Anna Lappé sets out to bust food myths, and shares her vision for a good food future.
What inspired the Food Mythbusters project?
For more than ten years I’ve been talking about sustainable food and farming with people across the country — from hipster Brooklyn to small-town Montana. But no matter who I was speaking to, people shared some core questions: Can we really feed the world with sustainable agriculture? Doesn’t good food just cost too much? Don’t people just really want to eat junk food — who are we to say otherwise?
It didn’t take me long to realize that these questions — these doubts about the benefits of sustainable food and the true costs of industrial agriculture — were doubts we have in part because of deliberate marketing campaigns by the food industry itself. Marketing campaigns that are designed to shape what we think we know about food.
The food industry — chemical companies, agribusiness, agricultural pharmaceuticals, food processors and more — spend billions every year on marketing. And while I don’t have that kind of budget, I do have some powerful allies — great food, farming and labor groups who wanted to help spread the real story about our food.
So together with some great organizational partners, we’re creating Food MythBusters: a one-stop shop to get your burning questions about food answered through short films, Q&As with experts, and links to essential research.
What is the biggest myth about food and agriculture that you encounter?
Perhaps the biggest myth of all — the one that locks so many people into believing we have to turn to chemicals in farming and livestock operations — is the myth that we need industrial agriculture to feed the world.
I’ve been writing about our food system for more than a decade now, and even I was struck by the research I uncovered in writing the script for the movie. From the World Bank to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, there is a growing consensus about how to best feed the world; evidence that points convincingly to organic and sustainable methods.
What will it take to move our current industrial system of agriculture to a more sustainable one?
A lot. One of the keys is shifting how we see the world; what we think is possible. That’s why projects like Nourish and Food MythBusters are so important: Until people really understand that change is possible — and needed — we won’t have the political will to make the policy transformations necessary to get us there.
You encourage people to consider a “Real Food Friday.” What’s that?
It’s a call to celebrate “real food” with friends and family and community. When we talk about real food we are referring to food that’s good for the planet, good for our bodies, and good for our communities. It’s food that’s been sustainably raised, that’s been harvested, processed, and prepared by workers paid a fair wage and treated fairly. It’s food that’s minimally processed, as “whole” as possible. We’re under no illusion that finding real food is easy, but joining together in a real food meal is one way to shine a light on this kind of food. Inspired by our friends at Meatless Mondays, Real Food Fridays is a chance to consciously eat one day a week, with a consciousness that we hope will spread to every meal, every day.
The project invites people to nominate Food Heroes? In your life, who have been a few food heroes to you?
Pretty much every farmer I’ve ever met is my personal food hero, but a few stand out. I love the family that we profile in our Food Heroes movie: The Nelson family farmers. I love their story about transitioning from chemical and conventional growing to organic farming. We need to hear more stories like this one: To hear from farmers themselves about why they’re making this shift, what’s challenging about it, and what the rewards are.
What does the food movement mean to you?
I see the food movement everywhere I look these days: from the Food Chain Workers Alliance working to raise the minimum wage of tipped workers, whose $2.13 an hour wage hasn’t budged in years. To the farmers in Florida fighting for fairness in the fields to the teenagers working with Food Corps members to bring healthy eating, and school gardens, to schools across the country. I see the food movement in the college students I’ve met who are asking tough questions about where their campus food comes from and how it was raised. These students are working with the Real Food Challenge to encourage a transition to real food in university dining halls. These days, I’m seeing the food movement everywhere I look.