Main Page CJLY
Deconstructing Dinner: Reconstructing Our Food System
recent showslisten live
Read a Transcript & Donate to Support our Work:

The following transcript is protected under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License.

Link to Audio and Episode Info Here

Show Transcript

Deconstructing Dinner

Kootenay Co-op Radio CJLY

Nelson, B.C. Canada 

 

February 5, 2009

 

Title: Frances Moore Lappé - Ending Hunger, Feeding Hope

 

Producer/Host: Jon Steinman

Transcript: Jessica VanOverbeek

 

Jon Steinman: Welcome to Deconstructing Dinner - a syndicated weekly one-hour radio show and podcast produced at Kootenay Co-op Radio CJLY in Nelson British Columbia. I'm Jon Steinman. Over the past week before this broadcast goes to air, Deconstructing Dinner has been on a whirlwind tour of Edmonton and Ottawa to attend the University of Alberta's International Week - with this year's theme being Hungry for Change - Transcending Feast, Famine and Frenzy. And just a day before this broadcast was first recorded, I spoke to the Dairy Farmers of Canada at their annual policy conference held at the Chateau Laurier in Ottawa.

 

You can expect many recordings from those events in the coming weeks and months, but first, we visit day 1 of International Week at the University of Alberta where keynote speaker Frances Moore Lappé opened up the event with a moving talk that made it clear, that since her 1971 release, 'Diet for a Small Planet', Frances's energy for ending hunger and increasing food security worldwide has not waned at all, and if anything, has only strengthened.

 

increase music and fade out

 

Jon Steinman: Over the next hour we'll listen in on Frances Moore Lappé's entire keynote speech recorded on February 2nd 2009 by Deconstructing Dinner. Frances is of course most well known for her seminal book, Diet for a Small Planet, which, shortly after led her to found the organization now known as Food First. In 2002, her and her daughter Anna founded the Small Planet Institute and co-wrote Hope's Edge: The Next Diet for a Small Planet. Her latest book is Getting A Grip: Clarity, Creativity and Courage in a World Gone Mad. Frances is the recipient of the Right Livelihood Award. Here's Frances Moore Lappé at the University of Alberta's International Week in Edmonton.

 

Frances Moore Lappé: I have to say that I feel that you all have created a new standard. I don't know if I can go back to an ordinary speaking event again after International Week. So I guess I'll just have to go around now and say 'You've got to do it like they do it in Alberta'. You have really created a magnificent program and I am deeply honored to be the kick off. Thank you Nancy Hanneman and thank you Elise and all of you and the president and all of you for coming. To give me a chance to share with you what gets me up in the morning. What's been getting me up in the morning actually, as you heard for almost 40 years. I recently ran across the words of Dee Hock who said: "It is far too late and things are far too bad for pessimism." That's the spirit that I try to get up in the morning. I hope that you share that sense.

 

As I was preparing this talk I thought well maybe I should really rethink of the title of it as 'The Work of Hope' because I've come to see over the decades that hope is work. Hope is not something that we are born with like a disposition that we get up 'Oh, I'm hopeful.' Actually, no! It is not even something that we can seek in evidence. I've come to believe, and it's kind of become the motto of my daughter and my Institute, that hope is not what we seek in evidence it's only what we become in action. And, and, it's not any kind of action because actually some actions - what I think of random acts of sanity can actually end up making us feel futile if we can't see how it's connecting to underlying causal patterns.

 

I've come to feel that the Work of Hope means really one thing to me. It means peeling away the layers of causation until we can actually see a pattern and know that our actions are actually interrupting the downwards spiral that's pulling us into more and more hunger and deprivation. Interrupt that and reverse it toward life. That's the work of hope.

 

So that's where I am in my life and putting it in another way just to throw out another sort of image. You often hear from people 'Oh, I'm just a drop in the bucket. What do I matter - my individual acts?' Well, my daughter and I when we were on a tour for a book "Hope's Edge" we were in Seattle one night and we thought 'Wait a minute buckets actually fill up pretty fast on a rainy night in Seattle!' So the problem isn't being a drop in the bucket - it's actually magnificent if you're helping to fill up something, right. The problem is most of us can't see the bucket. We can't see the vessel that our individual contributions are actually filling up because if we could, being a drop would be magnificent.

