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As Global Food Crisis Tops G8 Summit Agenda, World Leaders Enjoy Lavish 18-Course Banquet

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Shortly after saying they were “deeply concerned” about soaring global food prices and supply shortages, world leaders attending the G8 summit in Hokkaido sat down to an eighteen-course gastronomic extravaganza, courtesy of the Japanese government. We take a look at the global food crisis, food independence and real democracy with bestselling author, Frances Moore Lappé. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to the food crisis. Shortly after saying they were “deeply concerned” about soaring global food prices and supply shortages, world leaders attending the G8 summit in Hokkaido sat down to an eighteen-course gastronomic extravaganza, courtesy of the Japanese government. The dinner was themed “Blessings of the Earth and the Sea,” and the global food shortage was certainly not evident. The meal included delicacies such as caviar, milk-fed lamb, sea urchin, winter lily bulbs, truffles and tuna, with champagne and wines flown in from Europe and the United States.

The extravagance of the menu drew disapproval from critics. The charity Save the Children said, “It is deeply hypocritical that they should be lavishing course after course on world leaders when there is a food crisis and millions cannot afford a decent meal.”

A preliminary World Bank study released last week estimated up to 105 million people could drop below the poverty line due to rising food prices, including 30 million in Africa. Grain prices have more than doubled since January 2006, with 60 percent of the rise occurring this year. More than thirty countries have experienced rioting over food shortages. Overall, the world’s poorest countries like Bangladesh, Ethiopia and Haiti, which import most of their food, stand to suffer the most.

Frances Moore Lappé is the co-founder of the Institute for Food and Development Policy, the Center for Living Democracy, as well as the Small Planet Institute. She is the author or coauthor of sixteen books. Her 1971 bestseller, Diet for a Small Planet, sold more than three million copies. Her latest book is called Getting a Grip: Clarity, Creativity & Courage in a World Gone Mad.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Frances Moore Lappé.

FRANCES MOORE LAPPÉ: Thank you, thank you, thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: The eighteen-course meal, your comments?

FRANCES MOORE LAPPÉ: Unbelievable. I mean, maybe too believable, but especially after Gordon Brown was preaching to his British citizens to be more careful about food waste as the solution to a growing food crisis. But I just want to start out saying, Amy, that this is perhaps the biggest human rights debacle, human rights crisis, of my entire lifetime. And now that I’m sixty-four, that’s getting to be able to say something, you know? And it is totally avoidable.


FRANCES MOORE LAPPÉ: Well, first of all, let me just start out that human beings, we’re a pretty bright species, and feeding oneself and our offspring is what every species does. And we evolved sharing food, where if there was food, everybody ate. And so, the only way that I can understand this crisis is that ideas, ideology, has more power than instincts, and we have been trapped increasingly into an ideology that says that there’s only one rule that governs an economy — that is, highest return to existing wealth, people, you know, who already have the shares.

So we end up preaching free market as if that were a magic cure, and I call it faith-based economics, because actually what we have been locked into and what is underneath this crisis is that we accept a power-centralizing, power-concentrating economy, which means that no matter how much is produced — I mean, there is no food shortage. I just want to really underscore that. Food production has been keeping ahead of the numbers of people on our earth. There’s no food shortage. We are creating scarcity out of plenty because of this power-concentrating model that we’ve — this idea that is more powerful than our food-sharing instinct that we evolved in.

AMY GOODMAN: You did a piece in the Huffington Post called “Just Who’s Doing the Hoarding? Food Independence and Real Democracy.” What do you mean by “food independence”?

FRANCES MOORE LAPPÉ: Well, one often hears about oil independence. And the idea that if one’s very survival is dependent on something you have no control over, in this case the diversion of good land to grow fuel, agrofuel, or other changes that you have no control over, then are you really a free people? Do you have any food security? In this case, the core question. Maybe more important than oil independence is food independence. And yet, you know, from the beginning of my work on hunger, way back in the ’70s, in our book Food First I wrote with Joseph Collins, we made this point that in a world where clearly power is concentrating, if you can’t grow food to feed yourself, then you are highly insecure.

