Summary – Frances Moore Lappe’s “World Hunger: Twelve Myths”


Richard Moore

Frances Moore Lappé's World Hunger: Twelve Myths (a 1986 publication):
Summarized and Updated by Holly Poole-Kavana

Myth One:
There is not enough food and not enough land.

Untrue. Measured globally, there is enough to feed everyone. For example there 
is enough grain being produced today to provide everybody in the world with 
enough protein and about 3000 calories a day, which is what the average American

But the world's food supply is not evenly distributed. Those who have much 
accumulate more, while those who have little edge toward starvation. In most 
countries with widespread hunger, a few large landowners control nearly all 
agricultural production sometimes with disastrous results. Much rich farmland 
remains unused, or one harvest is gathered per year when there could be two or 
three. Land is used for "cash crops" such as cotton or coffee instead of food. 
To the owners, land becomes an "investment" not a source of food for the people 
who live on it.

Myth Two:
There are too many people to feed.

Contrary to popular belief, overpopulation is not the cause of hunger. It's 
usually the other way around: hunger is one of the real causes of 
overpopulation. The more children a poor family has the more likely some will 
survive to work in the fields or in the city to add to the family's small income
and, later, to care for the parents in their old age.

All this points to the disease that is at the root of both hunger and 
overpopulation: The powerlessness of people who must rely on food that is grown 
and distributed by wealthy people who have never felt hunger pangs, yet who 
determine how the land will be used, if at all and who will benefit from its 
fruits. High birth rates are symptoms of the failures of a social system - 
inadequate family income, inadequate nutrition and health care and old-age 

Myth Three:
Growing more food will mean less hunger in poor countries.

But it doesn't seem to work that way. "More food" is what the last 30 years' War
on Hunger has been about. Farming methods have been "modernized", ambitious 
irrigation plans carried out, "miracle" seeds, new pesticides, fertilizers and 
machinery have become available. But who has come out better off?

Farmers who already have land. money and the ability to buy on credit - not the 
desperately poor and hungry. In Pakistan for example a farmer must have at least
12.5 acres of land to get a loan from the Bank: but this excludes over 80 
percent of Pakistan's farmers! Who else benefits? Moneylenders, landlords, 
bureaucrats, military officers, city-based speculators and foreign corporation -
as the value or the land goes up only the rich can afford to buy the farming 
land. Small farmers go bankrupt or are bought out. Human energy and imagination 
can be organized to turn a desert into a grain field. This can be done - we have
the know-how.

When land is in the hands of the people who live and work on it , they are more 
likely to be motivated to make the land more productive and distribution of food
more equitable thus benefiting all peoples.

Myth Four:
Hunger is contest between rich countries and poor countries.

To many Americans the hungry world is seen as the enemy who in Lyndon Johnson's 
words, "aint what we got". But hunger will never be eliminated until we 
recognize the poor of Bangladesh, Colombia, Senegal as our neighbors. Rich or 
poor we are all part of the same global food system which is gradually coming 
under the control of a few huge corporations. These giant businesses grow and 
market food for the benefit of those people who have money which means primarily
people in North American and Europe.

Poor people in the Third World market pay food prices that are determined by 
what people in rich countries are willing to pay. This is direct cause of hunger
in many poor countries. On the other hand, people in rich countries are unaware 
that their own consumption is creating suction force in the world food market, 
diverting food from meeting the needs of the very people who have grown it.

In both rich and poor countries farmers, workers, consumers feel the impact of 
this system of international control, through artificial shortages of certain 
products, through high food prices, through poor-quality goods. Even in 
countries like the Unite States and Canada, small farmers find themselves unable
to afford the machinery that need to keep their farms running well. Older people
on small pensions even in the United States and Canada, find themselves unable 
to afford the food they deserve.

Myth Five:
Hunger can be solved by redistributing the food to the hungry.

Over and over we hear that North America is the world's last remaining "bread 
basket." The rich world's over consumption and wastefulness are endlessly 
compared with the misery of the poor.

True. Adapting a simpler lifestyle helps us to understand our interrelatedness 
with all people and less wastefulness is better stewardship. But neither "one 
less hamburger a week". Nor massive food aid programs, will eventually solve 
widespread starvation and poverty in the poorest nation. People will only cease 
to be poor when they control the means of providing and /or producing food for 

We must face up to the real questions: who controls the land? Who cultivates it 
? A few. Or all who need to? What will be grown in poorer nations - strawberries
to export to the tables of the well-fed in the United States or basic grains for
local consumption? How can control of the land get back into the hands of the 
people who need it? Who influences the distribution of food? How can people be 
enabled to provide food for themselves?

Myth Six:

A strong military defense provides a secure environment in which people can 

But who feels secure on an empty stomach? The extraordinary investment the world
makes in armaments annually (currently $900 billion) ensures that few funds are 
available for agricultural and economic development and shows that those who 
decide how a nation's money is spent are not intimately acquainted with the 
violence of hunger.

The security of countries both great and small, depends first of all in a 
population that has enough food, enough jobs, adequate energy and safe, 
comfortable housing. When a society cannot provide these basics, all the guns 
and bombs in the world cannot maintain peace.

This article is based on material by
Frances Moore Lappe' and Joseph Collins, co-authors of

"Food First: Beyond the Myth of Scarcity", and "World Hunger: Twelve Myths"

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