 

Putting it another way is that we have to dig to understand what is the vessel, what is the container that makes our individual efforts count. So over the years I've struggled with that a lot and ask this question that you heard from Elise. The question: why is it, how can we understand that we as individuals are creating societies that we actually deplore? How do we make sense of that? Nobody would get up in the morning saying 'Yes, yes, yes. I want there to be more hunger in the world.' Yet that is what is happening. Gradually over the decades I have learned from many great teachers and gradually I have come to see something that now feels pretty obvious to me and that is that we human beings are fundamentally creatures of the mind. That through the human eye there is no unfiltered reality. That we actually create the world moment from moment according to the frames that we hold that tell us what is possible and what is not possible and ultimately what is human nature.

 

I remember reading a book by the social philosopher Erich Fromm. In his book, The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness he writes 'It is man's humanity that makes him so inhuman.' What does that mean? What he says is that it is our distinct quality of human beings that we create what Anna and I call mental maps and what he calls frames of orientation through which we all see. That's all fine if our mental map is life serving. But, but - and here's my message that you and I are alive in this extraordinary moment in the story, in the human story in which the dominant mental map that we absorb every day as an invisible ether is fundamentally life destroying. This is the pivot point for our species. Can we break free? Can we break out of it or not? That I've come to by looking at hunger. It seems to me that that's a good place to start. Here we are, this brainy species and yet we haven't yet figured out whatever other species has - how to feed ourselves and our offspring.

 

Here I go, I think this discovery - understanding what is this dominant mental map and I'm not claiming that it is the only way to look at it because I think it is up to each of us to go this deep but I'll share with you where I am in this process. My sense is that we absorb a fundamentally flawed mental map that is misaligned both with our nature, human nature, and with the natural world. Its premise is lack. Its premise is scarcity. There is not enough goods and there's not enough goodness. There's not enough of anything. There's not enough food. There's not enough energy. There is not enough parking places. There's not enough love. There's not enough anything and there's not enough goodness in any of us. If you peel away the layers what human nature is, all we can really count on, this is the message we absorb - all we can really count on is that we are selfish, competitive, inquisitive, materialistic - that's all that we can really, really count on.

 

To understand hunger in the world today we have to probe this deep because if we really start from the premise of lack - lack of goods and goodness then it follows like night to day. That we believe that we must turn over our fate to some impersonal force because we ourselves are too flawed to come together in true democratic deliberation and negotiation over a common sense, common interest. So we feel that we have to turn over our fate to some impersonal force, some magical force ideally - at least what Ronald Reagan called the magic of the market. And, and we have to narrowly focus since there's not enough of anything we have to focus, focus, focus like a laser on producing more, more, more. That is the dominant mental map that I am claiming today is actually making things worse year by year.

 

The scarcity frame: Let me just start - that it lacks credibility number one. It lacks credibility because in fact if you take the world food supply - if you look at the last few years for example or the last period, production of food has kept ahead of population growth. Just in the last couple years where we have been experiencing the most extreme rapid growth in the number of hungry people production has kept well ahead of population growth. And yet today, a billion people are officially hungry and over a hundred million people have been pushed into the ranks of hunger just in the last two years over a hundred million. In other words, in numbers we are talking about something twice as horrific as when I began this 40 years ago. I want to make myself really, really clear before I begin - that scarcity is not our problem.

 

The world produces enough to make us all quite chubby in fact and that's just on the leftovers. Just on the leftovers. Think about it - about half of now what the world produces in food is either fed to livestock, which then shrink it in terms of its nutrients that we get or it is now increasingly turned into agro-fuel. Think of now, when I wrote Diet for a Small Planet I was just so appalled that we were feeding then a third of our grain to livestock well now we are feeding over a third of the fish catch either to other fish or as feed for livestock. So I'm saying, even on the leftovers there's enough. Clearly scarcity is not our problem and yet if you read now the dominant messages coming out of the international agencies, the G8 meetings, etcetera, still the emphasis is on . . . I was just reading on the plane here the latest U.N report on food security and page 4 it says the problem is lack of concerted effort to combat hunger. We just have to try harder and great deal of emphasis now on distribution of more seeds to low-income countries throughout the world - the premise being not enough.

 

So we are, as I say, at a choice point. What would it mean really to examine the roots - to challenge this premise of lack of goods and goodness? What would it mean? Before I do that, let me just go a little big deeper into the frame that I am working from. I've said that the fault frame is the lack of goods and goodness that then has this focus of more, more, more even as hunger worsens, production goes up, hunger worsens, more food, more hunger. What I'm suggesting that the fundamental shift has to be from a premise of lack to a premise of possibility. A premise that indeed human beings are complex enough or multi-dimensional enough so there is plenty of goodness in us. I focus on particularly on four hardwired qualities that we can count on and I'll get into those in a minute. And that certainly the natural world, ecology as we align with it - there is plenty for all of us.

