Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Dear Common Dreams Readers:
Corporations and billionaires have their own media. Shouldn't we? When you “follow the money” that funds our independent journalism, it all leads back to this: people like you. Our supporters are what allows us to produce journalism in the public interest that is beholden only to people, our planet, and the common good. Please support our Mid-Year Campaign so that we always have a newsroom for the people that is funded by the people. Thank you for your support. --Jon Queally, managing editor

Join the small group of generous readers who donate, keeping Common Dreams free for millions of people each year. Without your help, we won’t survive.

Small garden plot

"In addition to inequality," the authors write, "our corporate food system is so broken nearly 60 percent of the calories Americans eat now offer us zero nutrition; and virtually no Americans meet dietary guidelines." (Photo: Karl Hendon/via Getty Images)

Hunger Is Over, If We Want It

Globally, in this now-or-never moment, we can remake governance to answer to all of us, to finally make policy with the understanding that hunger will only be uprooted if we tackle the anti-democracy forces at its roots.

Frances Moore LappéAnna Lappé

The United Nations Food Systems Summit in New York City this September called on humanity “to end hunger and protect the planet.” Sounds noble—even uplifting—until we acknowledge this sad truth: Nearly fifty years ago at the United Nations’ first World Food Conference, governments also set out such a lofty goal, declaring a vision for eradicating “hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition within a decade." A decade?

You could say we missed that mark, big time. Even before COVID-19, undernourishment had been rising. As many as 811 million are now hungry, defined as not even getting enough calories, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). And by a wider, more useful  measure, the FAO estimates a staggering one in three of us worldwide lack “access to adequate food.”

The second tragedy is that so many world leaders still don't get it. The Food Systems Summit for the most part kept the focus on what corporate-chemical farming offers—as if supply were our problem. Yet, the world food supply per person has been climbing for decades; and at almost 3,000 calories for each of us, it is plentiful.

However, within the UN, the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) is one group that may be taking a different tack: focusing on human rights—i.e., on who has power, not narrowly on production.

Some are hopeful that the Committee’s annual meeting next month will finally grapple with root causes and system-solutions. A coalition of governments, international agencies, food producers, labor unions, and Indigenous peoples will hold an online, preparatory meeting September 30th, open to all, to arrive at globally coordinated response.

We hope this dedicated group—finally—brings down one mighty barrier: The long-held, disempowering untruth that food scarcity is the cause of hunger. When Frances’ Diet for a Small Planet was released 50 years ago, fear of food scarcity was palpable. Paul and Anne Ehrlich’s Population Bomb had exploded. Many assumed we’d simply hit the earth’s limits.  

Fear of scarcity diverted eyes from deepening inequalities in economic and political power. So, here we are: Today, 70 percent of humanity lives in nations where economic inequality is worsening. The tight grip of those at the top is staggering. Just over 2,000 billionaires control more wealth than 60 percent of all 7.7 billion humans on earth. In only one decade, worldwide, billionaires’ wealth has doubled, and among them are titans of agribusiness. 

As unaccountable corporate power has tightened, it’s corrupted democratic governance. Here in the US, a thousand agribusiness lobbyists are paid to convince those we elect to listen to them, not us—that’s two-thirds more  than even the oil and gas industry’s gaggle of persuaders. 

As a result, in addition to inequality, our corporate food system is so broken nearly 60 percent of the calories Americans eat now offer us zero nutrition; and virtually no Americans meet dietary guidelines. Diabetes rates have risen  fourfold over the past 25 years, and our corporate-supplied diet is implicated in most noncommunicable diseases.

So, may the Committee on World Food Security name this crisis of democracy: Concentrating economic and political power not only ensures hunger and ill health, but vast waste as well.  Worldwide 80 percent of agricultural land, including that for grazing, now goes to producing livestock for the better off, while livestock provide just 18 percent of our calories. And beef? We get just 3 percent of the feed calories the cow consumed.

Robbing people of their power is a global economy driven overwhelmingly by the logic of maximum return to existing wealth.

So, millions of citizens worldwide are challenging corporate-and-chemical-dominated food systems that deepen injustice, vast waste, disease, and ecological damage. Many of these courageous citizens are embracing plant- and planet-centered diets that protect, and much more efficiently use, our precious soil and water, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, while improving our health and addressing economic inequity, too.

