Creating the world we want

Francis Moore Lappé challenges notions of scarcity at Slow Living Summit

BRATTLEBORO — Frances Moore Lappé awoke happy one morning on the edge of an epiphany. If only she could find her bright-red Dutch oven.

Lappé, an author, co-founder of the nonprofit Small Planet Institute, and a former Brattleboro resident, told her audience at the Latchis Theatre during a morning session of the Slow Living Summit that she searched her kitchen high and low for the Dutch oven so she could prepare her favorite root vegetable dish for guests arriving later.

Despite its vibrant color and the fact it was sitting on the kitchen counter in plain view, she couldn't see the cooking pot, said Lappé.

It had a plant in it.

“Believing is seeing,” Lappé said to the audience.

Humans don't see beyond their own filters erected in their minds, she said. “We see what we expect to see.”

Lappé couldn't find her Dutch oven because she wasn't looking for a Dutch oven doubling as a planter.

In Lappé's opinion, humanity's dominant mind filter is “fundamentally life-destroying.”

The premise most people operate from is scarcity and lack, she said. This leads to a belief in separateness, stasis, and scarcity. So, people spiral downward into powerlessness, finally turning to an outside force, such as the market, to sort things out.

But the brain, with its neuroplasticity, is wired with the ability to change, she said.

“We can remake the stream beds in our brain with new ideas,” she explained.

The third annual Slow Living Summit, accompanying Strolling of the Heifers, was June 5-7. Lappé spoke at the Thursday morning plenary, “Reconnecting Farmers, Eaters, and Healthy Communities.”

The big question, Lappé proposed: “Why are we creating a world that as individuals we would never choose?”

Lappé's most recent book, “EcoMind: Changing the Way We Think, to Create the World We Want” (2011), tackles the issue of believing before seeing.

On her website,, Lappé said she wrote the book because, “I believe that solutions to global crises are right in front of our noses, and our real challenge is to free ourselves from self-defeating thought traps that keep us from bringing these solutions to life.”

“From our eroding soil to our eroding democracies, so much of what's wrong results from ways of thinking that are out of sync with human nature and nature's rhythms,” she concluded.

While at UC-Berkeley, Lappé said she wanted to understand how to help the world. Her focus on food and ending hunger led her to write “Diet for a Small Planet” (1971), the first major book to critique grain-fed meat production as wasteful and a contributor to global food scarcity.

She explained that about 2,800 calories are produced for every person every day on this planet. Yet, according to the United Nations, almost the same number of people go hungry every day.

Humans are co-creators, she said. People don't have a choice about whether they change the world.

“Because we do,” Lappé said.

Quoting German physicist Hans-Peter Dürr, she said, “There are no parts, only participants.”

During her presentation, Lappé cited examples of people working in communities across the globe to change the world for the better, including projects to reduce hunger in Brazil and India. She said the farmers of the Deccan Development Society in India, with 5,000 women in leadership, achieved food security for 75 villages.

In the wrong circumstances, Lappé said, “we can be brutal, but we are also soft-wired” for great compassion and cooperation. People also have deep needs for connection, meaning and power.

Studies have shown the brain “lights up” when participants cooperate, almost exactly in the same way as when they eat chocolate.

When people shift from limits to align with their own nature, they realize, “there's enough for all of us,” said Lappé.

Slow Living is not a pace, she said, but about standing in alignment with nature and the laws of nature.

“If we're not aligned, then nothing works,” said Lappé.

According to Lappé, concentrated power, lack of transparency (secrecy), and blaming “the other” are three conditions proven to bring out the worst in humanity.

But shifting from “scarcity mind” - separateness, stasis, scarcity - to the spiral of empowerment within “eco-mind” - moves people to connection, continuous change, and co-creation.

Lappé said three conditions proven to bring out the best in humanity are continuing dispersion of power, transparency, and mutual accountability.

In the 1990s, Lappé founded a movement called Living Democracy, which she described as “not what we have, but what we do.”

In her Slow Living presentation, Lappé highlighted three course changes within this movement: taking money out of politics and holding citizen-funded elections and political parties, democratizing economic life, and creating new forums for democratic participation.

Lappé encouraged the audience to rethink fear as power. In early human groups, breaking away from the group was scary, she said. But now, with the world needing change, people need to break away and find their new tribe. In this case, fear would signal moving in the right direction.

If people live in continuous change and connectedness, “it's not possible to know what's possible,” said Lappé.

“So we are free to go for the world we want,” she said.

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