September 21, 2006

Lappé Fights Food Inefficiency

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Coffee at Libe café, sandwiches at Collegetown Bagels, the grill at Robert Purcell — food is never far from a Cornell student’s mind. The focus of Frances Moore Lappé’s lecture, delivered yesterday, was the act of choosing what one eats, understanding the effects of that choice and the system that lies behind it.

In a speech combining sustainability, politics and economics, Lappé discussed some ideas found her many widely-acclaimed books, including Diet for a Small Planet and Democracy’s Edge. Through the Small Planet Institute, Lappé educates people about the human-made causes of world hunger and the power of every day choices to create the world we want.

Lappé told the audience how her work began when she realized that there was more than enough food to feed everyone in the world. The real problem, Lappé now feels, is an inverted and inefficient system.

For example, slaughterhouses feed grains rich in nutrients to livestock, a system Lappé said was like the inefficiency of driving a Hummer.

Lappé criticized the American food industry and went on to what she says is the root of the problem — the market economy that focuses on highest return to existing wealth. For Lappé this concentration of wealth and decision-making power stands in opposition to the living democracy that she envisions — one that stresses inclusion, mutual accountability and fundamental fairness.

Lappé’s favorite chapter in her highly acclaimed book Diet for a Small Planet is “Who asked for Fruit Loops?” Her answer: CEOs of food conglomerates who benefit economically from taking the good things like fiber out of food and putting in what humans do not need, such as high fructose corn syrup, trans fat and salt.

Her main message to the audience was “bring values to the marketplace” by choosing organic food that is good for the body, the environment, the local economy and the world.

“Choosing local and organic food brings more beauty into life, and that is a deep human need,” said Lappé.

Lappé’s talk kicked off Cornell Dining’s Fall Harvest Celebration, which includes a Fall Harvest Dinner that will be held today at the Robert Purcell. The dinner will consist of 100 percent New York produce, with as much as possible from within a 50-mile radius.

“Cornell Dining has really taken the ‘buying local’ initiative to heart,” said Miriam Golur ’09, president of Farm-to-Cornell, a student group that works to create awareness of sustainable eating on campus and the benefits of local food.

Although Ithaca, according to Lappé, is an “enlightened city,” there is still much room for growing awareness of sustainability issues on campus.

“I wish students would make concept of sustainability more real by their daily actions,” said Tamar Sharabi ’07, president of Engineers for a Sustainable World.