 

What we need to shift then from a focus on things and the supply of scarce things to focus on alignment of human relationships. Alignment of human relationships with what we know now, the complexity of human nature and what we know now about how ecology works. We have so much more knowledge now than we have ever had as human beings have tried to survive well on this planet. So what would it mean?

 

It would mean that we get very realistic. Now, some of you might think that my frame is softheaded. Actually, I think it's very hard-nosed. I call it heart-centred realism because it says that we humans have the capacity, yes we have to acknowledge. Not just a few of us but most of us. We don't know whether we are one of them or not. In the wrong conditions we'll brutalize and we'll actually be extraordinarily cruel to one another. This is an important point, it may sound like I've drifted - I haven't.

 

If any of you are aware of the lab studies done on us - as if we needed lab studies when you look at the history of the holocaust or Abu Ghraib but even if you look at the lab studies where we're the guinea pigs such as the infamous one at Standford, a university, the same year my book 'A Diet for a Small Planet' came out where the psychology professor, Philipp Zimbardo, put people in a mock prison. Suppose to last for two weeks - these young people tested normal psychologically. They were put in a mock prison situation where power was extremely unequally divided. So there were the prison guards and the prisoners. Within six days or fewer, Dr. Zimbardo had to stop the experiment because these young people were brutalizing one another in ways eerily similar to Abu Ghraib. Actually, he testified in the hearings about those who were arrested for the treatment of prisoners in Abu Ghraib.

 

My point only is that, under the wrong conditions and one of them certainly that now we can pinpoint is the concentration of power, human beings will do very bad things to one another. That is certain. I'm saying that we know that about human beings and we also know - again we can rely on this wonderful new science coming out, that we are also hardwired for profoundly pro-social capacities that enable us to get to the root of hunger and create communities in which we can all eat. What I mean by those, I'll just select four here in the interest of time.

 

One is that we are hardwired to cooperate. We are hardwired to cooperate. You know that when they look at our brains in MRI scans while we are competing and cooperating they actually found that when people cooperate parts of our brain are stimulated are the same as when we eat chocolate. Yes! Cooperating is as pleasurable as eating chocolate.

 

So empathy, yes, empathy is hardwired into each of us. I like to think that we are least as empathetic as the Rhesus monkey who, bless their hearts, will refuse to eat for up to 12 days if some mean experimenter has set it up so that these monkeys have to press a bar that sends a shock to another monkey in order to eat themselves. They will forego food to protect their buddy monkeys. So empathy, I could go on about that too but let me just jump to another thing that I believe is hardwired. That is a deep need for fairness.

 

Adam Smith - you remember that name some of you studying economics and philosophy. He is often considered the godfather of greed. In fact, I'm sure during the Reagan years they were actually wearing Adam Smith neckties in the White House. Adam Smith was a profound moral philosopher who said very pointedly and poignantly that we understand human beings. His observations, this was before the days of neuroscience studies but his observation was that we understand that our own preservation depends on the preservation of community and we understand that injustice is what breaks community down. Our own survival then, we know that we have to have fairness in order for communities to work. So he said other social sentiments may be optional but he wrote we are 'in some peculiar manner tied, bound, and obliged to the observation of justice.'

 

Again, the animal studies - I don't know if you saw this recently but I was so amused and tickled because it confirmed what I say but dogs will be just delighted to do these games, you know shaking the hand - paw handshake with the experimenters just for the fun of the reaction of the experimenter. No reward until they see a dog getting a goody for doing the same thing and then they go on strike and say no way. The same with the capuchin monkeys, they've found in these studies that the monkeys will get their rations and accept them except when other monkeys were getting better rations - getting grapes. I'm a monkey and these capuchin monkeys; I'm only getting a cucumber? They started throwing them back. I mean intuitively it makes sense to me what Adam Smith is saying - that fairness is the basis of community. Without it, it dissolves and we know that we depend on community.

 

I'm just saying that I'm making the point that we know we have these profound pro-social needs of capacities, we also virtually all of us under the wrong conditions especially extreme concentration of power and the other ring as you know the prisoner versus guard and they wore their garb. People are depersonalized and can bring out absolutely horrific behaviour in most of us. So we can be both. It seems to me, let's step up as a species let's say: What are the rules, what are the conditions that bring out the best of us and keep in check the worst in us? I think that the answers to that are pretty clear.

