Eating In The Age Of Climate Change

Anna Lappé is a national best-selling author who addresses sustainability in our everyday lives. In 2001, Lappé founded the Small Planet Institute ( along with her mother, Francis Moore Lappé (author of Diet for a Small Planet, originally published in 1971). “At the Small Planet Institute, we seek to identify the core, often unspoken, assumptions and forces—economic, political, and psychological—now taking our planet in a direction that as individuals none of us would choose.”

Anna Lappé will be speaking as a part of Get Lit! 2010 about her new book, Diet for a Hot Planet: The Climate Crisis at the End of Your Fork and What You Can Do About It, and is being sponsored through SCC’s Hagan Foundation Center for the Humanities. Following is an excerpt of email exchange between OTM and Ms. Lappé.

OTM: What did you have for breakfast today (March 17, 2010)?

AL: This morning, my husband and I had toast from the bread I made over the weekend. It was chockfull of good stuff: whole wheat flour, wheat bran, steel-cut oats, sesame seeds, and millet—all organic of course.

OTM: In traveling and promoting Diet for a Hot Planet, what are the most surprising reactions you have received from people just beginning to make the connection between diet and climate change?

AL: When they learn that the global food system is indirectly and directly responsible for as much as one third of the global warming effect, most people are shocked that they haven’t heard more about it. But they’re even more surprised when they learn about the potential sustainable food systems have to feed the planet and do so while creating healthy foods and healthy soil.

OTM: Do you advocate for a completely vegetarian diet? If people do choose to eat meat, what animal has the least impact on climate change?

AL: The diet I advocate for is the one supported by reputable research from Harvard School of Public Health, the National Institutes of Health, and many other institutions. As the World Cancer Research Fund puts it quite clearly, we should limit our intake of red meat and totally avoid processed meats. Simply put, we should “eat mostly foods of plant origin.” This plant-based diet is best for our health; we now know it’s best for the planet and the climate, too. Whether you choose to complement a plant-centered diet with animal-based proteins or plant-based ones is a personal choice.

OTM: We are fortunate to have many wonderful farmers markets, community gardens, a grocery store and delivery service that focuses on local produce, dairy and meat, as well as a new natural food co-op downtown. And yet, these outlets are still seen by many as too expensive and elitist. How can communities quickly change this perception and communicate the urgent need for change in our food system on a massive scale?

AL: This is a great question, but I consider the dominant industrial food system elitist. Why? What else can you call a system that shuts out nearly 40 million people, leaving them food insecure, often wondering where their next meal is coming from? What else do you call a food system that makes the most unhealthy foods the cheapest calorie-for-calorie and most available in low-income neighborhoods?

What we’re talking about is a system-wide failure, failure to provide healthy food to all and failure to use our resources well. And system-wide failures need collective actions to fix them. Consumer-based change is woefully inadequate. So I like to stress that our individual food choices are important, but not enough.

Compare what we need to do with our food system with the changes we need to make in transportation. We need investment in food infrastructure that makes choosing locally raised, organically grown, fresh whole foods as easy as grabbing a Big Mac, Fries, and shake at the Drive Thru.

OTM: What changes to crops, management and delivery do you anticipate Inland Northwest farmers will have to make in response to climate change?

AL: While there are, of course, responses that will be particular to the climate, culture, and geography of the Inland Northwest, there are other changes that are universal: All of us will have to face climate instability. We can hope that the response will be to turn toward more resilient methods of farming. These include sustainable practices—like cover cropping, biodiversity on the farm, and green manures—that build up soil carbon and create healthy soil, which helps retain water in times of drought and absorb water in times of flooding.

But this isn’t just about changes farmers can make, though. Change will need to come from everywhere: chefs, restauranteurs, purveyors, buyers, institutional purchasers at hospitals and schools, individual consumers, all of us need to make a commitment to transforming and re-regionalizing our food system to get this sustainable food to market and into our mouths.

OTM: Your mother’s landmark book, Diet for a Small Planet, changed the way many fed their families, and effected generational change in what a healthy, environmentally-responsible diet looks and tastes like. If your readers can make only one significant change in the way they shop and eat as a result of experiencing Diet for a Hot Planet, what would you like it to be?

AL: I’d love people to change not only the foods they put into their mouths but also the ideas they have about food: I’d hope people become conscious and curious consumers, eaters who want to know the story of their food. More and more of us are, we want to know the history of our food: Whose hands touched it? What communities were helped or harmed? What land, what water, what energy was used to make it? Out of this consciousness and curiosity, the climate-friendly choices become the obvious ones: you want to reach for food that hasn’t been grown with toxic chemicals, that has been raised sustainably, and that’s good for your health.

Anna Lappé’s Get Lit! 2010 appearances (more at
Author Reading: Wednesday, April 14th 7 PM, Spokane Community College Lair Auditorium; Free and open to the public.
Sustainability: Community in Action discussion: Thursday, April 15th 9:30 – 10:30 AM, Spokane Community College, Bldg. 16, 2nd floor: Hagan Foundation Center for the Humanities, Free and open to the public.

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