Food First History
Frances “Frankie” Moore Lappé and Joseph Collins co-founded the Institute for Food and Development Policy, nicknamed Food First, in 1975. It started out in Frankie’s house in New York before moving to San Francisco and then to its present location in Oakland. Food First: Beyond the Myth of Scarcity was the first book that Food First published.
Frankie and Joe began Food First to educate Americans about the root causes of world hunger and, personally, I know that the Institute continues to do that today. As a non-profit organization, Food First is a small place that tackles big issues. It is an independent people’s think tank and education-for-action center that is not bound by outside interests.
When Frankie and Joe started Food First, they felt that information and analyses were often funded by corporations and governments that had a vested interest in maintaining “hunger myths”—mainly that hunger is caused by scarcity (Diet for a Small Planet, p. 29). Food First runs on the generous donations of concerned citizens and because of a dedicated staff and volunteer interns, like myself.
In addition to research and advocacy, Food First has spawned other organizations, including the Pesticide Action Network North America, Neighbor to Neighbor, Global Exchange, Center for Living Democracy, Land Research Action Network, U.S. Working Group on the Food Crisis, and the Oakland Food Policy Council.
True to its radical roots, Food First continues to be out front on issues such as genetically modified foods, agrofuels, labor rights and land grabs. The institute uses critical food justice and food sovereignty frameworks to offer analyses and transformative solutions for eliminating the injustices that cause hunger.
The following is a longer overview of the trajectory of Food First's work since 1975 including a list of publications.
Food First is rooted in the early experiences and sensibilities of its founders. Joseph Collins, beginning in his teens, saw poverty and hunger first hand as he traveled around the Third World with the Catholic Maryknoll Brothers and Fathers. Frances (Frankie) Moore Lappé grew up surrounded by adults who believed that their actions could make their community a better place to live; she went on to study at Earlham, the Quaker college.
Both Joe and Frankie came of age during the 1960s, a time when many young people were immersed in the civil rights movement and demonstrating against the war in Vietnam. Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty brought Frankie to Philadelphia, where she first realized that something more would be needed to end hunger and poverty. This epiphany led to her search for an answer to the question, Why is there poverty in the richest nation on earth?, and eventually to her writing Diet for a Small Planet. This book struck a strong chord with those who read it: it sold two million copies over its first 10 years, largely by word of mouth.
At the same time, Joe Collins was working at the Washington think tank Institute for Policy Studies, writing the book Global Reach, about the impact of multinational corporations in the Third World. He also coauthored a report titled World Hunger: Causes and Remedies, which was written to challenge the official UN world food assessment for the 1974 World Food Conference in Rome.
Joe and Frankie met at the first World Food Conference in Rome in 1975, and shortly thereafter they incorporated the Institute for Food and Development Policy and began work on the book Food First: Beyond the Myth of Scarcity (published in 1977). We owe a debt of gratitude to Frankie’s brother, John Moore, Jr. for the name Food First, which has since become the Institute’s common name. In January 1977, the Institute offices were moved from Frankie’s house in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, to an office above a bakery on Mission Street in San Francisco. David Kinley, formerly with the North American Congress on Latin America and the Corporate Data Exchange, was the third person to join the staff. By 1979, the staff of the Institute (fondly known as IFDP) had expanded to ten full time and six part time, plus at least 25 interns. Many of our long-term loyal member donors also joined in financially supporting us at this time.
The 1980s were a time of tremendous changes in the world. The U.S. government involvement in Central America, the fall of the Marcos regime in the Philippines, and the collapse of the Soviet Union affected not only the countries involved, but also the balance of power in the world. It was also a time for great, creative program building at Food First.
Food First’s 1981 publication of the book Circle of Poison contributed to the formation of Pesticide Action Network, an organization that quickly grew into an international network of groups concerned about pesticide poisoning. Food First education and advocacy around Central America included the 1984 Central America Television Organizing Project, which split off from the Institute in 1986 as the lobbying organization Neighbor to Neighbor. In 1986 a fair trade store opened in a small garage front on 24th Street in San Francisco, and the following year Food First staffers Kevin Danaher and Medea Benjamin started the organization Global Exchange. In 1989, Ballantine Books published Frances Moore Lappé’s book Rediscovering America’s Values, and shortly thereafter Frankie left Food First to form the Institute for the Arts of Democracy (later called the Center for Living Democracy).
The 1990s brought countries worldwide the trinity of the free market ideology of liberalization, privatization, and deregulation imposed by international financial institutions led by the World Bank, the IMF, and GATT (superseded by the WTO). Structural adjustment eliminated much of the social safety net both in the U.S. and in countries around the world as the rich got richer and increasing numbers of the middle class dropped into poverty.