So, all of the policies, however, of the last several decades that international agencies have been pursuing, in some ways coercively, by making their aid dependent on this kind of policy of — what I’m suggesting here, that third world countries have been encouraged to grow whatever will bring the highest price in the global market and then import food when needed. And they are, therefore, set up for this disaster, where we see a skyrocketing of food prices. And so, the imports then become unattainable, and they are on the edge of hunger or starvation.

So it’s — I’m saying that when we talk about oil independence, we should also be thinking about food independence. And this is the theme of the term “food sovereignty,” which is now being pursued by an international coalition, Via Campesina, which is the small farmers of the world uniting.

AMY GOODMAN: And what do you think has to happen right now?

FRANCES MOORE LAPPÉ: Well, first, the core is for the people of the planet to wake up and recognize that this is a huge human rights crisis. There’s an estimate that the number of people could double, who are either hungry or at the edge of hunger, to encompass a quarter of the world’s people. So it’s an awakening. There is no food shortage, so that just growing more food will not solve the problem. And to challenge their governments to say, yes, growing more food is — can be very important in Africa, where, you know, much of the G8, you know, talking about how can we increase food production, but let’s wake up from this myth that production alone can solve the problem, because 80 percent of the people in the world today are living in societies where inequalities are increasing, so no matter how much is produced, they can’t buy the food they need.

So, here in our country, clearly, what to do is to elect a new government, but not think that that’s enough, continue to pursue the idea that the market can only work when it is subsumed, when it is part of a democratic polity that is setting the standards around it, so that we won’t do things like shift good land into agrofuel. The head of the Food and Agricultural Organization said that 100 million tons of food have now been diverted. And clearly, no assemblage of regular citizens would say, “Oh, yeah. You know, 18 million children are dying a year of hunger. Let’s shift food into agrofuel.” No, no, no. So we have to reclaim democracy, in a word.

AMY GOODMAN: Very briefly, Frances Moore Lappé, you have your ideas that you lay out in Getting a Grip to help us probe deeply, identify causal forces, choose entry points and shift patterns — ten — or rather, eight ideas perhaps to save the world, beginning with thin democracy versus living democracy.

FRANCES MOORE LAPPÉ: Well, this is what I’m talking about, Amy, that this notion that democracy is simply a certain kind of market, highest return to existing wealth, plus elected government. That is thin. That is frail. It will never get us there. And so, all of my writing, all of my thinking, for the last several decades has been to identify the emergence of what I call “living democracy.”

You asked a few moments ago what to do. Well, we have models throughout the world where people are ending hunger. Think of the largest social movement perhaps in our hemisphere, the landless workers in Brazil. They have made huge strides against hunger, because they have democratized control over the land. They have resettled a third of a million families. They have created new enterprises and new farms and new communities. And they are drastically reducing hunger. So that is living democracy, people actually realizing that democracy is not just about what we have, what’s done to us or for us, but what we do. So that’s number one. That’s a shift in frame. And I see it throughout the world, but most people can’t see it yet, because it’s still not in the mainstream media.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, talking about living democracy’s checklist.

FRANCES MOORE LAPPÉ: Well, this is a shift of frame from things, like grow more food, have more seeds, to the shift to empowerment. This is the fundamental shift, Amy. This is — you know, so much of the world hunger debate is still trapped in the thing: you know, people need more things, more food, more roads. What people need is more power.

So, in the checklist at the end of my book, there’s a chapter called “Sanity in Motion,” and it’s asking all of us to begin to think, how do our actions begin to shift power, so that, for example, where is hunger eliminated, not where people become dependent on things that they have to purchase, like imported fertilizers or chemical pesticides, but where they are empowered to grow healthy food with their own resources and know how to do that. So, a study of fifty-seven countries with about 13 million farmers have shown 50 to 100 percent increase in yields where farmers are using local resources, organic, sustainable methods. So this is the shift from things that make one dependent to the empowerment of ourselves and community.

And so, I have a checklist that asks, you know, are we creating that shift in power? Are we making it sustainable so that people want to remain engaged and so that we are constantly mentoring and bringing new people in to understand that the earth is abundant? It’s a question of how do we together create communities to align with the earth’s natural abundance.

AMY GOODMAN: Frances Moore Lappé, I want to thank you for being with us. Her latest book is called Getting a Grip: Clarity, Creativity & Courage in a World Gone Mad.

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