2021—Frances Moore Lappé

Photo of Frances Moore Lappé
Author and activist; co-founder of Small Planet Institute and Small Planet Fund

Frances Moore Lappé’s work has had a profound impact on civic participation, democratic movements, and social justice in the United States and across the globe. Author or co-author of 20 books, including her 1971 best-seller Diet for a Small Planet, Lappé’s work has educated the public on the global food supply and the role of democratic publics in addressing issues of hunger and environmental degradation. In 2002, she co-founded the Small Planet Institute (with her daughter Anna Lappé), a collaborative network for research and popular education to bring democracy to life, as well as the Small Planet Fund to channel resources to democratic social movements worldwide. Frances Moore Lappé received her undergraduate degree at Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana in 1966. Only five years later, she changed how we think about food, agriculture, and the environment with the publication of her three-million copy bestseller Diet for a Small Planet (Ballantine Press, 1971; updated 50th anniversary issue, 2021).

With vision ahead of her time, her work has made an enduring impact on our values, policies, and culture. Lappé’s research, writing, and activism have guided and transformed the way we understand connections (and disconnections) between food production systems, the environment, poverty, and malnutrition. As Howard Zinn put it, “A small number of people in every generation are forerunners, in thought, action, spirit, who swerve past the barriers of greed and power to hold a torch high for the rest of us. Lappé is one of those.” Her work addresses what she now characterizes as simultaneous political, economic, and climate crises with interacting roots, including an insufficiently regulated form of capitalism, the power of big money on democracy, and climate catastrophe. She seeks to empower people to see how this presents an historic opportunity for us to work together to solve these issues. Despite media reports of political polarization, she sees unity regarding democracy’s strength and value as Americans work to build a democracy movement seeking reforms. Her work marshals together facts showing that scarcity of food is not what causes hunger for 800 million people globally, but instead it is the scarcity of democracy and democratic problem-solving. She focuses on solutions that end hunger by initiatives empowering farmers and their communities. Lappé’s work has spanned practical cookbooks for everyday people, from Great Meatless Meals (with Ellen Buchman Ewald; Ballantine Books, 1974) to world hunger, as in World Hunger: Twelve Myths (with Joseph Collins; Grove Press, 1986). Her work has challenged many, individually and with our families, to engage in our communities and democracy.

A recipient of numerous national and international awards and 20 honorary degrees, Lappé has lectured widely. She has been a visiting scholar at MIT and U.C. Berkeley. In 1987, Lappé received the Right Livelihood Award, often called the “Alternative Nobel.” She is a founding member of the World Future Council and serves on the national advisory board of the Union of Concerned Scientists.