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Thursday, Jan. 20, 2005 11:55 pm

Feed your brain

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Anne Blythe Lapp é: "Our farm policy spends billions of dollars in subsidies that favor big corporations and don't favor food justice."

Several years ago, Frances Moore Lappé and her daughter Anna Blythe Lappé set off on a journey spanning five continents. What they found, in their words, was "an invisible revolution of courageous movements helping us to see solutions to environmental crises and social inequality."

The result of their journey is Hope's Edge: The Next Diet for a Small Planet, something of a sequel to Frances Lappé's groundbreaking 1971 book Diet for a Small Planet.

Anna Blythe Lappé, keynote speaker at Springfield's WomanSpirit Conference 2005, has long since established her own credentials as an author, activist, and environmentalist. In the process she has demonstrated how things have changed in that time yet remained the same.

Her topic on Saturday: "Walking the Walk by Choosing Food Justice: Rebuilding Our Connection to Food, Community, and Hope." In defining "food justice," Lappé says, "Among the rights we all should have in a democracy, the right to good, healthy food is up there. It's a basic right for everyone."

In her travels, she saw numerous examples of that right being denied, "not for the lack of food but for the lack of democracy." The problems relief organizations have faced the wake of the recent tsunami disaster underscore her argument. Political struggles and the lack of infrastructure have hampered efforts to get food and supplies to victims of the disaster. "It's a symptom," she says, "of how a system doesn't work." And it is by no means limited to the Third World. In West Oakland, a poor section of Oakland, Calif., there isn't a single grocery store, although 30,000 people live there, she says. There are two factors at work: "There's poverty, not being able to afford good food; and access, not being able to get to where the food is."

Hope's Edge chronicles such situations but also offers suggestions on what consumers can do to right these wrongs, from buying fair-trade and organic products to purchasing directly from farmers to speaking up for improved laws and policies dealing with food and agriculture.

"Our farm policy spends billions of dollars in subsidies that favor big corporations and don't favor food justice," Lappé says.

The increased concentration of the food production and distribution process in the hands of a few large companies is one of the ways in which things have gotten worse since the publication of her mother's Diet for a Small Planet, Lappé says. The problems of hunger and of agricultural pollution are also still very much with us.

At the same time, Lappé is quick to cite positive developments: "My mother never could have imagined how far organic farming has come. It's the fastest-growing segment of the farming industry," with annual growth of around 20 percent.

The boom in farmers' markets, including here in Springfield, is another example, and Lappé described a successful effort in her neighborhood: "I live in Brooklyn, and the farmers' market there operates 12 months a year." Only a couple of years old, the market maintains its year-round schedule in part through such nontraditional forms of agriculture as greenhouses, hydroponics, and organic farming.

Diet for a Small Planet came at a time when attitudes toward, and knowledge about, hunger and agricultural issues and their effects were a fraction of what they've since become. Through that book, others like it, and the Lappé's Small Planet Institute (at www.smallplanetinstitute.org), the Lappés can justifiably take a share of the credit.

Anna Blythe Lappé is the keynote speaker at the WomanSpirit 2005 Winter Conference at 8:45 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 22, at the Springfield Hilton, 700 E. Adams St. Admission to her address is $25. A book signing is held 7-9 p.m. Friday, Jan. 21, at Barnes & Noble, 3111 S. Veterans Parkway.

The women's village

A village is forming at the Springfield Hilton this weekend. The community in question is the WomanSpirit 2005 Winter Conference, and the village theme is appropriate on two levels. It refers not only to the attendees but, as one piece of conference literature describes it, also to "a grassroots movement to build a village for our sisters and ourselves, a diverse community of women working to heal the earth."

The conference is presented by the Women and Religion Committee of the Central Midwest District of the Unitarian Universalist Association and women of the Central Illinois Planning Committee. Its theme is "Choosing with Purpose -- Living with Conscience -- Women in Community."

The UUA's Central Midwest District is in its 17th year of organizing these conferences, held twice each year. The January conferences are held in a different city in the district (consisting of Illinois, most of Wisconsin, and parts of Indiana, Michigan, and Missouri) each year. An annual August retreat takes place at Camp Ronora, in Watervliet, Mich., and always has a theme celebrating nature.

Jean Pierce, past chairwoman of the Women and Religion Committee, says these conferences address needs unique to women: "We're trying to help women recognize they have spiritual support for the issues they face. Some feel that . . . they have been excluded from consideration when there has been an emphasis on a male God and priests. Some need a retreat from their everyday responsibilities to their families so that they can focus on their own needs and strengths. Some feel very wounded and come to find healing."

In keeping with those ends, the conferences, including the one in Springfield, are open only to women: "When men are not around, they can be much less self-conscious about their outer appearances, and they can focus inward," Pierce says.

The WomanSpirit 2005 Winter Conference runs Fri.-Sun., Jan. 21-23, at the Springfield Hilton, 700 E. Adams St. Walk-ins are welcome. Registration for the entire conference costs $165. For more information, contact co-chair Pat Goller at 217-787-0687 or dome@interserv.net or visit the conference's Web site, www.womenandreligion.org.

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