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May. 10th, 2005 @ 07:36 pm Standing at Hope's Edge with a Growling Tummy & a Cooking Pot
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Current Mood: calmcalm
When I browsed bookshelves lined with cookbooks and guidebooks for vegetarians, I wasn't expecting to find an extraordinary look into the lives of ordinary people taking bold stands against poverty, hunger, and the global market. thankfully, i'd heard enough about frances moore lappe's first book, the new diet for a small planet, to know that she didn't author books on amazing diet trends promising to shed its readers (and dieters) of unwanted pounds. no, she examined hunger - its causes and its solutions. the contemporary in me refused to pick up the first book (it was written in 1970 and i wanted facts much more current than that); instead, i promised i'd pick it up at the library and grabbed the more enticing sequel, Hope's Edge: The Next Diet for a Small Planet.

Accompanied by her daughter, Francis hits the road, embarking on an international adventure to find the answer to the question, "how can we build communities in tune with nature's wisdom in which no one, anywhere, has to worry about putting food - safe, healthy food - on the table?" (17). to solve this riddle, the Lappe women travel to Berkely to see how urban gardens are transforming schools and prisons; to Brazil to look at the MST movement, which, in the process of securing land for landless families, cultivates community, better education, and civic involvement; to Bangladesh to view firsthand the power of microcredit; to India to examine their Navdanya movement; to Kenya and the Green Belt movement; to Holland, the birthplace of fair trade; to France to examine the GMO movement, the potentials of the Tobin tax, and the power of cultural choice; and lastly to Wisconsin to visit farm co-operatives and community supported agriculture. Each chapter concludes with a literal taste of that culture - recipes.

These stories, written with simplicity that stimulates immediate accessibility, draws the reader into the rich, complex, and ironic lives of its heroes. Personal testimonies are interspersed with scientific facts, creating a delicate balance between the face of the Other and the truth of current political, agricultural, and environmental conditions. In all this is a journey that not only calls us to hope's edge but provides insight that the edge is always being pushed - there is another horizon for being that begs to be developed through creativity and courage. Frances does an excellent job of pointing us towards innovation through the examination of hunger, poverty, and the community-edifying power of food.

Hope's Edge is not only an impressive foray into culture and hunger, but also an interesting examination of networks and webs. To talk about food - hunger - and to develop sustainable solutions is to introduce abstract topics like democracy, equality, education, and social justice. Brewing within the book's pages, you'll find possible solutions to the "Bowling Alone" tendencies of American culture. Food becomes a potent medium for community.

Frances wants us to move into that medium. She lays out the five "traps" that map our minds and block our path in the beginning and concludes with the five "liberating ideas." In addition, she's provided page after page of resources that let the individual, the family, and the community get involved in effective local and global movements. Frances calls for nothing less than a major paradigm shift (whether this can be achieved through the small indentations made by her heroes remains to be determined).

But don't let my summary cajole you into thinking this is a perfectly constructed book; it does has its faults. The daughter's contributions - set out in cumbersome text boxes - are woefully inadequate and seemingly inconsequential. At best, I found myself skimming them; at worse, skipping them entirely. Moreover, the reader is inundated by the personal perspective of Frances. Though this is to be expected by a first-person book, her consistent references to her own writings or her own past experiences muddled the clear lens I was hoping to have. Some may perceive this as intimate and refreshing; I view it as clunky and meddlesome.

All in all, Hope's Edge is an impressive, inspiring book that enlightens as much as it stimulates. I give it five stars and two thumbs up (I may even buy it for you for Christmas). So, I encourage you to put aside any fears you might have about being pigeonholed as a "granola" or "ideal hippie" and dive into some truly scintillating intellectual thought.
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Date:May 11th, 2005 11:52 am (UTC)
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It's funny how often I'm called on to defend my vegetarianism. My simplified reason - to reduce the amount of waste in the world - is hard to get a hold of for most people. Those that do understand often take offense, as though I was somehow attacking them.

What's the best reason to be a vegetarian according to Frances Moore Lappe?