Food First’s educational role focused on empowering thousands of students, educators, and concerned citizens worldwide, contributing to a greater understanding of the impact of economic globalization through extensive international and national public speaking and publications. Beginning in 1994, Food First stepped up its campaign for the economic human right of all of the world’s people—including those in the U.S. and other rich countries—to have the resources to feed themselves. In the late 1990s, this program organized two congressional hearings and two bus tours with the Congressional Progressive Caucus and the Institute for Policy Studies.
With the rise of the antidemocratic World Trade Organization (WTO), farm policy became a major issue for citizens worldwide as many more people began to recognize the basic truth first revealed by Food First 25 years earlier: that there is more than enough food in the world for everyone. The control of the global food system by a small, powerful cartel of multinational corporations continues to displace millions of small farmers. The audacity of this corporate takeover has mobilized many people to demonstrate in the streets and fight for democratic process around the world—a movement that first gained huge visibility in 1999 in Seattle.
In the new millennium, Food First has continued its analysis of the ways economic globalization impacts the food system and jeopardizes all people’s human rights. In conjunction with the offices of Reps. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) and Barbara Lee (D-CA), Food First staff convened a 2003 congressional briefing on the impacts of trade policies on U.S. workers. And we worked with indigenous and peasant activist groups in the streets of Cancún as well as inside the convention center where the 2003 WTO ministerial was held, protesting the inclusion of agriculture within WTO trade rules—and we rejoiced when the talks collapsed utterly.
The Institute has also continued to highlight alternatives. Since the collapse of the Soviet bloc, a blockaded Cuba has effected the most large-scale conversion to organic and sustainable agriculture ever attempted. As part of its Alternative Food Systems program, Food First led numerous sustainable agriculture delegations to Cuba, and has sponsored training, exchange, and outreach programs to increase awareness of the Cuban work and to help extend Cuban expertise in sustainable agriculture to the rest of the world.
Without land, there is no food, and real, democratic land reform is desperately needed in many countries to redress vast inequities and help ensure all people’s right to feed themselves. In partnership with organizations in Thailand, Brazil, and South Africa, Food First convened the Land Research Action Network (LRAN) to link activist researchers with each other and with grassroots movements in their efforts to democratize access to land. A monumental book on the recent history and current state of global land reform efforts grew from this collaboration, and Food First Books published Promised Land: Competing Visions of Agrarian Reform in 2006. Food First also published the story of one of the most successful grassroots land movements in the world, Brazil’s MST, in Angus Wright and Wendy Wolford’s superlative 2003 book, To Inherit the Earth: The Landless Movement and the Struggle for a New Brazil.
Campesino a Campesino: Voices from Latin America's Farmer to Farmer Movement for Sustainable Agriculture by Eric Holt-Gimenez was published in 2006.
Following the food crisis of 2008, Food First published the 2009 book Food Rebellions! Crisis and the Hunger for Justice. Other books published in 2009 include an edited volume, Agrofuels in the Americas, an issue blamed, in part, for the 2008 food crisis. A third book published in 2009, Beyond the Fence: A Journey to the Roots of the Migration Crisis with companion 20-minute documentary and study guide, is a valuable resource for students.
In 2010 Food First Books co-published the book, Food Sovereignty and started a new website, www.foodmovementsunite.org to offer previews of a 2011 book, Food Movements Unite.
Coalition work in the U.S. included our participation in founding and serving on the steering committee of the U.S. Working Group on the Food Crisis, (now called the U.S. Food Sovereignty Alliance) and our work with African farmer and women's groups as they challenge the green revolution. In Oakland, where we are now based, we are incubating the Oakland Food Policy Council (www.oaklandfood.org). And in 2010 Food First launched Food Sovereignty Tours (www.foodsovereigntytours.org).
Food First continues to be at the forefront of the growing realization that genetic engineering of food crops and the corporate appropriation of seeds present a grave threat to poor people’s economic future and the future of human health and of the earth’s ecosystems. Food First
champions alternatives to corporate control of agriculture, including the seeds that humans have used and developed for millennia: organic farming; agroecological principles and practices; and local, farmer-led control of food policies, production, and distribution.
