Food-Justice Rock Star Anna Lappé Wins 2016 James Beard Leadership Award

By Kim Westerman
October 23, 2016

At the heart of  Anna Lappé’s activism is an exploration of the root causes of hunger. Some of the most common questions she is asked when she presents her work to various communities include, “Can organic food really feed the world?” and “Isn’t this way of eating only for the elite?” She’s made it her life’s mission to address these questions, which she thinks often originate with messages pushed out by public relations machines of well-funded agribusiness corporations.

Battles like this are not new to her. Lappé comes from a family of activists, most notably her mother, Frances Moore Lappé, whose 1971 book Diet For a Small Planet made the powerful environmental case for vegetarianism, citing the waste inherent in meat production and its contribution to world hunger. Anna’s work takes up this mantle in a uniquely 21st century way. She and her mom founded the Small Planet Institute in 2001 and Real Food Media a decade later. The Small Planet Institute researches, documents and shares solutions emerging around the world that address the interconnected root causes of hunger, poverty and environmental devastation. Real Food Media develops new ways of sharing stories and provides people with opportunities to dig into the complexities of our global food system.

Lappé was just honored as a recipient of a prestigious 2016 James Beard Foundation Leadership Award. While the recent Beard award is a boon, Lappé doesn’t get much downtime. She’s just returned from the awards dinner in New York to host Good Food Rising, an event in Berkeley on Monday, October 24, to celebrate the Good Food Purchasing Policy. This policy transforms the way public institutions purchase food and is anticipated to be adopted by the Oakland Unified School District next week. There will also be a talk with local stakeholders about the state of our local food systems.

I sat down with Lappé last week to discuss her work.

Some kids rebel against their parents, but you’ve followed in your mom’s footsteps with your food activism. When did you know that would be your path?

There is plenty in the world to rebel against; I didn’t need to rebel against my mother’s politics. I was raised in a family with a long tradition of standing up for our principles. My grandmother on my mother’s side helped to found the first racially integrated church in Fort Worth, Texas, and my grandmother on my father’s side was a leader in the Newark teacher’s union who helped to lead a strike there in 1971 that landed her and her colleagues in jail. Since my college days, I’ve been constantly seeking ways to align my life with my core values, but it wasn’t until I was 26 that I discovered my path would be, like my mother’s, connected to exploring the root causes of hunger. That was when I was in graduate school and my brother and I had the idea that it was time for my mother to return to her original book, Diet For a Small Planet, and explore the communities, cities and social movements that are helping to create more sustainable and just food systems. The book that came out of that, Hope’s Edge, is what really set me on my path.

Was Real Food Media a natural offshoot of the Small Planet Institute or did it have an altogether different genesis? How do the two organizations work together on food-justice issues?

Real Food Media was a natural outgrowth of this work. The project’s mission is to change the narrative about food, elevating the story of sustainable farming, farmers and food workers, while exposing the true costs of industrial agriculture. The ultimate outcome is to motivate more people to not only change how they think about the food they eat, but how they think about the role they can play in shaping the system that determines what food is available to them and how it’s produced.

We synthesize the complex ideas of food system change and translate them for the general public, empowering groups to own their own messages and develop vehicles to get those messages out. Real Food Media focuses on several core programs, including an international short films competition, a myth-busting resource center and partnerships with allied organizations.

In a communications context, where the food industry spends millions on marketing and public relations, we work to combat this misinformation by being a clear voice for the sustainable food movement, popularizing complex ideas and policy for a general audience. While this work, and other efforts of the food movement to tell these stories, will never have the marketing dollars that the food industry has, it is grounded in grassroots organizing, and the results have been extremely effective.

Together, the two organizations have published books, delivered hundreds of lectures and participated in more than 100 conferences and community events since we started in 2001.

To read the full interview head to Bay Area Bites.

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