Frances Moore-Lappé

Awarded 1987


For revealing the political and economic causes of world hunger and how citizens can help to remedy them.

Frances Moore-Lappé has tackled the political and economic roots of world hunger. Throughout her work, Lappé stressed that hunger is caused not by a scarcity of food but by a scarcity of democracy.

Her studies focus on why free-market myths need to be countered. In her opinion, society’s problems can only be solved in a “living democracy” that engages ordinary citizens in decision-making. Citizens and grassroots initiatives can help effectively end hunger, enabling the poor to transform their lives through greater democratic control. 

If some go without food they have surely been deprived of all power. The existence of hunger belies the existence of democracy.

Frances Moore-Lappé, 1987 Laureate

Frances Moore Lappé was born in 1944 and came to public notice in 1971 with the publication by Ballantine Books of her Diet for Small Planet, which has sold three million copies and been translated into French, German, Swedish, Japanese and Spanish.

In 1975, Lappé and Joseph Collins co-founded the Institute for Food and Development Policy, which became known as Food First after the first book it published, entitled Food First: Beyond the Myth of Scarcity. The Institute, a non-governmental public education and research and documentation centre, is internationally recognised for addressing world hunger's political and economic roots and demonstrating how ordinary citizens can effectively help end hunger. The book Food First, co-authored by Lappé and Collins, showed that world hunger had political and economic causes, not due either to food scarcity or over-population. This theme was reinforced in their next book, World Hunger: Twelve Myths (1986).

Food First publicises lessons, both positive and negative, that increase understanding of how grassroots and non-governmental strategies can allow the poor to transform their lives through greater democratic control. To this end, Food First and Lappé have conducted in-depth investigations of food issues in Cuba, the Philippines, Mozambique, Tanzania, Bangladesh, Nicaragua, Mexico (Chiapas) and India (Kerala).

Food First has also joined with other groups in advocating policy changes that would bring greater democratic control of food resources to the world's poor majority. Grassroots groups widely use food First's books and reports in both the North and the South, as well as in college classrooms, and cultural exchanges are organised - most recently between organic farmers and specialists in Cuba and the United States.

Throughout her work, Lappé has stressed that hunger is caused not by a scarcity of food but by a scarcity of democracy. In 1990 she helped to bring that message home, co-founding with her husband, Paul Martin Du Bois, the Center for Living Democracy in Brattleboro, Vermont. Their 1994 book, The Quickening of America: Rebuilding Our Nation, Remaking Our Lives, describes the work of citizens creating a "living democracy" that engages ordinary citizens in decision-making. Believing that society's problems can only be solved in such a living democracy, Lappé and Du Bois create a national centre through which citizens learn from each other's trials and triumphs.

In 2001, Lappé co-founded the Small Planet Institute with her daughter Anna Lappé, to share the understanding of Living Democracy through research, lectures, books and social media. Small Planet Institute focuses on power, transparency and accountability to understand the causes, and the solutions, to injustices in the global food system. 

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