 

I just want to add, when we squelch, when we deny these positive qualities in us they don't just shrink and die - we get clinically depressed. Did you know that depression is the fourth leading cause of loss of productive life in the world and it's shooting up to be number two within a decade or so. We don't do well in societies that violate these very, very deep social capacities of ours.

 

Jon Steinman: And this is Deconstructing Dinner, a syndicated weekly one-hour radio show and Podcast, produced at Kootenay Co-op Radio CJLY, in Nelson British Columbia. You're listening to author Frances Moore Lappé speaking in February 2009 at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. Frances was invited to deliver a keynote address to open the University's International Week titled Hungry for Change: Transcending Feast, Famine and Frenzy. More recordings from the event will air on Deconstructing Dinner over the next few weeks and months. If you miss any of today's broadcast, it is archived on our website at deconstructingdinner.ca under the February 5th 2009 episode.

 

Frances Moore Lappé: So here we are. That's my challenge but before I continue on that theme I want to bring us right back to hunger and development and describe then how our mental map is undermining and then I'm going to end with stories of possibility. Where we are accepting that the good and the bad of our nature and creating the rules and norms that bring out the best in us and keep the worst in check. How did we get here in a world in which almost a billion are hungry and yet there is more than enough for us all? From this turning over where I was just a few minutes ago this sense of lack, lack of goods and goodness we turn over our fate to not any kind of market.

 

This the interesting piece for me because markets have always been part of human social history or at least not always but for a VERY long time but somehow we get on this idea that a market could work and this is the ether that we bring - a market could work if it's run by essentially by a single rule: highest return to existing wealth - the CEOs and the stockholders. On the surface it's kind of a funny idea. I mean, you'd think that we would have seen through this. We would have seen this as a problem after having played Monopoly a few times. I remember you know in growing up and actually I was kind of relieved when my brother got all the property because I could go to bed but that's ok in a game. It's not ok in life because the equivalent would be I die or I become homeless and I'm out of the game.

 

The interesting little piece here, I learned a few years ago that the inventor of Monopoly was a Quaker woman in the early 20th Century that wanted it to be an object lesson in what would happen if this one rule economics - highest return to people who already have the cash. Well, Lizzie's idea got into the hand of Parker Brothers and actually it became an object lesson because now five corporations in the United States control most board games but we didn't get the deeper lesson about what happens in a one rule economy.

 

In this one-rule economy what has happened is that we buy into the notion, certainly from the 1980s onward the message going out in fact the condition set on much of global aid and trade rules had to do with 'Oh, you poor countries you're going to do much better if you reduce any kind of public support of agriculture and you open your doors to unfettered imports.' Great that's the direction you have to go and then of course we didn't follow-we in the global north didn't follow the same advice. In the U.S. we have massive subsidies for our farmers and then we have trade deals with this highly unequal system.

 

For example, in Mexico you may already know this but it's extraordinary that after the free trade agreement within a few years almost two million corn farmers had been put out of business by cheap exports from the United States. Mexico had bought the idea that 'Oh, yes. We reduce our support of agriculture and open our doors.' U.S. corn, subsidized corn wiped out the basic farm economy there. So what we see from the Philippines to Haiti and elsewhere - countries that were largely food self-sufficient, you think of the Philippines for example that was a major rice producing is now the leading importer of rice and extremely, therefore, dependent.

 

So, what happens then? What happens when we accept this notion of a lack that we don't have it in us to come together and really create a market that operates within a democratic policy - that sets rules because a market is very, very handy device if it is set up so that wealth continues to circulate and competition is protected. If we accepted from this mental map of lack and turn over our fact to a one rule economy it ends up actually killing the very virtues that supposedly it was serving to begin with: efficiency and competitiveness. I mean what could be less efficient than a world food economy that we are shrinking supply by feeding ever-greater quantities to livestock and now creating agri-fuel from the land. What could be less competitive than a world in which fewer and fewer corporations now control throughout our food systems? From the trading and processing to the retail level fewer and fewer corporations in control. For example just six corporations control most of the world's grain trade and seeds. I find this particularly poignant - 30 years ago there were hundreds of seed companies, today one company - Monsanto controls about a fifth of the commercial seed market and in genetically modified seeds it's over 90 percent.

 

Of course it gets worse and worse here because once economic power is that tightly concentrated it begins to infect and distort our political systems. In the United States over ten years these large agri-business companies have contributed a billion dollars in lobbying money spent to influence the decision making in our democracy. So we've reached the point what a friend of mine has recently called 'privately held government' and I think that's an interesting term. It brings me to the words and we've been warned about the consequences of what happens when we allow this mystified market then outside of democratic accountability to so concentrate it's power that it then distorts political decision making.

