For Anna Lappé, food activism is her birthright: her father, Marc Lappé, was a medical ethicist and toxicologist, while her mother, Frances Moore Lappé, authored the classic Diet for a Small Planet. Continuing their tradition, she’s co-founded the Small Planet Institute (smallplanet institute.org) and Small Planet Fund (smallplanetfund.org), and recently co-authored Grub: Ideas for an Urban Organic Kitchen with Bryant Terry, which urges an end to “agricultural hubris” and encourages readers to eat locally and organically. In this manifesto/cookbook, the 32-year-old Fort Greene resident, who’s also a Food and Society Policy fellow at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, calls the actions of the pesticide and food industries “groupthink,” warns of the dangers of high-fructose corn syrup, trans fats, and fast food, and includes a community food audit form to share food co-op and farmers’ market sources with your neighbors.
Eric Schlosser writes that you have “been challenging the logic of industrialized agriculture since practically the day [you] were born.” My work is definitely inspired by the values instilled in me by my parents. I remember going with my mother on a research trip to Ohio with the Farm Labor Organizing Committee in sixth grade. I saw the depths of inequality within our borders and the lack of fairness when it comes to providing farmworkers a just wage.
Did you ever have a rebellious, fast-food-eating period? I wouldn’t say I ever had a “fast-food eating period,” but the year my high school boyfriend worked at The Scooping Station in Oakland I had a real thing for Philly cheesesteaks. In general, though, I don’t feel that following the grub diet, choosing healthy, whole foods, is some kind of sacrifice that I need to rebel occasionally against. I love eating this way.
What is “grub”? We’ve appropriated “grub” as our slang for local, sustainably raised, fairly made food. In an ideal world, you would find this everywhere, and factory-farmed meat, chemically grown produce, and genetically modified foods would be hard to find.
Where can we find it? We have dozens of farmers markets to choose from, many open year-round. During harvest season, you can visit the Red Hook Community Farm’s farmstand and select produce that was harvested that very day. Community supported agriculture membership farms, where you invest in a farm each year and in exchange get fresh produce and sometimes dairy, meat, and honey, such as Just Food, which has helped start more than three dozen CSAs across the city. You can also find grub at restaurants where enlightened chefs get it that local, fresh, organic food tastes better.
You write that “Eating is the most essential act of every living creature . . . Today, eating is also unquestionably a political act.” We make a huge difference with the dollars we spend on food. It’s our money that big food corporations use to lobby against federal safeguards for public health, fight against state-based policies that would cut out junk food from our schools, and to fund their multi-billion dollar advertising campaigns targetting us to buy into the high-fat, high-salt, high-sugar junk food. But it’s important to stress that this is only one part of the answer. In an era when corporate-funded lobbyists outnumber elected officials, we have to be sure our voices get heard.
What’s the biggest myth floating around about organic food? One of the biggest myths⎯circulated by a well-oiled propaganda machine funded by the chemical agriculture industry⎯is that we couldn’t possibly feed the world if we went organic. It’s naïve to think we can continue to feed the world without radically changing our production practices. Our current system is entirely wedded to petroleum—from petroleum-based fertilizers and pesticides to the petroleum-guzzling transportation needs of our far-flung food—and is one of the worst contributors to climate change, with methane emitted by livestock and their manure in the U.S. equaling the global-heating impact of 33 million cars. Organic farming, in contrast, contributes only a third to half of the CO2 emissions of chemical farming.
How are New Yorkers affected by biotechnology? The vast majority of GMOs (genetically modified organisms) are grown in just four countries, the U.S. chief among them. GMOs make up 85 percent of soy grown here, 76 percent of cotton, and 40 percent of corn. One of the only ways you can be assured you’re not eating GMOs is to choose organic since the U.S. doesn’t require foods with GMOs to be labeled, even though surveys have found that as many as 94 percent of Americans agree that these foods should be labeled, as they are in most other countries that grow GMOs (even China!).
What was the biggest surprise you encountered when investigating biotechnology companies? I was surprised at how no solid, non-biased research was conducted on the long-term health and environmental impacts of the technology before GMOs entered our food system on a remarkably large scale.
The Small Planet Fund will host its annual live auction in New York City on December 12th, along with an online version. For ticket information about the auction, email firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about Lappé’s work, visit eatgrub.org and smallplanetinstitute.org.