Book Review: Diet for a Small Planet

New Revised & Updated Edition of Bestselling 1971 Book Speaks Volumes – 50 Years Later


It has been 50 years since Frances Moore Lappé’s Diet for a Small Planet first hit the shelves, yet the legacy of her message continues. In fact, it is a message still so needed in this day and age that a 50th Anniversary Edition with a new forward, updated data, and even new recipes has recently released.


At first glance the story may feel overwhelming, or perhaps even dismal, in its assessment of the problems we face like climate issues, increased pesticide use, soil depletion, and the resulting health consequences. As the decades have passed since its initial inception, the urgency of these problems has only grown. She writes in the updated 50th edition forward: “It is clear that to feed ourselves we are killing ourselves and our planet.”


The book uncovers the seriousness of the predicament in which we are finding ourselves today, and describes how our food choices have contributed to it. Moore Lappé states that to partake in a diet so high in processed foods—especially in overly-processed, poorly raised meats—as is found in the typical the American diet, is to partake in one of the biggest experiments in human nutrition. The typical American eats twice the amount of daily recommended protein. Our meat-heavy diet experiment, as she calls it, not only seems to be hurting humans but is also hurting the planet. Our diets and our farming methods have contributed to problems such as loss of biodiversity, lifeless ocean “dead zones” from nitrogen runoff and chemical farming, and soil degradation.

Below are some of the data provided in the book that I found to speak poignantly to the gravity of the situation.

  • Enormous amount of species loss. From what we can tell, we have destroyed more than eight in ten wild animals on earth.
  • 70 percent of the world’s birds are farmed poultry.
  • The process of chemical farming (including the use of synthetic fertilizers) has added three times more reactive nitrogen to our environment than is usually naturally produced.
  • Nitrogen runoff has created 415 “dead-zones” in the oceans around the world in which the sea is “lifeless.”
  • Pesticides, when consumed, can build up in the tissues of livestock. Research has found a correlation between pesticide in human breast milk and the diet of the mother. This leads researchers to believe that the more animal fats in the mother’s diet, the more pesticides in her breast milk.


Yet the book does not leave the reader without hope. Instead, the author points to a new way ahead—a way to pioneer into the future decades to preserve the health of humans and the planet for future generations. She provides practical answers to these pressing issues and points to a “certain kind of hope,” which she describes in detail. The book is separated into two parts—one providing the information and education and the other providing practical tips to implement the lessons learned in daily life. Our daily choices matter, perhaps now more than ever, and they start with our plates.


“Today, plant-centered, chemical-free, whole-foods eating is not only a positive choice. It is essential.”
-Frances Moore Lappé


One way I’m taking practical steps from this book is to reduce my family’s meat consumption even further than we already have. As part of this, my belief in the importance of where my meat comes from has been deeply reinforced. Responsible meat consumption points to the importance of finding local farms that practice sustainable—or even regenerative—agriculture. More traditional methods such as this have the capacity to sequester carbon, benefit the soil, and rebalance the natural order all while feeding us biodynamic and organic foods.


The crowning truth of the book rings clear: it doesn’t have to be this way. Fixing our plates alone won’t necessarily provide all the changes we need, but it is the best road we have to a better life for ourselves and future generations. The decisions we make with our forks have reverberations that far extend those tines.

Perhaps the best way to sum up this book and its timely relevance is this quote:

“Today, plant-centered, chemical-free, whole-foods eating is not only a positive choice. It is essential. Either we make a big turn or life on Earth as we know it is gone forever.”

Amy Ziff is the Founder and Executive Director of the 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, Nontoxic Certified. MADE SAFE®  is a program of Nontoxic Certified.

A healthy living educator with a genetic predisposition to toxicity, Amy is also mom to three young kids who share the same trait. Determined to make the world less toxic, Amy reached millions of parents and caregivers with her “buy better” advocacy campaigns. She blogs about the chemical world we live in on Amy Ziff’s NoTox Life, and prior to founding MADE SAFE, taught classes on living a nontoxic life and co-founded the Veritey Shop, a site comprised of safe, nontoxic products. Amy is changing the world for the healthier one product at a time, one person at a time, one home at a time.

Amy has a Masters in Journalism and Communications and has been a successful internet entrepreneur. She was on the founding team of Site59 where she pioneered the first luxury business line for travel on the web. When Site59 was acquired by Travelocity, she ran a national sales team and then founded an award-winning media program, blog, and travel seal that garnered millions of dollars of “earned media” annually, and also founded the company’s award-winning cause marketing program. Amy went on to cofound and become creative director of Jetsetter, the first online flash-sale for high-end travel.


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