Food First Publications
Food First: Beyond the Myth of Scarcity, by Frances Moore Lappé and Joseph Collins with Cary Fowler
World Hunger: 10 Myths, by Frances Moore Lappé and Joseph Collins
(revised 1986; revised as World Hunger: 12 Myths in 1996, 1998)
Needless Hunger: Voices from a Bangladesh Village, by Betsy Hartmann and James Boyce
Aid as Obstacle: Twenty Questions about Our Foreign Aid and the Hungry, by Frances Moore Lappé, Joseph Collins, and David Kinley
Casting New Molds: First Steps Toward Worker Control in a Mozambique Steel Factory, a conversation with Peter Sketchley and Frances Moore Lappé
Mozambique and Tanzania: Asking the Big Questions, by Frances Moore Lappé and Adele Negro Beccar-Varela
Seeds of the Earth: A Public or Private Resource? by Pat Roy Mooney
What Can We Do? Food and Hunger: How You Can Make a Difference, by William Valentine and Frances Moore Lappé
Circle of Poison: Pesticides and People in a Hungry World, by David Weir and Mark Schapiro
Land Reform: Is It the Answer? A Venezuelan Peasant Speaks, an interview with Carlos Rojas by Frances Moore Lappé and Hannes Lorenzen with historical overview by Dr. Howard Handelman
Development Debacle: The World Bank and the Philippines, by Walden Bello, David Kinley, and Elaine Elinson
Food First Comic, by Leonard Rifas
Nicaragua: What Difference Could a Revolution Make? by Joseph Collins with Frances Moore Lappé, Nick Allen, and Paul Rice
Now We Can Speak: A Journey through the New Nicaragua, by Frances Moore Lappé and Joseph Collins
Trading the Future: Farm Exports and the Concentration of Economic Power in Our Food System, by James Wessel with Mort Hantman
A Quiet Violence: View from a Bangladesh Village, by Betsy Hartmann and James Boyce
Food First Curriculum, by Laurie Rubin
No Free Lunch: Food and Revolution in Cuba Today, by Medea Benjamin, Joseph Collins, and Michael Scott
(revised 1986 and 1989)
Alternatives to the Peace Corps: Gaining Third World Experience, by Food First staff and interns
(revised 1987, 1988, 1990, 1992, 1994, 1996, 1999, 2001, 2003, 2005)
Central America: We Can Make a Difference (slide show)
The Challenge to End Hunger (video/slide show)
Education for Action: Graduate Studies with a Focus on Social Change, by Food First staff and interns
(revised 1992, 1995, 2001)
Faces of War (video)
Food Self-Sufficiency in North Korea, by David Barkin
Nicaragua: What Difference Could a Revolution Make? second edition, by Joseph Collins with Frances Moore Lappé, Nick Allen, and Paul Rice
No Free Lunch: Food and Revolution in Cuba Today, second edition, by Medea Benjamin, Joseph Collins, and Michael Scott
World Hunger: 10 Myths, second edition, by Frances Moore Lappé and Joseph Collins
Alternatives to the Peace Corps, second edition, by Food First staff and interns
Betraying the National Interest, by Frances Moore Lappé, Rachel Schurman and Kevin Danaher
Don’t Be Afraid Gringo: A Honduran Woman Speaks from the Heart—The Story of Elvia Alvarado, translated and edited by Medea Benjamin
Exploding the Hunger Myths: A High School Curriculum, by Sonja Williams
Help or Hindrance? United States Economic Aid in Central America, by Kevin Danaher, Phillip Berryman, and Medea Benjamin
U.S.-Sponsored Low-Intensity Conflict in the Philippines, by Walden Bello
Alternatives to the Peace Corps, third edition, by Food First staff and interns
Elvia Alvarado (film)
Family Farming: A New Economic Vision, by Marty Strange
A Fate Worse Than Debt: The World Financial Crisis and the Poor, by Susan George
The Missing Piece of the Population Puzzle, by Frances Moore Lappe and Rachel Schurman
(revised and published 1990 as Taking Population Seriously),
South Africa: A New U.S. Policy for the 1990s, by Kevin Danaher
Brave New Third World? Strategies for Survival in the Global Economy, by Walden Bello
Kerala: Radical Reform as Development in an Indian State, by Richard W. Franke and Barbara H. Chasin
The Philippines: Fire on the Rim, by Joseph Collins
Rediscovering America’s Values, by Frances Moore Lappé
No Free Lunch: Food and Revolution in Cuba Today, third edition, by Medea Benjamin, Joseph Collins, and Michael Scott
Alternatives to the Peace Corps, fourth edition, by Food First staff and interns
Dragons in Distress: Asia’s Miracle Economies in Crisis, by Walden Bello and Stephanie Rosenfeld
