I’m writing from my almost native state of Florida to wish everyone a Happy New Year!
It’s kind of a peculiar tradition, isn’t it? Every January 1 wishing people- many of whom you haven’t spoken with in months or perhaps only communicate with once a year – that they are happy, or at least begin their year happy. I suppose it’s a projection of oneself to be happy. It’s also part of basic human nature that goes back to the beginning of civilization, recognizing the beginning and closing of a natural cycle.
I read that the first known New Year revelers were the Babylonians, who more than 4,000 years ago chose the spring equinox (mid-March) to ring in the New Year. The Egyptians preferred celebrating at the start of fall (September 21) and the Greeks preferred the winter solstice (December 21). According to Britannica.com the Roman’s started celebrating the New Year on Jan. 1 in 153 BC. For European Christians that date moved around from March 25 and December 25 for hundreds of years until the Roman Catholic Church made January 1 the official New Year’s Day in the Gregorian calendar in 1582. European countries slowly adopted January 1 as the day to celebrate the New Year over the next few centuries. England didn’t make it official until 1752 and Russia waited until 1918. The Jewish New Year is still celebrated on Rosh Hashanah, which is determined through the lunar calendar and falls between September and October every year. Chinese New Year celebrations last for a month, which start in late January or early February. I can go on with all the different celebrations, but the point is, globally, we all recognize that the Earth has revolved around the sun one more time and we’ve all gotten a year older.
As the Earth starts its newest solar orbit, I suppose now is as good a time as any to reflect on the past year and look forward to the New Year. For many of my colleagues entwined in the so-called “Good Food Movement,” 2012 saw modest improvements in the food system and some significant setbacks. In 2012, the Organic Trade Association reported that the US organic food market outpaced conventional food sales growth and the organic food industry created more than half a million jobs. We saw a steady increase in farmers markets across the country. Many are now accepting SNAP (food stamps) and other federal nutrition benefits, such as WIC. Sadly, on the political front, we’ve seemed to hit a roadblock with a stalled Farm Bill and the defeat of California’s Proposition 37, which would have required all genetically modified food sold in stores carry a label.
Instead of focusing on the specific challenges we have ahead of us, I wanted to remind all of my friends that like every “movement for change,” it takes perseverance, patience, and time to make any significant headway. As for those who think we’re all a bunch of ivory tower elitist tilting against windmills, we would all do well to remember the words of Mark Twain who said, “A man with a new idea is a crank — until the idea succeeds.”
Which reminds me of a Mahatma Gandhi quote, which Dr. Robert Lawrence, Director, Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, often repeated to the staff while I was there. “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” It’s a great quote, and when Dr. Lawrence said it, I always found it inspiring. However, like so many things, the quote may not be as accurate as we all thought. While searching for the exact wording of the quote, I came to find out that there is a dispute over whether Gandhi actually said this. The cool thing is (this might be of great interest for Dr. Lawrence who has lived in Baltimore for decades) a close variation of the quote was made in Baltimore during a 1914 US trade union address by Nicholas Klein. “And, my friends, in this story you have a history of this entire movement. First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. And then they attack you and want to burn you. And then they build monuments to you. And that, is what is going to happen to the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America.”
I’m not sure that by quoting Mark Twain, Mahatma Gandhi and an early 20th Century union leader actually helps ward off any elitists barbs, but I do believe now is a good time to take a close look at the people who are working for change in the food system. I haven’t been privy to any national surveys, but my unscientific polling shows that the “movement” continues to lack significant diversity. I believe we lack diversity, not only among many cultural groups, but also among the people who make up the so-called Middle America. This means we need to be willing to talk and work with people who don’t agree with us. We need to help everyone understand that the way large industrial-style farms are producing the so-called cheap food that they’re eating now is decimating the environment – polluting our water, our air and destroying our disappearing and what used to be plentiful rich soil. We need to explain that responsibly grown whole foods are not just healthier for us to eat, but over the long term they will help protect public health and the environment for generations to come.