The truth about organic farming

We had the great pleasure to connect with Anna Lappé, one of our favorite food heroes this month. Anna is a writer, mother, and sustainable food advocate. She is the founding principal of the Small Planet Institute and author of Grub: Ideas for an Urban Organic Kitchen and Diet for a Hot Planet: The Climate Crisis at the End of Your Fork and What You Can Do About It.

Anna is also heading up theReal Food Media Project, a collaborative project using online videos, a web-based resource center, and grassroots events to inspire, educate, and grow the movement for sustainable food and organic farming across the United States. The organization just launched a new video series focusing on the real story of the way we eat called Food Mythbusters. We were fortunate to chat with her about the project.

Tell us a little about your project, Food Mythbusters.

For more than ten years I’ve been on the road, talking about food and farming–from hipster Brooklyn to small-town Montana. Everywhere I went, it seemed I heard the same questions: Can we really feed the world with sustainable agriculture? Doesn’t good food just cost too much? Don’t people just really want to eat junk food–who are we to say otherwise?

It didn’t take me long to realize that these questions–these doubts about the benefits of sustainable food and the true costs of industrial agriculture– were doubts we all have because of deliberate media and messaging campaign from the food industry.

I was getting increasingly frustrated by all industry spin: by ad campaigns, trade-group public relations, lobbying, and more. While I don’t have $817 million (that’s what Monsanto spends on advertising in just one year), I do have some powerful allies—great food, farming and labor groups who wanted to help spread the real story about our food. So together, we are creating Food MythBusters: a one-stop shop to get your burning questions about food answered through short films, Q&As with experts and links to essential research.

Our first mythbusting video takes on the myth that we need industrial agriculture to feed the world and showcases the power of sustainable agriculture to address the root causes of hunger in a world of plenty.

We’re working on the next one now–launching this spring.

How did you gain this information?

I’ve spent much of the last decade talking with farmers, agricultural experts, and food system changemakers here and around the world, from Mali, Kenya, Brazil, India, Poland, Bangladesh, China, Mexico, the Midwest, California, the Gulf of Mexico, and beyond. The movies are informed by this research. Each of our mythbusting movies is grounded in the best science and research out there, and I created a companion reading guide and an annotated transcript to share the best sources for every assertion you hear in our movies. All of it can be found at

Who is your targeted audience and why?

My main target is the millions of Americans who are involved with the “food movement”: moms and dads who are choosing organic food at the grocery store; students and teachers who are transforming school food; college students who are bringing sustainability to campus food service; food workers and their allies working to improve conditions in the food sector–and more. I have found that many of the people making these choices, and involved with food in these ways, still have big questions about sustainable food–and I hope our project answers them. I also know that these people are always looking for new ways to help explain why they’re so passionate about their organic yogurt or local community garden–I hope these movies help provide them that resource.

Why are you so passionate about sustainable food and farming?

It’s pretty simple: Because I want to eat healthy, safe food–and I want my two daughters to eat healthy food, too. And, I want to know that the food we’re eating was produced by workers paid a fairly and treated fairly.

I’m also passionate because I know that it doesn’t have to be this way: agriculture doesn’t have to be one of the biggest polluters or a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions globally or the biggest source of contamination of our streams and lakes. Food workers don’t have to be the most exploited workers in the economy. Another food system is possible–one that is good for our bodies, our planet, and food workers.

I’ve seen the food movement rising all across the country–the exciting work happening in schools, colleges, and communities and I’m moved to tell those stories.

You are someone who has traveled to a lot of other countries. Which country has an inspiring sustainable agriculture system in place? What could our country learn from them?

Yes, I’ve traveled to many countries and seen many exciting examples of sustainable agricultural systems. Every time I travel outside of the United States I’ve been reminded we’ve got a lot to learn! It’s hard to pick just one…but I do always think back to my time in Brazil in the country’s fourth largest city where I saw incredible public sector innovation that was helping get healthy food into daycares, prenatal clinics, food banks, and more–all while benefiting local farmers. I was there about twelve years ago and I remember coming back to the States eager to share the story and connect people here with leaders in Brazil. Today, more than a decade later, it’s so exciting to see many of the innovations I saw in Brazil popping up here, too.

Next on my list of places I’d like to go: the country of Bhutan which is working with Dr. Vandana Shiva and other partners to become the first fully organic country in the world!