 

We've been warned by many but no one more poetically as Franklin Delano Roosevelt who in April of 1938 he was addressing a joint session of congress and he put it this way: he said 'the liberty of democracy is not safe. If a people tolerate the growth of private power to the point that it is stronger than the democratic state of itself that in its essence it is fascism.' This is an American president. Now I have to admit, I have not found the courage to use the 'F' word without quoting an American president but I'm working on that courage because I think it's so shocking that he named it private power so concentrated that it overwhelms the public.

 

We then are blinded by this mental map so that we cannot see that today's chronic hunger even before this latest crisis that has pushed a hundred and ten million more people into hunger. That even before that, that hunger inevitably flows from this concentration of power that we have already figured out brings out the worst in us. So that we were absolutely set up for the last two years of this intense - we went from chronic to acute. What happened? In part what happened in short talk, I can't go into all of the different elements here but in part what happened is that in the U.S., which is the epicentre of the current global financial crisis, over 2 decades we pulled back on democratic accountability, on safeguards in our financial institutions. Now we know if we look at this complex human nature, of course if the rules pulled back and allowed unprincipled behaviour then that subprime debacle was virtually inevitable that people would take advantage that operators who wanted to and create as you've heard a financial instrument that so complex and mysterious, non-transparent that even Warren Buffet said he didn't even understand them. That's when I got really worried.

 

Then what happens as that began to wobble in 2007 is the subprime thing became the looming thread. Investor speculators ran from real estate and where did they go? They went to commodities that seemed like a sure bet. So what happens is that this spike in food prices having very little to do with the actual supply. Food production has continued to go up. What happens then is, who benefits? In 2007, Archer Daniels Midland made it a sixty-five percent increase in its profits. The really interesting part to me is that the biggest part of that was from its financial division which is nothing to do necessarily to do with its actual movement of its trading of commodities but rather the speculative game it was also playing through its financial division on the volatility of food prices.

 

So here we are. Here we are. So what I'm suggesting then is that these elevated prices which are now expected to continue even though the crisis level is over but expected to continue. Now then let me just say at this very same moment what I find stunning is that throughout the world on every continent and what changed my life so dramatically was being able to travel all over the world with my daughter in the year 2000 and actually see and smell and taste the emergence of living democracy - of people stepping up whether they be in India or Bangladesh or Kenya or Brazil, people stepping up and saying 'Oh, Yes. The market is a very useful tool.' Not that they would use these words this is my understanding of what they are doing in action - but yes, it is if it is embedded in actual balanced human relationships where power is not concentrated but it is shared and negotiated and there's mutual accountability. That is the difference. The shift from 'oh, we can develop just if we focus on producing more' and it was as since 'oh, we can develop if we come together and use our common sense, build power together and keep it circulating.' That really is what I've come to see as an ecology of democracy that I've been able to witness.

 

Let me just give you now a few tastes of what this looks like. I want to start with the fact that we hear in the business pages, all we see is the news on the stock markets and shareholders and yet co-operatives which are not in the business pages typically have doubled in membership in the last thirty years and there are actually more people who are members of co-operatives than there are people who own shares in publically traded companies in the world. These co-operatives are supplying more jobs in the world than are multinational corporations. Again largely invisible but this is part I think of rethinking economics as that which can be structured in a way to prevent what we know will bring out the worst in us - the concentration of power and particularly economic power.

 

I think in India, for example, I turn on the radio and hear about the Indian miracle and hear about the call centres and I experience the call centres and the high-tech jobs. What we don't hear about is actually more jobs have been created by villagers working together and improving their incomes than in these high-tech industries. For example, starting about thirty years ago a network of village women created a dairy co-operative that involves a network of a 100,000 village level dairies and nearly 11 million members. That has helped to make India one of the worlds leading producers of dairy. This model, because we are social mimics and we take our queues from one another, this then caught on in Bangladesh where something called the 'Milk Vita Co-operative' has replicated this success enabling 300,000 households to increase their earnings ten fold.

 

Jon Steinman: And this is Deconstructing Dinner. You're listening to author Frances Moore Lappé speaking in February 2009 at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. Frances is the author of Diet for a Small Planet, Hope's Edge and Democracy's Edge among others. She travelled from Boston, Massachusetts to deliver a keynote address to open the University's International Week titled Hungry for Change: Transcending Feast Famine and Frenzy. And if you enjoy the content of today's episode and other episodes of this show, we would benefit from your financial support for this project which we offer free-of-charge to radio stations across the country. You can help support this program by visiting deconstructingdinner.ca and selecting "donate" or you can call 250-352-9600 and learn how you can send a cheque or money-order to support our ongoing efforts to inform you and others about the impacts our food choices have on ourselves, our communities and the planet.

