James Beard Foundation: 2016 Award Honoree Spotlight
Founder, Small Planet Institute
Founder/Director, Real Food Media
As a child, Anna Lappé accompanied her mother, Frances, an author on world hunger, on a research trip to Guatemala. Standing on a hill that overlooked a town, Lappé noticed several large haciendas among the masses of tiny shacks and homes. She asked her mom, “Why do some people have all the land and the rest have so little?” recalls Lappé. “Understanding how to ask questions about power and who has it—that’s how we were raised.”
On another childhood trip—this time accompanying her father, Marc, a medical ethicist and epidemiologist—Lappé observed an interview with an Ohio farm worker who had developed cancer, presum-ably through prolonged pesticide exposure. “She said, ‘I simply don’t understand why people in this country don’t care more about the people who are putting food on their tables,’” recalls Lappé. “I had this privilege that helped reveal a hidden, vast, complex food system”—one that “wasn’t working for everyday people, for workers and farmers, for communities and eaters.”
Later, while pursuing another field in graduate school, Lappé had an idea for her mother’s next book and designed a globe-spanning trip for conducting research. She would go on to co-author the book, Hope’s Edge, which highlighted communities that had implemented steps to address causes of hunger. In 2001 the mother-daughter duo founded the Small Planet Institute for research and education on hunger, poverty, and sustainability. “I have been connected to this work ever since,” says Lappé.
After these formative experiences with her parents, Lappé, now a respected authority on sustainability and the world’s food chain, has paved a path that’s all her own. In 2010 she published Diet for a Hot Planet, which drew connections between industrial agriculture and the climate crisis. Two years later, she founded Real Food Media, an organization that uses media and storytelling to promote sustainable food and farming. “Our mission is to produce movement-building communication about food and sustainability, expose food-industry misinformation, inspire people to believe that changing the food system is possible, and connect them with meaningful action to do so,” says Lappé, who serves as director.
Currently, Lappé is also developing the food program at the sustainability-focused Panta Rhea Foundation in her home state of California, as well as lending support to soda tax campaigns around the country. She has contributed to multiple books and leading publications; is a public speaker and regular guest on radio and television programs; and co-hosted PBS’s The Endless Feast with chef Bryant Terry, a 2015 Leadership Award recipient.
“Anna has always used her platform to lift the voices of those in the most impacted communities,” says Terry. “Through her writing, teaching, public speaking, philan-thropy, media work, and advocacy, Anna has been one of the most important and uncompromising voices in the movement to create a more healthy, just, and sustain-able food system.”