Lappé: Food facts contradict perceptions

annaLappeAuthor and activist Anna Lappé on Thursday said a new way of viewing sustainable farming – and food overall – is necessary in order to create healthier people as well as a healthier economy and planet.

Speaking at a Westminster Town Hall Forum in downtown Minneapolis, Lappé said our frame of mind when it comes to food is so well-established and leans so heavily toward industrial agriculture – which includes herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers – that we overlook the facts.

We view sustainable farming – which uses natural methods to build the soil and deal with pests, and eschews animal confinement – as an ineffective way to feed a growing world population, she explained. And the media, Lappé added, often does the same, portraying farmer’s markets, for example, as “nice to go to … but not practical.”

But after 12 years of researching food systems in the United States and worldwide, Lappé has uncovered research that says otherwise, facts that tell “an incredible good-news story.”

She maintains that sustainable farming can deliver the food yields the world needs without the “incredible cost” that industrial agriculture levies against health, the economy, food security, the environment, women’s rights, and more. As evidence, she cites a leading scientific report produced by the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), which maintains that it’s time to rethink our approach to agriculture and turn our focus to sustaining natural resources, empowering marginalized stakeholders, and providing fair market access for farm products.

She suggested it’s time to embrace those moments of “cognitive dissonance” – those times when we experience contradictions between what we have believed and what we actually see. One such moment she has witnessed is when farmers recognize that the use of chemicals has led to family illness, and as a result they change their practices, “showing us a different path” – one of sustainable farming, creating soil that retains moisture and promotes biological diversity.

We may feel trapped in the dominant view that industrial agriculture is necessary, Lappé said, when in fact “serious paradigm-shifting work” is possible. Just look at how society’s attitudes toward smoking have changed. We may not alter our views toward food overnight, she added, “but the shift is already happening.”

Take one small example: Bhutan recently announced plans to become the first country in the world to grow all of its crops using only organic agricultural practices.

“There is incredible hope,” Lappé said, “and we can all be part of it. It starts with how we think, and I’m here to tell you: It’s already begun.”

Lappé, a founder of the Small Planet Institute and the Small Planet Fund, has co-authored three books, including “Diet for a Hot Planet: The Climate Crisis at the End of Your Fork and What You Can Do About It.” The Westminster Town Hall Forum that she was part of March 14 is a speaker series held at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Minneapolis.

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