Using Your ‘Ecomind’ with Author Frances Moore Lappé

July 12, 2013

JOHN SHEGERIAN: Welcome back to Green is Good, and we’re so honored today to have with us Frances Moore Lappe. She’s the iconic and legendary author of All Things Green and How to Eat Responsibly. Welcome to Green is Good. FRANCES MOORE LAPPE: Thank you. Thank you. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Hey Francis, with 18 books behind you now and probably 15 in front of you, your journey is fascinating to me and how someone could be so prolific and so relevant to the times that we live in. Before we get into any fun Q and A, can you share a little bit your journey of how you even got to where you are today? FRANCES MOORE LAPPE: Well, I started out like so many of us in my 20s on a search. I really wanted a sense of direction and about, ’68 or so, ’69, there was a beginning and a sense of the food movement, not as we think of it now, but people going back to the land and natural foods. Before we talked about organic, but natural foods and it hit me that if I could just figure out why people are hungry in the world that that would unlock the mysteries of economics and politics and I’d have direction because it dawned on me that oh well, yes, feeding ourselves and our offspring is what every species does and we have not yet figured out how to do that for all of us so what’s up with us? How can I make sense of that? So, I literally went to the library. It was my dad’s library, the UC – Berkeley Library, and kind of put two and two together and then I realized oh my, there’s more than enough for all of us, that we are actively creating scarcity out of plenty and that’s been the theme song of my life. JOHN SHEGERIAN: And, just for our listeners out there to just see all of the great works that Frances has created over her career, please go to her amazing website, SmallPlanet.org. I’m on it right now. There’s so much there that you can see and you can get involved with and get engaged with and today, we’re gonna be talking a little bit more focused on your new book, which you were so kind to send me in advance, Ecomind: Changing the Way We Think to Create the World We Want. So, talk a little bit about how you even got to this book, the whole issue of what you just said about being a young lady and questioning convention and how do we look at our paradigms that we’ve created and maybe re-look at them through the prism that you’re sharing with us with your writings? FRANCES MOORE LAPPE: Well, in some ways, it’s very much a direct child. Ecomind is very much a child of Small Planet because that was my first awakening, that idea that we see scarcity in the world and then we create what we see even though reality is abundance and so that was the beginning but it was only in the ’90s that this deeper notion that every human being sees the world not as it is, but as we are, that we see through filters what I call a mental map and we can’t see what’s not inside our mental map and that’s okay if our mental map serves life but my thesis is that our dominant mental map that we’re sending around the world is fundamentally life destroying and so I applied that to the ecological crisis and in Ecomind, I take seven of the messages around our environmental challenge, including climate change, that I think are disempowering that keep us from seeing the solutions right in front of us, and I flip them. I change them so that I think we can see the power that we have so in one way, the book is about finding our power, our voice, our sense of confidence that we can do what human beings have always done and that is step up to the challenge. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Right. I love it and I’m on your website right now and I’m looking at it, SmallPlanet.org, and I just even love the tagline here, “Living democracy, feeding hope’. That’s just awesome so talk a little bit about companies. What’s going on with regards to where we all sit, Francis? Talk about big corporations and are they good? Are they bad? Are they helping us? Are they hurting the movement? How does that fit in? FRANCES MOORE LAPPE: Well, first of all, the theme of Ecomind and all great teachings over the millennia is that we’re all connected and therefore, the way I love to say it is if we’re all connected, we’re all implicated. Right? So we can’t just point fingers but then why are corporations so powerful? Because we’ve drunk the Kool-Aid, to shift metaphors completely, but giving our power away and believing that somehow, this magical market- that’s what Ronald Reagan called it — will sort out the outcome and we really don’t need democracy, we can kind of turn it over to corporations. So, as we know today, the truth is that corporations are becoming more powerful than government and their role in writing legislation- I was just reading in The New York Times two days ago that the new regulations about the banking industry, guess who’s writing them; the lobbyists for the banking industry, but yes, we have to hold them accountable but we have to hold ourselves accountable fundamentally, primarily, because that’s what we have control over, stepping up to this and saying actually, no, we can have democracy. We can have democracy that responds as democracy, by definition, responds to the interests of the citizen and so that’s one of the mental map shifts that we need to make away from this notion that the economy sort of works by itself, this what I call a one rule economy, highest return to existing well, which leads to such concentration of power that of course, it’s going to disrupt, it’s going to steer the political system and it’s interest and so it’s more of a connected way of seeing the problem than just screaming and yelling that corporations have too much power and I have very practical ideas. I don’t just make generalities. I tell stories of real people who stepped up like the people of Maine who created a public financing system and I tell the story of my hero who was a waitress in Maine and became a legislator because she could run without corporate money and went from being a high school educated waitress to being a stellar legislator and now there’s national legislation that we can move as citizens. You ask about corporations. I just want to make clear, clear, clear that they are products of a mindset that we allow, you know? JOHN SHEGERIAN: I agree. That’s a great point. For our listeners out there that just joined, we’re so honored today to have Frances Moore Lappe on with us and she, of course, wrote Diet for a Small Planet and we’re now talking about her new book, Ecomind: Changing the Way We Think to Create the World