A Fate Worse Than Debt: The World Financial Crisis and the Poor, second edition, by Susan George
Taking Population Seriously, by Frances Moore Lappé and Rachel Schurman
Alternatives to the Peace Corps, fifth edition, by Food First staff and interns
Education for Action: Graduate Studies with a Focus on Social Change, second edition, by Food First staff and interns
People and Power in the Pacific: The Struggle for the Post-Cold War Order, by Walden Bello
Trading Freedom: How Free Trade Affects Our Lives, Work, and Environment, by John Cavanagh, Karen Baker, and Gretchen Helmke
Alternatives to the Peace Corps, sixth edition, by Food First staff and interns
Basta! Land and the Zapatista Rebellion in Chiapas, by George Collier with Elizabeth Lowery Quaratiello
(revised 1999, 2005)
Chiapas and the Crisis of Mexican Agriculture, by Roger Burbach and Peter Rosset
Dark Victory: The United States and Global Poverty, by Walden Bello with Shea Cunningham and Bill Rau
Kerala: Radical Reform as Development in an Indian State, second edition, by Richard W. Franke and Barbara H. Chasin
A Bitter Pill: Structural Adjustment in Costa Rica, by Alicia Korten
Breakfast of Biodiversity: The Truth About Rain Forest Destruction, by John Vandermeer and Ivette Perfecto
Chile’s Free-Market Miracle: A Second Look, by Joseph Collins and John Lear
Education for Action: Graduate Studies with a Focus on Social Change, third edition, by Food First staff and interns
Land, Food, and the Politics of Agrarian Reform in South Africa, by Daniel Weiner and Richard Levin
Alternatives to the Peace Corps, seventh edition, by Food First staff and interns
The Campesino a Campesino Movement: Farmer-Led, Sustainable Agriculture in Central America and Mexico, by Eric Holt-Gimenez
A Cautionary Tale: Failed U.S. Development Policy in Central America, by Michael E. Conroy, Douglas L. Murray, and Peter Rosset
Consolidating the Commodity Chain: Organic Farming and Agribusiness in Northern California, by Daniel Buck, Christina Getz, and Julie Guthman
The Greening of Cuba, by Jaime Kibben (film)
Benedita da Silva: An Afro-Brazilian Woman’s Story of Politics and Love, as told to Medea Benjamin and Maisa Mendonça
America Needs Human Rights (film)
The Potential of Agroecology to Combat Hunger in the Developing World, by Miguel Altieri, Peter Rosset, and Lori Ann Thrupp
World Hunger: Twelve Myths, by Frances Moore Lappé, Joseph Collins, and Peter Rosset with Luis Esparza
Alternatives to the Peace Corps, eighth edition, by Food First staff and interns
America Needs Human Rights, by Anuradha Mittal and Peter Rosset
Basta! Land and the Zapatista Rebellion in Chiapas, second edition, by George Collier with Elizabeth Lowery Quaratiello
Cultivating Havana: Urban Agriculture and Food Security in the Years of Crisis, by Catherine Murphy
Dark Victory: The United States and Global Poverty, second edition, by Walden Bello with Shea Cunningham and Bill Rau
Manufacturing a Crisis: The Politics of Food Aid in Indonesia, by Li Kheng Po, Walden Bello, John-David Comtois, A.Z.M. Obaidullah Khan, Marco Mezzera, Anuradha Mittal, Vidhyandika Moeljarto
The Multiple Functions and Benefits of Small Farm Agriculture (In the Context of Global Trade Negotiations), by Peter Rosset
The Paradox of Plenty: Hunger in a Bountiful World, by Douglas H. Boucher
A Siamese Tragedy: Development and Disintegration in Modern Thailand, by Walden Bello, Shea Cunningham, and Li Kheng Poh
Cuba’s New Agricultural Revolution: The Transformation of Food crop Production in Contemporary Cuba, by Laura J. Enríquez
Genetic Engineering in Agriculture: The Myths, Environmental Risks, and Alternatives, by Miguel A. Altieri
Views from the South: The Effects of Globalization and the WTO on Third World Countries, by Sarah Anderson
Alternatives to the Peace Corps, ninth edition, by Food First staff and interns
Education for Action: Graduate Studies with a Focus on Social Change, by Food First staff and interns
The Future in the Balance: Essays on Globalization and Resistance, by Walden Bello
earthsummit.biz: The Corporate Takeover of Sustainable Development, by Kenny Bruno and Joshua Karliner
Sustainable Agriculture and Resistance: Transforming Food Production in Cuba, by Fernando Funes, Luis García, Martin Bourque, Nilda Pérez, and Peter Rosset
