Thursday, April 28, 2011

Book Review: Hope's Edge

Here is a book I finished a few days ago that I think relates well to anyone interested in growing food organically and trying to understand why hunger is widespead in the world. Wonderful book by a fantastic author! My review:
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Frances Moore Lappe and her daughter Anna don't seem to shy away from any challenge during their travels across several continents in this spectacular book. Described as the 'next Diet for a Small Planet', it is fun to meet the daughter who was just a tot when Frances published her first book. Now, as a team, mother and daughter pick up where "Diet..." left off.

Most of the book is written by Frances as she describes many of the social visionaries she and Anna met during their trip. Each chapter includes several essays written by Anna, whose insight and honesty is inspiring, especially when you realize that she was in her early 20s at the time they made their journey. Her point of view comes from a younger generation, and it's a pertinent inclusion.

Each country they visit has a whole different set of social problems and people trying to find solutions for those problems. Along with examining how local peoples are working to find answers to their sometimes overwhelming issues, Frances and Anna are consistently showing the ways the issues connect to the bigger picture, and how all of our decisions affect each other person on the planet.

Though the driving point revolves around world hunger and how completely unnecessary it is (Lappe maintains that we are in world of plenty, and that our current systems worldwide cause hunger), there are many other issues discussed.

Starting on American soil, the Lappes discuss the Edible Schoolyard, a perfect example of empowering, enabling and connecting kids to growing food along with their self-worth. Another inspiring project; former prisoners working the soil and learning to grow organic produce on otherwise unused plots.

From Brazil, the Lappes take a look at the severe discrepancy between the 'haves' and the 'have-nots', and the MST, a controversial group of landless people who move in and occupy portions of unused land. While in Brazil they visit Belo Horizonte, a city determined to assure that every citizen has access to affordable meals and local organic produce.

Bangledesh proves to hold hope for the Lappes, despite the common thought that this country is a 'basketcase' due to its huge population and constant disasters, both ecological and economic. Even though Frances herself is saddened by the gulf between male and female, she ultimately believes in the country's ability to provide for its people. The Grameen Bank, originator of 'micro-loans'(usually a few hundred dollars) to help women start their own livelihoods in order to support their families, is examined in-depth by the Lappes. Frances admits that she was hoping to leave Bangledesh with proof that hope is justified in even the poorest of nations, but instead realized that hope cannot be 'proven' or 'justified' by is a movement that one must jump into, messiness and all, and just keep pushing for answers.

India brings us people who are fighting against patenting life-forms (i.e. the neem tree, which has many uses that have been passed down for thousands of years), as well as farmers who are giving up conventional farming for organic methods in response to terrible illness, debt and uncontrollable pests. We also see India's seed-saving groups, who are recognizing the deep value of diverse, indigenous crops. The chapter on India ends with a chilling scene in which Frances and Anna meet a leader at the Ministry of Consumer Affairs. When questioned what would happen to the tons of surplus grain the Lappes had learned about (equal to 32 pounds per citizen), Shanta Kumar flatly stated that it would not be available to India's citizens, who 'have received enough handouts'. With monsoon season looming, export was unlikely, and the grain was likely to rot, rather than go to hungry citizens. Lappe was sharply aware in that moment of the disconnect many leaders have to the solutions their own people are developing, the work being done to improve daily life--and how some leaders can reduce these citizens simply to helpless people, always looking for handouts.

In Kenya the Lappes learn about the Green Belt Movement (women of Kenya planting trees, trees and more trees), the idea of 'gunnysack gardens' (villagers growing greens and veggies next to their huts in literal gunnysacks), and more village farmers becoming aware of the huge disadvantages of chemicals in agriculture.

Spanning several European countries, the Lappes write a wonderful chapter on Fair Trade and how it has grown, with tremendous speed, worldwide.

Ending up back in America, the Lappes visit Wisconsin and see how family farms are being thrown away as big agriculture moves in. While showing us even more devastating effects of conventional agriculture, the Lappes also show positive movements that are growing and giving us as American consumers real choices that can make changes in how food is grown and distributed.

Lappe includes recipes from every region that tempt and intrigue! I have to say, compared to the recipes she included in Diet for a Small Planet, these seem to be much more palatable and accessible to the average American.

Wrapping up the book is a list of 5 "Liberating Ideas" that can help each one of us break the mental map that may hold us back from finding real solutions.

Throughout the book, the Lappe women continuously reach within themselves to 'check' their opinions. They humbly admit that they could be wrong about any number of things, but that all they can do is write what they have seen, learned, and know. I admire the honesty and deep concern and insight these two women exhibit.

There is no possible way for me to include all the valuable lessons, ideas, and thought-provoking stories this book holds. I've left out many specific leaders, peoples, and inspirations that kept me turning each page with more hope and clarity.

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