 

Here again is Frances Moore Lappé.

 

Frances Moore Lappé: Staying with India for a minute. I have found somewhat over the last 20 years the evolution of the southern State of Kerala with a population not too much, just kind of comparable to Canada. Just 14 years ago the southern state of Kerala began what they call a people's campaign for decentralized planning. In which citizens according to one report 'gained unprecedented authority in bringing their ideas forward - particularly women'. One in four households, in Kerala participated in village assemblies during the first two years of this. A lot of participation has continued in projects that include housing, small-scale irrigation, agriculture projects that were particularly beneficial to women and untouchables. Now, Kerala is important to follow because it's more inclusive practices over decades has meant that even though per capita income is about 5% of the U.S. its people through these sorts of processes has achieved a level of literacy and health statistics that are comparable with the industrial countries - and most people have never heard of the Indian State of Kerala.

 

I mentioned the co-operative movement just a moment ago but in its one aspect of democratizing economic life another feature that I've been learning from is the democratization of finance. How many of you have heard of micro-credit? Many of us have heard of this idea of making credit available to poor villagers throughout the world who now are dependant largely on moneylenders who require exorbitant rates of interest for small loans. I sense that even there that we don't fully grasp often the potential of what this really represents. And that is that I think micro-credit much of it that I have observed and I'm trying to learn more about is not just the miniaturization of capitalism if you will. Just making smaller loans but still keeping power concentrated in a bank and shareholders but rather a whole different way of thinking about finance.

 

Grameen Bank, which my daughter and I visited in the year 2000, is not just a bank. It is also a social movement and the owners are actually the village women who are also the people whose money is lended and who receive the loan - they are the owners. When I say social movement I mean that it would be as if you went into your local bank and said 'Yes, you can get a loan here if you join with your neighbours and work with your neighbours and be willing to commit to keeping your children in school and growing a community garden. This is the kind of integrated notion of finance that many of us would find it kind of hard to imagine. Its banking as part of a social movement and more recently in the last ten years what has begun to happen is something I think that the terms micro-credit probably should be replaced more accurately to call it social lending. Maybe that's not the greatest term either but the idea that it's very different - it's not just breaking down the numbers into smaller pieces, loans into smaller pieces but it's rethinking lending as a social activity.

 

For example, I read about and met someone who had been founder of or initiator I should say of the social lending network of women in Nepal and he describes it as there is not bank such as the Grameen Bank in Dhaka where you can see that the money ends up in the dadadada - it's more structured. Rather it's more structured in Nepal and now this model has sprung throughout the world. It was just village women coming together in a circle and agreeing on the rules and committing them to supporting one another. When I interviewed him about this he said '56 thousand women started businesses and generated three million dollars in revenue during the first 18 months. Then his eyes twinkled and he said 'and that was BEFORE we got our curricula to them of how to do it.' Just planting the idea and teaching one another to read and write and to do basic accounting again without trained teachers coming into the villages but women coming to believe that they have this in themselves and were just astonishingly successful. Again, being replicated now in Africa.

 

So, I'm saying that looking from another lens, this lens of democracy as a living process in which we understand what brings out the best in us. These social networks that keep wealth circulating and keep power dispersed and constantly newly generated. I think of also, another example from India and then I'm going to go to Brazil for my last story.

 

I've been reading about the State in India Uttar Pradesh which I have read earlier as just a horror story of pesticide use and health issues related to over-pesticide use and therefore suicides because farmers took out loans to get their production going often with Monsanto seeds that they were dependant on the foreign corporation to supply the seeds for their farms. Growing cotton using a lot of pesticides. I saw it's just a horror story. Then in the last year or so, another story is coming out of this region: farmers themselves becoming so aware and so alarmed by the spate of suicides. Farmers drinking pesticides to kill themselves because they couldn't repay the loans for these purchased inputs; animals getting sick, people getting sick because of pesticide exposure and they started saying no to that path.

