Letter to the Editor from Anna Blythe Lappé, Small Planet Institute

A good friend of Cornucopia, Anna Blythe Lappé, Food and Society Policy Fellow, WK Kellogg Foundation and Founding Principal, Small Planet Institute takes one of the most relentless, and ideologically unwavering, critics of organic food, Alex Avery, to the woodshed…

Dear Editor,
I don’t mean to be a stickler, but Alex Avery’s rebuttal (“A Killer Diet: Chicken Little tale sings a familiar tune,” December 12, 2004) gets many facts wrong, beginning with the titles of the books he’s faulting. Diet for a Healthy Planet is titled Diet for a New America and the book I authored with my mother, Frances Moore Lappé, is Hope’s Edge, not The Next Diet for a Small Planet.

Butchering titles wouldn’t be such a big deal, but Avery does a disservice to readers by also misrepresenting our message and, most importantly, the facts. In Hope’s Edge, we do criticize a chemical-dependent, industrial food system. We are critical not because we are simply”anti-corporate,” but because, despite the abundance of food grown on the planet, 1.2 billion people go underfed, while 1.2 billion are overfed on the artificially cheap, processed fast food that is so bad for us.

Avery celebrates this food system, claiming we’re living longer. Such an argument would fail even the most basic test of causality: We are living longer despite our American fast-food diet, not because of it. (By Avery’s logic, cigarettes, alcohol, and heroin must also be good for us; some continue to abuse them, and we still, on average, live longer than we did, say, a century ago).

Consider, too, that many of our counterparts in other industrialized countries—with better diets—are outliving us. In fact, Professor Kelly Brownell of Yale University has said that”If we don’t effectively prevent and treat childhood obesity, this may be the first generation of children who don’t live as long as their parents.”

Avery also claims we naysayers of our current industrial system want to return to some”mythical agrarian past.” On the contrary, we argue proponents of the status quo, like Avery, want us to remain in a mythical present. For it’s naive to think, as Avery seems to, that our current farming system is sustainable when it is a major contributor to global warming, one of the nation’s worst polluters, and is heavily reliant on nonrenewable fossil fuels and another increasingly scarce resource—water.

No, we aren’t suggesting we retreat to some fictional, past utopia. (We’re certainly not romanticizing the slavery of our agricultural South, for instance!) Instead, we are arguing for a sustainable food system, one that is already underway across the planet, from rural Missouri to the foothills of the Himalayas. Globally, a movement of farmers and citizens and scientists and agriculturists are tapping nature’s wisdom to grow food without stripping the planet of necessary resources or polluting it with toxins.

These on-the-ground successes are showing us that we can create a healthy, sustainable food system able to end hunger only as citizens realize that it takes a democratic society to hold corporations accountable. As long as the decisions about what food is grown and how it is grown are made by a handful of corporate giants, we will continue to have massive hunger amid plenty and, as is the case here at home, more than 300,000 die annually from obesity-related diseases.

Avery calls our position”anti-corporate”; we call it pro-democracy.


Anna Lappé
co-author, Hope’s Edge
Brooklyn, NY
(917) 476-4896

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