Agricultural Liberalization in China: Curbing the State and Creating Cheap Labor, by Maximilian Eisenburger and Raj Patel
Agricultural Restructuring and Concentration in the United States: Who Wins, Who Loses? by Sanaz Memarsadeghi and Raj Patel
Agricultural Trade Liberalization and Mexico, by Gisele and Raj Patel
Agricultural Trade Liberalization and Brazil’s Rural Poor: Consolidating Inequality, by Amanda Cassel and Raj Patel
Alternatives to the Peace Corps, tenth edition, by Food First staff and interns
Shafted: Free Trade and America’s Working Poor, by Christine Ahn
To Inherit the Earth: The Landless Movement and the Struggle for a New Brazil, by Angus Wright and Wendy Wolford
Shining India? Economic Liberalization and Rural Poverty in the 1990s, by Anders Riel Müller and Raj Patel
Genetic Engineering in Agriculture: The Myths, Environmental Risks, and Alternatives, second edition, by Miguel A. Altieri
Alternatives to the Peace Corps, eleventh edition, by Food First staff and interns
Basta! Land and the Zapatista Rebellion in Chiapas, third edition, by George Collier with Elizabeth Lowery Quaratiello
Breakfast of Biodiversity: The Truth about Rain Forest Destruction, second edition, Ivette Perfecto and John Vandermeer
Famine and the Future of Food Security in North Korea: In the Spirit of Juche, by Christine Ahn
Campesino a Campesino: Voices from Latin America's Farmer to Farmer Movement for Sustainable Agriculture by Eric Holt Gimenez
Alternatives to the Peace Corps: A Guide to Global Volunteer Opportunities, 11th Edition edited by Paul Backhurst
Promised Land: Competing Visions of Agrarian Reform edited by Peter Rosset, Raj Patel, and Michael Courville
Ten Reasons Why the Rockefeller and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundations’ Alliance for Another Green Revolution Will Not Solve the Problems of Poverty and Hunger in Sub-Saharan Africa by Eric Holt-Gimenez, Ph.D., Miguel A. Altieri, Ph.D., and Peter Rosset, Ph.D.
Development Report No 15: A Bitter Harvest: Farmer suicide and the unforeseen social, environmental and economic impacts of the Green Revolution in Punjab, India by Bryan Newman
Development Report No 16: LAND – GOLD – REFORM: The Territorial Restructuring of Guatemala's HighlandsBy Eric Holt-Gimenez
Development Report No 17: Fair to the Last Drop: The Corporate Challenges to Fair Trade Coffee by Eric Holt-Gimenez, Ian Bailey and Devon Sampson
Policy Brief No. 13: When Renewable Isn’t Sustainable: Agrofuels and the Inconvenient Truth behind the 2007 U.S. Energy Independence and Security Act by Eric Holt-Gimenez and Isabella Kenfield
Policy Brief No. 14: The Agrofuels Trojan Horse: Biotechnology and the Corporate Domination of Agriculture by Annie Shattuck
Policy Brief No 15: The Doha Collapse: Time to get agriculture out of the WTO by Rick Jonasse
Policy Brief No. 16: Policy Brief No. 16: The World Food Crisis - What’s behind it and What we can do about it by Eric Holt-Gimenez
Development Report No. 18: Ghana: Gold Strike in the Breadbasket by Albert T. Armstrong
Release of the 20-minute documentary DVD, Caminos: The Immigrant's Trail by Juan Carlos Zaldivar.
Food First book Beyond the Fence: A Journey to the Roots of the Migration Crisis by Dori Stone
Food First book Food Rebellions! Crisis and the Hunger for Justice by Eric Holt-Gimenez and Raj Patel with Annie Shattuck
Food First book Agrofuels in the Americas edited by Richard Jonasse
DEVELOPMENT REPORT NO. 19: Food System Meta-analysis for the San Francisco Bay Area by Heather Wooten and Amy Parenti of Public Health Law & Policy in collaboration with Food First
DEVELOPMENT REPORT NO 20: Oakland Food Retail Impact Study by Hannah Laurison and Nella Young of Public Health Law & Policy in collaboration with Food First
DEVELOPMENT REPORT NO 21: Food Policy Councils: Lessons Learned By Alethea Harper, Annie Shattuck, Eric Holt-Gimenez, Alison Alkon and Frances Lambrick
Policy Brief No 18: Why the Global Food Security Act Will Fail to Curb Hunger by Annie Shattuck and Eric Holt-Gimenez
Special Report: Smallholder Solutions to Hunger, Poverty and Climate Change by Eric Holt-Gimenez and Annie Shattuck
Food First Book Food Sovereignty: Reconnecting Food, Nature and Community edited by Annette Desmarais, Nettie Wiebe, and Hannah Wittman.
Food First book Food Movements Unite! Strategies for transforming our food systems edited by Eric Holt-Gimenez.