 

Now, sixteen out of the 23 districts in Uttar Pradesh there are villages that are embracing about a million acres, embracing what they call non-pesticide management. It's not completely organic but it's headed that way and very much with a consciousness that what makes sense for us is to build on traditional techniques of agriculture. To diversify our field so that we can have some food to eat so that we're not dependant simply on purchased foods and that we can use the traditional pest controls including the Neem tree - which is an ancient tree that's extract has been used for millennia as a pest control substance. So, this reliance then moving away from chemicals relying not on purchased seeds but on the sharing of seeds means that their cost production has gone down so much that even though their yields haven't increased and maybe a little less but comparable to what they were doing before. Their profit has increased on average of 18 percent in many of the villages that were summarized in the study that I was looking at. And, people's medical bills have gone down because they are not experiencing the pesticide exposure and their food's more secure because the variety of the crops that they're growing.

 

It is an example of villagers coming to the, they call it community management, villagers coming together and learning from one another and sharing transparent information. I saw a picture of a large sign in the middle of the village that had the returns on average from those who were still using the pesticide approach still using the purchased inputs, the Monsanto seeds and those who were using the shared seeds and non-pesticide approach. Seeing who profited in the end because the non-pesticide approach had fewer overhead costs and less medical costs in the end they were doing much better.

 

I just want to share one more story with you before I wrap up and that comes from Brazil. I was in Brazil, and this I think could happen anywhere, it could happen in Edmonton, it could happen in Boston where I live - this residence of Belo Horizonte, the fourth largest city in Brazil, they elected in 1993 a government, an administration that said 'we are standing on the platform of food as human right. Food is a right of citizenship and we are saying to our citizens, if you elect us we are saying to you that yes, if you're too poor to buy food in the market place we are still accountable to you and therefore we will work to make good food - not just any food, good food available to everyone in the city.' They were elected and in a leadership role a woman named Adriana Aranha whose become a great hero of mine and she was the facilitator - the city agency that came up with, working with citizens groups came up with dozen innovations such as small plots of city owned land that was made available to small farmers, organic farmers. Because there was no middleman taking the big cut the small farmer was able to thrive. We talked to a several of them to really thrive while keeping food within the reach of the poorest in the inner city in Belo.

 

They took the amount of money that was provided by the federal government in Brazil and instead of buying corporate processed food with it they bought local organic food with it and the nutrient value of children's meals shot up. Shifting the frame they began to see things that had been thrown out, they began to see them as possible sources of nutrition. So that Manioc leafs and eggshells were ground into powder and put into children's biscuits in nursery schools throughout the city. In ten years, on less than two percent of the city budget, Belo Horizonte reduced infant death by half - more than half.

 

When I talked Adriana during our visit there I said 'Do you realize that you are completely out of step? You're really saying that government and the citizens can be partners? And that government is not just about handouts but also actually about facilitating and fair rules setting-accountable to citizens? You're really out of step with the global trend toward saying the government can do no good and the market can do no harm.' So Adriana in answer to my question just went on and on in Portuguese and I don't understand a word of Portuguese. I tried to be really patient until her eyes began to tear up. At that point I couldn't be patient any more and I interrupted and said please would the translator tell me what's making Adriana cry.

 

What she said was "Yes. I knew how out of step we were. I knew how much hunger there was in the world but what I didn't know and what upset me so is how easy it is to end it." What Adriana is saying to us, and I hope is captured in this talk is that if we are willing to do what she did - step outside the dominant frame, rethink and to walk with our fear of being different then it does become easy. We see with new eyes and that really is the challenge of this moment. That really is the challenge so it gets then to be very personal. How do we take this idea into our daily lives here in Edmonton? How do we do it?

 

Any of these stories can be translated right back into your community. How are finances rethought of as part of the democratic community based on social relationships which power is widely dispersed not just ruled by some automatic magical force but really something that is thought through together? How can co-operatives thrive here as democratic institutions? These are questions how could Edmonton do something like Belo Horizonte did.

 

Again bringing all sorts of citizen innovations forward and having that kind of dramatic effect. I sort of think to be an Adriana Aranha if I can boil it down to that, for me requires what I call 'bold humility.' Bold Humility begins with the rethinking fear - that's the bold part. The bold part is rethinking fear not as something; let me say that part of our evolution I think is that we evolved in these closely knit tribes in which we knew a couple things about fear. The fear sensation our bodies - in my case it's the pounding heart and the agitation - that we trusted those. That meant we had to flee, or fight, or freeze right. We also knew that separating from the tribe was pretty certain death. That's what we learned about fear.

 

Now. Here we are. The early 21st Century and the entire hypertribe is heading over Victoria Falls. So it seems to me that in this extraordinary moment that you and me are alive that fear takes on a whole different meaning because to separate from the tribe, to separate from the pack if you will, may mean life - not death. Fear then doesn't necessarily mean that we are in the wrong place at the wrong time doing the wrong thing. It might just mean that we are doing exactly what we need to be doing to promote life itself - ours and others. We have to rethink fear, simply as information - not as the verdict, simply as information in order to be able to move. Not to get over fear because I think it is absolutely impossible - it's hardwired, but to be able to walk with it.

