PUSHING THE EDGE OF HOPE
We're packed in on a flight from southern India to steaming New Delhi. The smell of curry fills the plane cabin. From her beaten-up backpack on the floor next to me, Anna pulls out a book to brush up on what we're about to see. Opening to a chapter on Indian food traditions, she starts reading aloud, but at the second sentence she stops. Puzzled, I peer over her shoulder and read, as she has, the Sanskrit word for food.
It is "anna."
We looked at each other, stunned. Almost thirty years ago, at exactly the age Anna is now, I wrote Diet for a Small Planet, exploring the question: Why hunger in a world of plenty? It was a book that would set me on a lifelong path-one grounded, I only realize thirty years later, in the very name I had unwittingly given my daughter. Anna turns the page, and we read on, learning that Annapoorna is the Indian goddess of food. We can't know what we'll find on the rest of our journey, but at that moment, we sense we'll need Annapoorna's spirit with us on our trip, one rich with discovery-and surprise.
Thirty years ago I wrote the original Diet for a Small Planet because I had to: What I was learning was too shocking. All around me experts were predicting famine, saying we'd reached the earth's limits to feed ourselves. More chemicals! Bigger farms! More technology! were the mantras of the day. Yet, in the basement university library where I had gone to pursue my curiosity as to how we might feed this small planet, I discovered that what I was hearing-the experts' call-to-arms-was, frankly, wrong. Not only was there enough to feed us all; there was more than enough. Worse than that, the strategies touted to bring us plenty-the chemicals, the large-scale farms, the technology-might actually make the food crisis worse.
And, I learned that the very food I'd been raised on was part of the problem. Like every good Texan, I was brought up on meat and potatoes. Yet grain-fed beef, I suddenly discovered, is a symptom of an economic order actually diminishing the resources we need to feed ourselves. I discovered that we'd turned beef cattle into protein-factories-in-reverse, downing mountains of grain and massive quantities of water while returning a tiny fraction of the nutrients to us in meat.
Diet for a Small Planet became a from-the-heart story by a 26-year-old trusting her common sense. I remember photocopying the first version of Diet thinking I'd hand out the tiny booklet to friends and maybe plaster a few posters around Berkeley. Luckily, that little book got into the hands of Betty Ballantine, a founder of paperback publishing in America, who believed the message had to be heard. She published it and helped me reach what turned out to be millions of readers.
DARK BAR, TOUGH PITCH
This book was also an unplanned birth. It was a wintry day in the year before our Indian plane ride, and I'd come down from Vermont to New York City for the weekend to be with my children, Anthony and Anna. Outside it was drizzly and dreary, and after making our way through the narrow streets of the Lower East Side, we ducked into a neighborhood bar to dry out before heading home.
I wanted to talk about my future. My kids already knew that my dream-one combining family life with the launch of a new national news service, all on a spectacular piece of land in Vermont-was dead. So, huddled together, damp and chilled, we started talking about what I would do next. Out of nowhere, it seemed, an adventure began to take shape.
My children's clarity startled me. They knew exactly what I needed to do. I needed to return to Diet for a Small Planet.
Nearly thirty years ago, they reminded me, my book helped shatter the myth that hunger is caused by a scarcity in nature. It showed that the crisis is not a scarcity of food, but of democracy, as more and more people are denied a voice in shaping their own futures. But decades later, we admitted, the myth of scarcity is thriving.
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