Diet for a Small Planet
AuthorFrances Moore Lappé
IllustratorKathleen Zimmerman and Ralph Iwamoto
CountryUnited States
SubjectCookbook, vegetarianism
PublisherBallantine Books
Publication date
LC ClassTX392 .L27

Diet for a Small Planet is a 1971 book by Frances Moore Lappé. It was a bestseller in the West, and argues for the potential role of soy as a superior form of protein. It demonstrates the environmental impact of meat production and a contributor to global food scarcity.[1] She argued for environmental vegetarianism—practicing a vegetarian lifestyle out of concerns over animal-based industries and the production of animal-based products.

The book has sold over three million copies and was groundbreaking for arguing that world hunger is not caused by a lack of food but by ineffective food policy. In addition to information on meat production and its impact on hunger, the book features simple rules for a healthy diet and hundreds of meat-free recipes. "Its mix of recipes and analysis typified radicals' faith in the ability to combine personal therapy with political activism."[2]


Protein combining

Knowing that her audience would be skeptical that a vegetarian diet could supply sufficient protein, much of the book is devoted to introducing the method of protein combining. With this method of eating, different plant foods are taken together so that their combined amino acid pattern better matches that required by our bodies, termed "net protein utilization". The general principle of combining foods for optimum net protein utilization combines adjacent pairs of the following: [dairy] with [grains] with [legumes] with [seeds].

But while Lappé was correct that combining would indeed result in a more meat-like protein profile, eating a variety of plant foods throughout the day will provide one with all the amino acids required by humans, in amounts which satisfy growth and maintenance. There is no need to combine foods at individual meals.[3]

Lappé admitted in the 10th anniversary 1981 version of the book that sufficient protein was easier to get than she had thought at first:[4]

In 1971 I stressed protein complementarity because I assumed that the only way to get enough protein ... was to create a protein as usable by the body as animal protein. In combating the myth that meat is the only way to get high-quality protein, I reinforced another myth. I gave the impression that in order to get enough protein without meat, considerable care was needed in choosing foods. Actually, it is much easier than I thought.
With three important exceptions, there is little danger of protein deficiency in a plant food diet. The exceptions are diets very heavily dependent on [1] fruit or on [2] some tubers, such as sweet potatoes or cassava, or on [3] junk food (refined flours, sugars, and fat). Fortunately, relatively few people in the world try to survive on diets in which these foods are virtually the sole source of calories. In all other diets, if people are getting enough calories, they are virtually certain of getting enough protein.

In some traditional cuisines there is a balance of 70% whole grains to 30% legumes, which may vary to 80% grains with 20% legumes. This tradition can be seen expressed in three regions:[5]

Other recent authors mention that traditional cuisine in Africa combines sorghum or millet with ground nuts.[6] The first edition, published by Ballantine, was sponsored by the Friends of the Earth organization. It includes recipes based on the complementary combinations and was followed by a collection, Recipes for a Small Planet by Ellen Buchman Ewald, with an introduction written by Lappé. A film carrying Lappé's message was distributed by Bullfrog Films.[7]

Additional books

See also


  1. ^ Hartke, Kristen (2021-09-20). "'Diet for a Small Planet' helped spark a food revolution. 50 years later, it's evolving". SFGATE. Retrieved 2021-09-24.
  2. ^ Warren mBelasco (1989) Appetite for Change: how the counterculture took on the food industry 1966 — 1988, page 46, Pantheon Books ISBN 0394543998
  3. ^ Complementary Protein Myth Won't Go Away! Archived 2010-04-11 at the Wayback Machine, Jeff Novick, M.S., R.D., Healthy Times (May 2003)
  4. ^ F. M. Lappé (1981) Diet for a Small Planet (ISBN 0-345-32120-0), p. 162; emphasis in original
  5. ^ Lappé 1981 page 161
  6. ^ Hanson, Thor (2016). The Triumph of Seeds: How Grains, Nuts, Kernels, Pulses, and Pips Conquered the Plant Kingdom and Shaped Human History. Basic Books. ISBN 978-0465097401.
  7. ^ Bullfrog Films (1973) Diet for a Small Planet, 28 minutes.
  8. ^ Diet for a Hot Planet, Small Planet Institute