DOES THE WORLD feel scary, unpredictable and short on resources? Frances Moore Lappé has heard a lot of that.
“People were saying, ‘I can’t have children, because that would be unethical, because there’s not enough for everyone,’ ” she recalls.
That particular memory was from 50-plus years ago. The book she researched and wrote in response, “Diet for a Small Planet,” revolutionized 20th-century diets and a lot of 20th-century lives, showing that plant-focused meals could adequately feed the world.
TV talk shows embraced Lappé’s cooking, inviting her on shows to prepare beans and rice, and turning her into “the Julia Child of the soybean circuit,” as she writes in a newly expanded 50th anniversary edition of the book. Political and economic messages were harder to digest in that earlier environment. Lappé soon revised the book to make that policy focus more explicit, and with collaborators — most recently including her daughter, author Anna Lappé — she’s worked for decades toward a more democratic and sustainable world.
With the impacts of climate change, the stakes are more chillingly defined than when her work began. Lappé bluntly writes in the new edition, “Either we now make a big turn, or life on Earth as we know it is gone forever.”
Still, though, recipes are integral to inspiring change.
The 1970s soy grits are gone from the book, as is margarine. Some of what we know about nutrition has changed over a half-century. But food, still, can become a revolutionary pathway.
“I feel the book is entering into this political moment where there is a big debate about, ‘How do we make the bold, transformative change that we know we need?’ ” says Anna Lappé, who oversaw recipe development for the new edition.
People debate whether such change comes through individual actions or politics. “I think the message that has always been central to my mother’s work is, it is not either/or.”
“Our message isn’t, ‘Change what you eat; the world will change somehow, magically.’ Our message is, ‘We all need to be deeply involved at whatever level makes sense to us, in our communities, in our states and our countries, on the global level.’ And making conscious choices about food ties us into asking deeper questions, and getting more emboldened to move toward those bigger changes.”
The updated recipe lineup reflects broader cultural influences and diverse ingredients, with contributors from Oglala Lakota Sioux chef Sean Sherman to Padma Lakshmi. The authors wanted to “make the recipes feel like a gathering of friends around a table,” Anna Lappé says. They wanted the food to be delicious. And they wanted it to spur a timeless emotion that is the opposite of despair: joy.
Padma’s Yellow Velvet Lentil Soup with Cumin and Dried Plums
Makes 6 to 8 servings
3 cups masoor dal (orange lentils), washed well with warm water and drained
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
½ cup chopped shallots
1½ tablespoons minced fresh ginger
2½ tablespoons shredded unsweetened coconut
1 cup grape or cherry tomatoes, halved lengthwise
3 plum tomatoes, quartered
2 teaspoons curry powder
Juice of 1 lemon
10 dried plums, pitted, chopped to bits
1 cup freshly chopped cilantro leaves
1. Fill a deep stew pot with the lentils, bay leaf, salt and enough water to cover by 1 inch. Simmer on very low heat for 1 hour.
2. Heat the oil in a skillet, and add the cumin seeds. After 2 minutes, add the shallots and ginger, and cook until the shallots are glassy. Add the coconut, and stir until the coconut is golden brown. Add all the tomatoes and curry powder, and sauté on medium heat for about 5 minutes, until the tomatoes start to wilt and lose their shape.
3. When the skillet mixture forms a cohesive paste, add it to the lentils, stirring over low heat until nicely combined. Remove the bay leaf. With an immersion blender, pulverize the lentils so the whole mixture is roughly blended but not totally liquefied.
4. Remove the soup from the heat, and stir in the lemon juice, chopped plums and cilantro. Serve hot.
— From “Diet for a Small Planet” (originally from “Tangy Tart Hot & Sweet” by Padma Lakshmi)