Land-based social movements for social equity, healthy food, and farming have taken off worldwide. In just 30 years, the ecological, small-farm movement La Via Campesina has grown to 182 member organizations, representing 200 million food producers in 81 countries. Scholars at the University of Essex have documented that across the globe—just in the last two decades—eight million new self-governing, farmer groups have arisen, all embracing sustainable practices.

Let us celebrate these breakthroughs. But at the same time may such awareness trigger outrage that here at home, extreme income inequality—greater than that of over 100 nations—still denies access to healthy diets for so many. 

Fifty years ago, in 1971, just as Frances published her first book Diet for a Small Planet and launched her life’s work challenging myths about the roots of hunger, the Vietnam War was raging on. In the midst of the mounting anti-war movement, Yoko Ono and John Lennon launched their iconic “War is Over” campaign. Billboards and ads from New York to Rome provocatively declared: “War is Over… If You Want It.”  

At that time, nearly 40,000 Americans had died and an untold number of Vietnamese. War was decidedly not over. But as Lennon exhorted Americans: “You’ve got the power… All we have to do is remember that.”

These words echo in our ears, fifty years later. We, too, have the power to end something as seemingly intractable as hunger. Globally, in this now-or-never moment, we can remake governance to answer to all of us, to finally make policy with the understanding that hunger will only be uprooted if we tackle the anti-democracy forces at its roots. 

Hunger is over, if we want it. 


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Frances Moore Lappé

Frances Moore Lappé

Frances Moore Lappé is the author of nineteen books, beginning with the acclaimed "Diet for a Small Planet." Most recently she is the co-author, with Adam Eichen, of the new book, "Daring Democracy: Igniting Power, Meaning, and Connection for the America We Want." Among her numerous previous books are "EcoMind: Changing the Way We Think to Create the World We Want" (Nation Books) and "Democracy's Edge: Choosing to Save Our Country by Bringing Democracy to Life." She is co-founder of the Cambridge, Mass.-based Small Planet Institute.

Anna Lappe

Anna Lappé

Anna Lappé is a national bestselling author, most recently of Diet for a Hot Planet: The Climate Crisis at the End of Your Fork and What You Can Do About It and a contributor to the 50th anniversary edition of her mother’s Diet for a Small PlanetShe is a founder of Real Food Media and works with funders to support food system transformation around the world. 

Just a few days left in our crucial Mid-Year Campaign and we might not make it without your help.
Who funds our independent journalism? Readers like you who believe in our mission: To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. No corporate advertisers. No billionaire founder. Our non-partisan, nonprofit media model has only one source of revenue: The people who read and value this work and our mission. That's it.
And the model is simple: If everyone just gives whatever amount they can afford and think is reasonable—$3, $9, $29, or more—we can continue. If not enough do, we go dark.

All the small gifts add up to something otherwise impossible. Please join us today. Donate to Common Dreams. This is crunch time. We need you now.

'Witness Intimidation. Clear as Day': Jan. 6 Panel Teases Evidence of Cover-Up Effort

"Add witness tampering to the laundry list of crimes Trump and his allies must be charged with," said professor Robert Reich.

Jessica Corbett ·


'Bombshell After Bombshell' Dropped as Jan. 6 Testimony Homes In On Trump Guilt

"Hutchinson's testimony of the deeply detailed plans of January 6 and the inaction of those in the White House in response to the violence show just how close we came to a coup," said one pro-democracy organizer.

Brett Wilkins ·


Mark Meadows 'Did Seek That Pardon, Yes Ma'am,' Hutchinson Testifies

The former aide confirmed that attorney Rudy Giuliani also sought a presidential pardon related to the January 6 attack.

Jessica Corbett ·


UN Chief Warns of 'Ocean Emergency' as Leaders Confront Biodiversity Loss, Pollution

"We must turn the tide," said Secretary-General António Guterres. "A healthy and productive ocean is vital to our shared future."

Julia Conley ·


'I Don't F—ing Care That They Have Weapons': Trump Wanted Security to Let Armed Supporters March on Capitol

"They're not here to hurt me," Trump said on the day of the January 6 insurrection, testified a former aide to ex-White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows.

Jake Johnson ·

Common Dreams Logo