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My Best Gift, Ever: I Saw the Solution to World Hunger

In the late sixties, my life changed forever. I asked, Why are millions of people going hungry? Every other species seemed to have figured this one out — how to feed itself and its offspring. So what’s up with us?

Headlines screamed “scarcity,” there’s just not enough! But lo and behold, as I added up the figures, one truth jumped out. There was enough food for all; and, today, it’s even truer— with at least 30 percent produced for each of us.

So over the decades after Diet for a Small Planet came out, I tugged away at layer after layer of “whys,” and, finally, I came up with a sound bite I loved, “Hunger is not caused by a scarcity of food but by a scarcity of democracy.”

And what does it mean?

Simply that, at root, the problem is one of the concentrations of social power so extreme that — from far-flung fields to the global supermarket — they deprive people not only of food but of dignity, of confidence in their own proven capacities.

Okay. My sound bite made sense to me, but what good was its “truth” without examples of people actually acting on it? Without real-life proof of people seizing the root and transforming human relationships into true, “living democracies”? Certainly, I knew the weak notion of democracy I’d grown up with — democracy equals markets-plus-elections — wasn’t it. So what did I mean? Where is democracy emerging that’s vital, engaging, and empowering enough actually to get to the root of needless hunger?