Channeling Lightning

When I was about twelve years old my parents took us to a friend’s house for dinner where all of us tried vegetarian food for the first time, learned about their friends’ passion for meditation, and saw their sprouts. I was enchanted by the food (which consisted of a very, very fancy peanut butter and banana sandwich with various other things on it) and the people. I’m pretty sure I expressed my joy with the food and my interest in their lives.

A week later, I received a box addressed to me in the mail with three sprouters and a book, Diet for a Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappé. The message of the book was that we could feed everyone on the planet, if we just changed how we ate. Instead of meat at every meal, add in lentils and rice.

It was a message I was primed to receive. I lived in a house where no one was allowed to go away hungry, where food was pressed on visitors as they left, where even when we were on vacation and my father met hungry people he gave away some of our food to them. The idea of living in a world where I had all the food I wanted while others went hungry seemed like an abomination.

Into that sensibility came Diet for a Small Planet. Frances Moore Lappé, a social worker with a passion for solving the problem of hunger, said that it didn’t have to be this way. We had enough to feed everyone, we just needed to eat slightly differently, but still deliciously and healthily, which she attempted to prove by filling the book with recipes. The revelation electrified and changed my life.

Recently The Washington Post ran an article on the book. It contains this gem:

For Lappé, now 77, focusing her research on the merits of a plant-centered diet was inevitable, even though she was not herself a vegetarian at that time, because it was clear that growing legumes for consumption was more cost-effective and eco-conscious than raising animals for food. What she didn’t expect was that her research would catch the eye of Betty Ballantine, co-owner of Ballantine Books, a popular paperback publisher. Ballantine’s instincts that Lappé’s ideas would capture the attention of a nation were correct. Lappé says, “I once asked Betty, ‘Why did you take a chance on me?’ I’d never written a book before, and she said, ‘If you couldn’t write it, I could do that. It was the ideas I loved.’ And because she took that chance, my life was transformed.”

The process of transforming Lappé’s life transformed my own and who knows how many other lives as well. That decision to write this book and to publish it was magical. It didn’t have to happen. It happened because Lappé didn’t shrink from writing her truth, despite feeling incompetent at writing a book. It happened because Betty Ballantine encouraged it and backed it with hard dollars.

We writers play with lightning. Lightning isn’t limited to non-fiction. I think it is more commonly found in fiction, which slips into our skin and speaks to us of truths that non-fiction can’t touch. It takes courage to write bare like this. It also takes courage to put money on the line to publish it, whether as an Indie or in Traditional publishing. But it’s terribly important to share our truth and our ideas, in fiction or in non-fiction. Even writing games, movies, tv shows and the vast expanse of media today can channel lightning. We do not know who we will influence or where our lightning will land.

What book that transformed you? When did you touch lightning? And when will you next channel lightning through your own body and onto your own pages?

Be well, friends. May your sparks fly!

2 Comments Add yours

  1. I’d say a few books have changed my life over time, but the first and maybe most influential were the Chronicles of Narnia, specifically “The Horse and His Boy” and “The Silver Chair,” by CS Lewis. I literally learned to read on those books. Reading them over and over, finding books on tape of them and listening to the same book on repeat while following along with the book. They instilled a passion for reading in me that has never gone away.

    1. I also loved The Chronicles of Narnia. There is a deep decency at the core of them. And they are great adventure stories, of course!

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