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Book Review - Hope's Edge 

by Marty Demarest


When Frances Moore Lappe wrote Diet for a Small Planet 30 years ago, she was confronting both an entrenched view of world hunger (there isn't enough food for everyone) and what sounded to her like an ominous solution (mass-produce more). But with the publication of her plain-spoken, heartfelt assessment on the ways in which unchecked consumerism was damaging both the environment and our health, some small changes started taking place.


Now, joining with her daughter Anna, Lapp & eacute; has chosen to revisit the same issues with the goal of looking at how much things have changed -- for better or worse. Like the title suggests, Hope's Edge is neither another dark assessment of the environmental condition nor a self-congratulatory account of improvements.


But this evenhanded approach quickly becomes the book's downfall, as Lapp & eacute; swerves frantically between exasperation and elation. What Diet for a Small Planet had as its driving force was conviction, which made it compelling even for readers who disagreed. Here, while Lapp & eacute; seems as convinced as ever of the need to improve the global food situation, she seems distracted by the myriad ways those improvements are slowly coming about.


Gone are the simple, well-reasoned arguments presented in the first book. In their place we have ambiguous assertions that, while she admires ranchers who raise free-range cattle, she still "can't quite relate," and that despite Starbucks' efforts to incorporate fair-trade coffee, it amounts to no more than a "token." Given her argument that the smallest wrong committed by an enormous corporation can lead to significant problems, it's strange to notice the omission of any speculation about where small improvements might lead.


Hope's Edge also contains a significant number of vegetarian recipes from cooks like Mollie Katzen and Alice Waters. But where Diet for a Small Planet provided information that was hard to find anywhere else at the time, Hope's Edge covers culinary territory that's now available in even the most casual bookstore. Perhaps if the space had been used to present new information and sound new calls to action, Lapp & eacute; could have continued her pioneering work. Unfortunately, what emerges is a book burdened with old ideologies confronting a new world.

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