 2016 and a life-changing moment when I didn't think I could walk 10 miles, I walk more than a hundred, uh, from Philadelphia to Washington and sat in on the Capitol steps for democracy reforms, money out of politics, inner, you know, getting rid of gerrymandering voting rights. We got arrested was one of the biggest arrests ever on the Capitol steps. But out of that came my, I was absolutely convinced as I approached the Capitol, I started weeping I saw the dome. And it was, I said, wait, they work for me. They work for me. And it was thrilling. And, and Adam, I can, who I got to know really well on that trip. Then we wrote a book together and out of that came, the tool I wanted to mention is www, um, democracy,

Frances Moore Lappé (28:35):

And wherever you are, uh, you can find out what's happening nationally and in your state because there's a state map. You can click on it and see what's happening on key democracy reforms. Because I think everything that we've been talking about in this really enlivening for me, conversation depends on our being able to have a democracy that's accountable to our interests, our values, and to the earth itself. And so, um, this democracy movement, you know, for me, it's not the dull spinach. We have to get down to get our reward of desserts of personal freedom. That being part of this movement is thrilling. And, um, and it is enlivening and it is, uh, contagious. So we hope to add to that contagion with this website. And if any of you listening have any feedback on it, again, it's just democracy, movement dot U S um, and you'll find it. And, um, you know, that what would be more, most useful to you in it. And I hope that also the books that you and I and Martin have mentioned will be helpful to people as well.

Martin Ping (29:49):

I'm so glad that you mentioned that tool. And, um, I'm just reminded also that you mentioned in your, in the recent draft, uh, you quoted Vaclav Havel, who I remember when he gave that speech to the joint session of Congress after he was elected president of Czechoslovakia, I was actually driving home from Albany and I had to pull over and just listen to it. I couldn't, I couldn't drive and listen, I was so spellbound by what this man was saying, this who I had followed, and, you know, I'd read quite a bit of his work previously, and you had this quote, “one may approach democracy as one would to horizon, but it can never be fully attained. You Americans have thousands of problems as other countries do, but you have one great advantage. You have been approaching democracy uninterrupted for 200 years.” And I just, I remember when he gave that, uh, that talk and then afterwards, the whole, uh, joint session of Congress was silent for quite a bit of time and Cokie Roberts or Nina Totenberg or somebody who was on NPR said that, that the congressmen and senators were just, some of them were openly weeping.

Martin Ping (31:16):

And you realize what, a beautiful, fragile experiment we have in this democracy and how much it's up to each one of us to actually make it work or not. We can't leave it to anyone else. So thank you for the tool. And I do encourage everyone to take you up and use it. And thank you for your words and congratulations on the 50th anniversary of Diet for a Small Planet. Thank you for writing it and rewriting it. And I'm just so inspired and so humbled and really leaves this conversation like I did the last time we spoke. So uplifted. So thank you so very much, Frankie, and we wish you all the best. Uh, I hope millions more read the book.

Frances Moore Lappé (32:06):

Well, it's a great honor, always to talk to you because I feel that we do really, um, share such deep values and, um, always learn from each other. So thank you.

Heather Gibbons (32:27):

If you haven't done so already, we encourage you to go back and listen to episode one. Our first inspiring conversation with Frankie. We also highly recommend checking out the celebratory new special edition of Diet for a Small Planet. It includes a new opening chapter sharing Frankie's personal journey of how this book shaped her life and how plant centered eating can help restore our damaged ecology, address the climate crisis, and move us toward real democracy. The new edition also includes a fully revised and updated recipe section and contributions from some of the country's best plant centered cookbook authors and chefs. It is available at her website If you're interested in learning about what's happening on key democracy reforms in our country and in your state, please be sure to check out the website democracy movement dot U S. 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.

Heather Gibbons (33:28):

You can learn more about our work by visiting our website 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 our work. If you'd like to help us in other ways, please spread the word about this podcast by sharing it with your friends and leaving us a rating and review. Special thanks to our sponsor Tierra Farm, who makes this podcast possible, and to Grammy Award winning artist, Aaron Dessner for providing our soundtrack. Finally, we'd like to thank Aaron Ping for once again, lending his editing expertise. In the months to come join us as we release episodes featuring some of our amazing Hawthorne valley coworkers on the topics of art and agriculture.