 

I have a little trick I'll share with you. It's a little corny, my daughter calls it cheesy but there it is. That is that this pounding heart of mine I know that I feel most when I'm about to say something I think is controversial or difficult for somebody to hear. So, I've started renaming it 'inner applause.' When I hear that inner applause I think 'Oh, good. You've gotta go for that' and it completely, ok not completely but it somewhat it makes me much more able to keep going. So the bold part but the humility part is equally important and as I get old I realize that the humility is much easier as I age because I realize like when I was travelling with my daughter - talk about humbling, I've realized that all the things we were experiencing whether it was Wangari Mathai that planted seven trees on the Earth Day in 1977 having no idea what could come from and ultimately for her environmental activism was beaten and jailed, and then when we left her in the year 2000 when we were leaving Kenya it was still under a dictatorship and we didn't know if the Greenbelt movement could survive. They had at point planted 20 million trees and we didn't know if it could survive. Little did we know that just a few years later, 2004 she'd get that call from the Nobel Peace Prize committee saying that she'd won the Nobel Peace Prize for her actions. Now, 40 million trees planted from those seven. Would I have ever predicted that? Probably not.

 

The humility part is recognizing that the things that most inspire me today I would have given about that much chance of success when I was my children's age and beginning this work. So the humility piece is simply recognizing that it is not possible to know what is possible. It is not possible to know what's possible and if we really accept that then we are absolutely free to follow our curiosity, follow our heart, and follow our energy and those who we look up. Find the people who are just a little bit more bold than we are and associate with them because we know that we are probably become that way ourselves given the fact that there are these mirror neurons in our brains now that we are constantly experiencing what we observe. So, this theme of 'It's not possible to know what's possible' - this theme that in fact the world is moving in two dramatically different directions. One is greatly worsening of the experience of needless hunger throughout the world and worsening with the climate crisis at the same time.

 

At the same time the stories I've mentioned from Belo Horizonte, Uttar Pradesh, or Nepal or India - these are equally as real and they are still invisible but we can help make them visible. That really is the theme then and as I think of this idea that we are moving in two directions at once, I realize that what is called for as we begin to think of this bold humility at least it works for me - this idea of rethinking fear and humility. That we then grow our hearts big enough to hold both the pain and the possibility - that we learn to hold it all somehow. I think of as the expanding heart, of being able to sing and weep at the same time. That will then allow us to just open our eyes to accept all aspects of the human, complex human being, and recognize that we can now see what brings out the best in us and how we can keep the worst of us in check. Through what I call living democracy aligned with this more realistic sense of human nature and aligned with ecology itself. I would like to end with a poem that means a great deal to me - that captures everything I've been trying to say but much more simply and briefly. It is a poem about hope by Denise Levertov.

 

"We've only begun to love the earth. We've only begun to imagine the fullness of life. How can we tire of hope? So much is in bud.

 

How can desire fail? We've only begun to imagine justice and mercy. We've only begun to envision how it might be to live as siblings with beast and flower. No longer as oppressor.

 

We've only begun to know the power that is ours if we would join our solitudes in a communion of struggle. So much is unfolding that must complete its gesture. So much is in bud."

 

Thank you. (applause)

 

Jon Steinman: And that was Frances Moore Lappé, speaking in February 2009 at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. Frances is the author of Diet for a Small Planet, Hope's Edge, and her most recent, Getting a Grip: Clairty, Creativity and Courage in a World Gone Mad. If you missed any of her keynote address, you can visit the show on-line at deconstructingdinner.ca where this episode is archived under the February 5th 2009 broadcast.

 

ending theme

 

That was this week's edition of Deconstructing Dinner, produced and recorded at Nelson, British Columbia's Kootenay Co-op Radio. I've been your host Jon Steinman. I thank my technical assistant John Ryan.

 

The theme music for Deconstructing Dinner is courtesy of Nelson-area resident Adham Shaikh.

 

This radio program is provided free of charge to campus/community radio stations across the country, and relies on the financial support from you the listener. Support for the program can be donated through our website at deconstructingdinner.ca or by dialing 250-352-9600.


HOME | DONATE | ABOUT | PAST EPISODES/TRANSCRIPTS | SPEAKING ENGAGEMENTS | LEARN | CONTACT

deconstructingdinner@cjly.net


Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License.