For quite some time, Frances Moore Lappé has been a household name among those concerned with the global crises around food, poverty, and the environment. Her book, Diet for a Small Planet, published in the nineteen seventies, became a world-wide success. Since then, climate change has emerged as an additional, if not all-encompassing, crisis. Among the many authors writing on this range of topics, Lappé, award wining author with eighteen books to her name, educator and activist, stands out not only for her thorough and broad-based and cross-cutting analysis of the roots of hunger, poverty and environmental crises but also for her engaging reflections on solutions that are emerging worldwide through what she calls "Living democracy", initiatives that are based in and growing out from communities - from the bottom-up. In her new book, EcoMind, she presents, among other concerns, a convincing case that "world hunger is not the result of food shortages" but of a lack of sustained access by poor and marginalized people to the means of adequate food production and/or food supplies. Her central argument is that "solutions to global crises are within reach [...] the challenge for us is to free ourselves from self-defeating thought-traps so that we can bring these solutions to life."
EcoMind is structures around seven "thought traps" which the author discusses in turn, providing numerous examples that give context and depth to her arguments. The traps, Lappé finds, hold "widely held environmental messages and related ideas - some of them largely unspoken assumptions - that now shape our culture's responses to the global environmental and poverty crises." They range from "no growth" as the only way forward, to the inherent problems of our "consumer society", to the limits of the earth's resource capacity, to "it is too late" for meaningful action. For the author, these perspectives are not helpful in tackling our current world crises, in fact they have a "negative and defeating influence on us, preventing us from seeking solutions." How to reach real and meaningful solutions is Lappé's primary interest and motivation.
Quoting Anais Nin's "We don't see things as they are, we see things as we are." as a starting point, Lappé posits that our minds cannot see "any unfiltered reality". We see our world through "a largely unconscious mental map, made up of the big ideas orienting our lives." The outcome is that among all our experiences we also fit our perspectives on the current global crises into the existing mental map. Lappe encourages us with her book, and in particular with the many positive initiatives in problem solving and local solutions, to challenge our mental map into new ways of seeing and understanding. Each chapter on one of the thought traps ends with a series of positive examples for change that she summarizes under the heading "thought leaps". Lappé strongly argues that it is possible to change the way we think about problems that appear unsurmountable. Understanding problems as challenges we can reframe them in ways that enable us to break them down into manageable parts and that enable us to act. EcoMind is full of encouraging initiatives. For example, on the subject of NO GROWTH vs. GROWTH, the author argues that rather than accepting no growth as a necessary future strategy for our economies, we have to move towards growth that "enhances the quality of our lives and our ecosystem." We have to understand humanity as part of the ecosystem and not outside it, in fact, we individually and together need to develop "ecominds" and think as an ecosystem, learning to view the challenges we face from that overriding perspective.
The fundamental question then remains is whether we can remake our mental map. Lappé brings many examples where this is already happening, whether among the farmers in India or West Africa or among our own societies. We are motivated to follow suite. For some readers, the author may sound too optimistic in this regard. However, her arguments are compelling and show a way forward that is worth serious consideration and participation. If nothing else, even for the sceptic this is a book rich in food for thought. [Friederike Knabe]