We Want. Something fascinating in your writings. Talk a little bit about fossil fuel as an obstacle to democracy. I mean, come on. I mean, this is really a critical topic. It’s a crossroad topic for so many reasons with regards to where we are as a nation and where we want to be in the future and unhinging from the big energy sources around the world. Speak a little bit about that. FRANCES MOORE LAPPE: Of course, we see the fossil fuels and their damage with regards to carbon emission and climate change as well as the other pollution and you think of coal and the deaths caused by that but we don’t often enough in my view think about the other inherent danger in energy. Energy is necessary for our societies to function and fossil fuel, by definition, is concentrated and expensive to bring forth. It’s concentrated in a certain location. That means that somebody’s gonna control that location. It’s concentrated in the power by definition. It takes a lot of money to extract it and to distribute it. Compare that to renewable energy, which in Europe, I was just in a beautiful conference about the capacity for our shift to renewable energy and the term they use, there’s a lot of Europeans there and they talk about distributed energy, which really focuses our minds on this fact that we don’t have to depend on the big corporation in a concentrated power over a certain location that solar, that wind, and even ocean and all the different kinds of energy, it’s much more distributed. I’ll give you one figure here. In Germany, they created a law that rewarded anyone for creating, any household or anyone, for creating renewable energy and they were guaranteed enough return for that energy to make it worth their while, to pay back their investment, and so now 80% of the installations of renewable energy in Germany are owned by households all over the country. And do you know that Germany, that has cloud cover similar to the state of Alaska, smaller than the state of Montana, produced half the solar energy in the world just a couple years ago? It’s unbelievable. JOHN SHEGERIAN: In other words, we need to catch up here, friends. FRANCES MOORE LAPPE: We do. JOHN SHEGERIAN: You know, I’m a practicing vegan. That’s why I’m so excited to have you on today, because I’m a huge fan of yours and of course, I read Diet for a Small Planet so I’m all in on this and talk a little bit about the two Ds that you talk about in your book, one that you have right on the cover of the website, ‘Living democracy, feeding hope’. I want to talk about democracy as a solution but talk a little bit about the interrelationship between diet and democracy and how diet has become such a health hazard in this country and how we need to reshift this whole paradigm. FRANCES MOORE LAPPE: I love that question. Nobody’s ever said it like that and to me, the grain fed meat centered diet that is literally killing us that is so inhumane, so environmentally destructive, it is a product of the very thought system that I’m talking about that allows such concentrated power and here’s what I mean: When I wrote Diet for a Smaller Planet, I realized that the only reason we’re feeding all this grain to livestock is because people who really need that food and need to use that land that’s growing feed, they need it for food but they’re too poor. They can’t make a “market demand” for it so it becomes artificially cheap and that’s why it becomes a raw material. You think something like 45 — I’m gonna lose this statistic but — 45% of our cropland grows these basically soy, corn, feed crops and it’s a raw material. It’s not really a food. It goes into producing something that is really unhealthy and a lot of people can’t afford it and so what I’m saying is this whole emergence of a grain fed meat centered diet is a product of this thought system that leads into the concentration of power. Then it makes perfect sense to use food as a raw material to produce a high-priced commodity that the majority can’t afford and that’s where our world is going. JOHN SHEGERIAN: We’re down to about three minutes. Share other highlights from your book and where we’re going as a country but also from the book so I want our readers out there to remember the book is Ecomind: Changing the Way We Think to Create the World We Want on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, anywhere you want you can buy the book now and of course, SmallPlanet.org. Frances, we’re down to about three minutes. This is open mic here. I want you to share what’s on your mind right now? You are one of the great thought leaders right now on this subject. FRANCES MOORE LAPPE: Well, the last chapter, the kind of thought trap in the last chapter is it’s too late, right? And I’m afraid that many of my friends, buddies, activists, often communicate that things are so bad that it’s almost too late or it is too late and my view, which I feel so strongly, is that it’s not the challenge that killed the human spirit. It’s not the magnitude of the challenge. It’s our feeling of futility, that we don’t have a place, we don’t have a voice, we don’t have power, so my whole book really is about how do we through the ecomind, a sense of the three Cs; of connectedness, of continuous change, and the third C, creation, shifting from a scarcity mind to the ecomind. We see the power that we have every single day. It’s brilliant what the scientists are now learning about how we influence each other. When you are a vegan, people watch you. It’s not just influencing their friends or the people who hear you, but the friends of the friends and the friends of the friends of the friends. It’s amazing how we all have power to influence others and if we’re discouraged, if we’re just feeling desperate, then we communicate that too so I love to say the only choice we don’t have is whether to change the world, that we’re changing it every day, The choice we do have is how we change it and that’s what I hope my book really helps me. I wrote it myself, to get me out of any sense of despair and desperation and into a sense of empowerment and I hope it does that for others. JOHN SHEGERIAN: It will, and I encourage my listeners out there, all of our listeners out there, to go buy Ecomind: Changing the Way We Think to Create the World We Want. Frances Moore Lappe, you’re amazing. FRANCES MOORE LAPPE: You’re amazing. JOHN SHEGERIAN: No, listen. You’ve done great work. You’ve inspired me and so many others around the world and we need more people like you in the world and you’re always welcome back to Green is Good and you’re an iconic thought leader and inspiration for all of us and truly living proof that green is good.