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Vegan for the Holidays

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Vegetarian Reading

Vegetarian Books

Each issue the VIP birds endeavor to soar to the highest literary peak to peck out the most unique, informative, and accomplished book that contributes to vegetarian enlightenment.

This month we review a sequel to one of the most signicant works of the 20th Century.

Hope's Edge

By Frances Moore Lappé and Anna Lappé

Jeremy Tarcher/Putnam, 2002


Hope's Edge Before there was John Robbins and Howard Lyman there was Frances Moore Lappé, author of Diet for a Small Planet, a book that had a profound influence an entire generation. Her goal to learn why there was hunger in a world of plenty, prompted her to research and write a book that has sold over 3,000,000 copies since it appeared in 1972. A tenth anniversary edition and a twentieth anniversary edition have proved that the information and ideas were still relevant years later.

Instead of revising the book for a thirtieth anniversary edition, Lappé decided on a different course. She and her daughter, Anna, would embark on an odyssey that would take them to nine countries on five continents. Their mission was to gather material for a book "that takes off where the original stops." They would try to answer a new question, "Why have we, as societies, created that which as individuals we abhor?" They discovered that there is still scarcity and hunger amid abundance as society devotes unlimited resources to put meat on the table.

As in 1972, Lappé examines our relationship with food. We have permitted the creation of a fast-food society where people living in abundance are actually malnourished by a diet where almost half of the calories come from fat and sugar. This meat-focused diet has brought sickness and disease to the entire planet. Quite staggering is the statistic that 151 million people in the world suffer from diabetes.

The same economic system that promotes this unhealthy diet devotes excessive resources to meat production. As much as 70% of grain in some countries is grown to feed animals instead of people. This wasteful diversion of resources brings animal protein to Americans at the same time it causes environmental problems and hunger in the rest of the world.

Meanwhile, multinational corporations are spreading the fast-food doctrine around the world as chemical conglomerates promote pesticides and genetically modified crops to increase agricultural production and thus solve the hunger problem. These campaigns have instead brought the poisoning of land and people in developing countries as well as decreasing the crop yield and driving the farmers into bankruptcy.

In a capitalistic system that favors multinational corporations, governments that are totalitarian or democratic allow a disparity of wealth and a situation where the poor have little or no opportunity to the right to have food on their tables.

In their journey the Lappés discovered that small groups of people working together are able to change the system and thus improve the quality of life for those whose existence appeared hopeless.

  • For Muhammed Yunus of Bangladesh it meant forming Grameen, a bank to lend small amounts money to the poor who are ignored by the traditional banking system. These loans permitted people to become self-sufficient.
  • In Brazil Jao Pedro Stedile of the MST is working to bring farmland to the landless in a country were most of the country's land is held by large landowners who keep much of it idle. With small plots of land the poor were able to raise crops and escape poverty and desititution.
  • In India Dr. Vandana Shiva is leading the battle against chemical conglomerates who are obtaining patents on natural products and seeds the local people have used for centuries.
  • Wangari Maathai started planting trees in Kenya on Earth Day 1977 to replenish the soil and prevent erosion. Soon she had launched the Green Belt Movement that now includes 6000 groups in the country with their own tree nurseries.

All of these people confronted their fears to seize the day and bring themselves to hope's edge.

Fundamental in reaching hope's edge is to be aware of the Five Thought Traps and the Five Liberating Ideas:

Thought Trap 1: The enemy is scarcity, production is the savior.
Liberating Idea 1: Scarcity is an illusion, sustainable agriculture is ideal production

Thought Trap 2: Thank our selfish genes.
Liberating Idea 2: Selfishness is a caricature. To survive we need effectiveness and connection.

Thought Trap 3: Let the market decide, experts preside.
Liberating Idea 3: Technology is a tool, not a tyrant. Citizens need to draw boundaries for these tools.

Thought Trap 4: Solve by dissection.
Liberating Idea 4: Discard dissection by recognizing that many problems are interrelated. Know the power of our individual choices can help solve world problems.

Thought Trap 5: Welcome to the end of history.
Liberating Idea 5: Realize that global corporate capitalism is not the best we can accomplish. We need a system that respects nature, culture, and ourselves.

The book contains two extensive recipe sections. The first, Recipes from Pioneer Vegetarian and Whole Foods Cookbook Authors, includes menus and recipes from Mollie Katzen, Laurel Robertson, Anne Somerville, and Anna Thomas.

Lappe The second, Recipes from Pioneer Chefs and Restaurants, features contributions from renowned chefs of famous vegetarian restaurants across the United States. This section ends with an index of all the recipes included in the book, including the ones sprinkled throughout the chapters detailing the journey.

Entry Points provides information on the groups discussed in the book with the hope that readers will want to learn more and become involved in providing assistance. A Short List of Recommended Readings, a bibliography, Endnotes, and an index complete the book.

On the very last page of the book the Lappés make an appeal for contributions to The Small Planet Fund (http://www.smallplanetfund.org) "that supports initiatives across the globe addressing the root causes of hunger -- not a lack of food but a lack of democracy."

By focusing on individuals and groups in situations that appeared almost hopeless, the Lappés have demonstrated that people joined together can effect change and make the world better. What makes the book so compelling is the stories of people who risk their lives to work against societal structures in their countries that are both inequitable and harmful to citizens.

The Lappés have shown that multinational corporations motivated by greed need not win the battle to control the world's agriculture and food supply. A few Americans have joined in efforts to block genetic engineering and restrict the use of pesticides, but most are apathetic.

The Lappés are not satisfied with just writing about world problems, but have assumed the leadership in raising funds for the groups they have described and are encouraging others to focus their energies to promote progressive social change. Hopefully, Hope's Edge will be for the 21st Century what Diet for a Small Planet was for the last quarter of the 20th Century.

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