"Thirty years ago," Anthony said, "you gave people a clear way to see the larger impact of their choices-even those as personal as what we choose to eat."
As we talked, sitting on stools in that dim barroom in Manhattan, I thought of the countless people who had reached out to me over the years, telling me how Diet for a Small Planet had changed them-how it had helped them see the insanity of an economic system feeding tons of grain to animals while people starve-and sharing with me the joy they derive from choosing the diet best for their bodies, knowing it is also best for the earth.
Over these thirty years, millions had turned to a plant-centered, whole-foods diet, yet I was aware that millions more around the world were devouring greater amounts of meat than ever. For the first time worldwide, roughly the same number of us-over a billion-are underfed as are overfed. And the fast-food/fat-food diet causing obesity to skyrocket in our country has taken off globally, and the overfed are eating more of the foods predisposing them to disease. In other words, food has become a problem, a big problem, for almost half the people on our planet.
This sad paradox of the over- and underfed reflects, we agreed, a global economy that is creating never-before-seen wealth alongside deepening suffering. The pay of America's CEOs leapt 535 percent during the '90s, while most working people barely kept ahead of inflation. And those who now control as much wealth as half the world's people could fit into Anna's high school auditorium.
I knew my kids were right-that their generation was frustrated and longed for help in making sense of it all. But I also knew that I didn't need to redo Diet for a Small Planet. It still stands. What was needed, we realized, was a book that takes off where the original stops. For over these three decades, despite accelerated environmental decline and worsening diets, I had been witnessing another story take shape. I wanted to tell that story-one of an emerging shift in our understanding of our place on the planet. That's what I wanted my children's generation to be able to see.
So on that gray day I became a seeker again, launched on a journey to places and to people who have taught me lessons among the greatest of my life. On five continents over the next year, I witnessed an emergence that is still invisible to most of us, but that, I'm now convinced, holds key to finding personal meaning and direction in our lives, as well as to healing our threatened, fragile, ever-smaller planet.
THE NEW BATTLE FOR OUR HEARTS
My children are acutely aware that the choices of human beings alive today are like none their forebears faced. Their choices-our choices-have ultimate consequences, not only for the thousands of species we're destroying each year but for us, the dominant species, as well. What a terrifying thought. What an extraordinary opportunity. But to perceive crisis as opportunity requires clear perception: We must grasp the nature of the crisis and what each of us can do to address it.
That's tough in any case, but it's especially hard to see opportunity when we're locked within a new ideological battle, one shaping our planet, one shaping our minds. The overt fight between capitalism and communism is over. But we're caught in a subtler yet even more profound struggle, one played out in small ways day by day, moment to moment. It is a battle over defining who we are as human beings, one staking the very edges of possibility for our species.
The new battle is not waged with tanks or measured in nuclear stockpiles; it's fought with ideas, the ideas that explain our world and determine what's possible in it, ideas repeated so often they become our own internal voice.
In the face of the unprecedented ecological and social crisis, our organs of mass media rarely do more than reinforce the notion that global corporate capitalism is our only hope. They feed us messages that the only way to feed the world is with huge agribusinesses relying on massive infusions of pesticides and chemical fertilizers, and on giant feedlots pumping cattle with tons of grain, hormones, and antibiotics. We seldom hear about the ways in which this highly concentrated factory-farming system is rapidly destroying the resources we need to ensure our long-term well-being. How often are we alerted to the fact that this system is a root cause of new threats to our health, ranging from heart disease to mad cow disease to the weakening of antibiotics' protection?
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