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Sustainability advocate speaks on 'Diet for a Hot Planet'

Author and environmentalist Anna Lappé spoke to a crowd of more than 200 people in McKinnon Hall on April 20 about industrial factory farming practices and the link to climate change.

Anna Lappé spoke in McKinnon Hall on April 19. (Photo courtesy of Carolyn Baumgarten '11)

Named one of Time’s “eco” Who’s-Who, Lappé drew from her latest book, Diet for a Hot Planet: The Climate Crisis at the End of Your Fork and What You Can Do About It, as she described the links between today’s global food system and climate change and offers inspiration for making sustainable food a catalyst for healing the planet.

Throughout her speech and question-and-answer session, Lappé addressed recent concerns regarding factory farming and declining American health, as well as her advice for the future.

“One third of all emissions can be traced back to the food sector,” Lappé said, “but there doesn’t need to be a tradeoff between feeding the world, and feeding the world in a way that’s good for the planet.”

Lappé explained her belief that major factory farming groups and lobbyists have “taken a page from the tobacco industry” in an effort to promote their business practices. By sowing seeds of doubt in lawmakers and American consumers, they have been successful in perpetuating their disparaging methods.

A group called The Alliance to Feed the Future includes the American Frozen Pizza Institute, The Association for Dressings and Sauces, The Institute of Shortening and Edible Oils, and the Calorie Control Council. Lappé said that while many Americans are waking up to the reality of the impact factory farming has on the environment; it is this Alliance that attempts to keep consumers doubtful that climate change is even happening.

“We’re productive,” Lappé said, “but what are we actually producing?” She cites that of all American corn production, less than 2 percent actually goes to corn that is eaten as corn.

Instead, the majority goes to producing corn-based ethanol, feeding livestock not meant to eat corn, highly processed products such as high-fructose corn syrup and non-food related products. Lappé told her audience that there is hope for the future, and that hope comes from battling the myths that industrial farming trade groups are propagating.

“The first myth is that people don’t want to eat healthy organic food, that they’d rather have the burger and fries,” she said.

Lappé cited an experimental farm built on an abandoned concrete baseball diamond in the heart of Brooklyn, as evidence for the fact that children can be inspired to eat healthily. By using that farm to teach children in the city about farming practices and the benefits of eating healthy foods, they have become supportive of local farming.

Lappé also addressed the popular myth regarding global food supply.

“There are actually more than enough calories produced to feed everyone on the planet,” she said. “Hunger isn’t caused by scarcity of food, it’s caused by scarcity of democracy.

As for what consumers can do to combat these myths, Lappé charged the audience to be mindful of what companies they are supporting when making purchasing decisions. She stated that the surge in the local foods movement gives her hope that American consumers want to change.

“Our bodies were designed to eat organic, unmodified pure food; that’s what’s best for us and best for our planet.”

A co-author or author of three books and the contributing author to nine others, her work has been widely translated internationally and featured in The New York Times, Gourmet and O, The Oprah Magazine, among many other outlets. With her mother Frances Moore Lappé, she co-founded the Cambridge-based Small Planet Institute, an international network for research and education about the root causes of hunger and poverty.

The Lappés are also co-founders of the Small Planet Fund, which has raised more than $785,000 for democratic social movements worldwide, two of which have won the Nobel Peace Prize since the Fund’s founding in 2002. In 2007, she was chosen by the Missing Peace Project for the Compassion in Action Award and in 2006 Anna was selected for Contribute magazine’s “21 Under 40 Making a Difference.”

Lappé holds a master’s degree in economic and political development from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, and she graduated with honors from Brown University. From 2004 to 2006, she was a Food and Society Fellow, a national program of the WK Kellogg Foundation. She is currently with the Glynwood Institute for Sustainable Food and Farming and lives in Brooklyn with her husband and their daughter.

The evening talk was sponsored by Elon University’s Office of Sustainability, the Center for Environmental Studies, General Studies and the Truitt Center for Religious and Spiritual Life.

- Article written by Carolyn Baumgarten ‘11

Eric Townsend,
4/27/2011 8:20 AM