BRATTLEBORO -- Frances Moore Lappé knows that it can get pretty discouraging fighting for real social change.
Lappé wrote her landmark best-selling book, "Diet for a Small Planet," in 1971 to draw connections between the industrial world's inefficient food system and world hunger.
The book has sold 3 million copies, but today there are just as many hungry people in the world as there were when she wrote the book more than four decades ago.
In the face of such dispiriting statistics it is easy to feel like humanity is not moving forward, Lappé told a crowd of several hundred people at Thursday morning's Slow Living Summit plenary session.
But she said to make a difference in the world people have to change they way they think, and the real change will follow.
"We can reverse these negative conditions," she said from the stage of the Latchis Theatre. "It's not possible to know what is possible so we are free to go and work for the world we want."
This year's Slow Living Summit brought more than 300 people to Brattleboro to talk about sustainability, how to create resilient communities and how to work toward inner transformation.
The three-day conference continued throughout the day Friday leading up to Gallery Walk at 5:30 p.m., and then the Strolling of the Heifers Parade today.
During Lappé's talk Thursday she told the crowd that global economic and environmental crisis can be stifling for those who are working for change.
She said the problems force people into creating thoughts built on stasis, separateness and scarcity, and these thoughts, in turn leave activists feeling frustrated and alone.
Changing that thought process, Lappé said, is the first step toward making more positive change.
She talked about groups of people around the world who have been able to make substantial changes in their communities by taking those first steps and then by working for real change.
She spoke about a group of women in India that refused to accept sexism and unhealthy agricultural practices. In 20 years they have transformed farming practices in their village and established a more resilient economy.
In Mali, a group of farmers stood up to the companies that were trying to sell genetically modified seeds and in the process created a stronger cooperative by working together.
In the United States, Lappé said there are positive steps being taken all over that give her hope.
The increase in the number of food coops, farmers' markets, community gardens and colleges that are committing to sustanability points to groups that are making local change toward a better world.
She said the gap between the world that social activists want, and the one they think they are trapped in, is most easily bridged through positive thought, what she called ecomind.
"We can create new tribes," she said. "We can align our fears in a new way. When we rethink our fears we should expect surprises. We are right where we should be."
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 279, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Howard on Twitter @HowardReformer.