Earth Day 2010: Power to the People

  • Article by: LEE SVITAK DEAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 22, 2010 - 9:30 AM

What a long, strange trip it's been as our notions about food have changed over four decades.

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As Earth Day turns 40 today, it gets me thinking about all the wacky notions advocated by the long-haired, tie-dyed, wire-rimmed youthful hipsters of the early '70s. (Yes, I was among them.)

You know, those wild anarchists who read the Whole Earth Catalog and may as well have been called "nattering nabobs of negativism," to recycle a phrase from then Vice President Spiro Agnew. They not only thought that plenty was wrong with the world, but also believed fervently that they could make it right by encouraging a few small changes in our lives, such as eating brown rice.

We tend to think of Earth Day as a celebration of the three Rs (reduce-reuse-recycle). But many of the rallying cries of those '70s activists were food-related, from how we grew it to how we picked it, sold it and cooked it.

At the time, no one realized it was the beginning of a food revolution, since much of the action took place out of the public eye -- in kitchens and co-ops, at farms and farmers markets. There were no leaders and certainly no celebrities in those early days, just regular folks scooping up bulk foods and bringing their own reusable containers to stores in a modest effort to change the world. It truly was a "people's" revolution that occurred so quietly and completely that outrageous actions became mainstream in what seems to have been the blink of an eye.

Compare it with the self-proclaimed "Food Revolution" of today, with slick made-for-television productions by celebrity British chef Jamie Oliver and his predictable on-camera tears and hugs. Makes you wonder who will do the real work of creating change once the cameras are off.

So what were those too-crazy-to-consider, brazen ideas offered forth as Earth Day rolled around for the first time in 1970?

• Eat less meat.

"But we need meat," said the critics.

• Eat more vegetables.

"We don't like vegetables, especially anything green," they whined.

• Avoid food waste.

"We paid for it, and we can do whatever we want with it," they snorted.

• Grow our own food.

"That's what our grandparents did," the critics scoffed.

Buy in bulk.

"We don't need to. We shop often," they argued.

• Be gentle with the Earth.

"Oh, please," they murmured as they rolled their eyes. "It's a big place."

• Keep water pure.

"Have you seen how much water there is on the planet?" they laughed.

• Avoid pesticides.

"We want our produce to be perfect," the critics insisted.

• Buy organic food.

"Isn't all food organic?" they smirked.

• Eat whole grains.

"Like eating sandpaper," they said, shaking their heads.

• Pay fair wages to growers and harvesters.

"Not our responsibility," they shrugged.

• Conserve energy.

"We've got enough to keep us going for centuries," they said.

• Reuse bags and containers for food storage.

"Next thing you know, they'll be telling us not to smoke," they sputtered.

• Stay away from processed food and make your own.

"Why would we cook when a company can do it for us?"

• Avoid Styrofoam cups and other nonbiodegradable single-use items.

"Good grief," they chortled. "Why?"

• Share extra food with those in need.

"They'll probably sue us."

• Buy fresh, local foods.

"We like our strawberries in January and asparagus in December, thank you very much."

For all those who persisted in the effort for good, healthful food (we didn't worry too much if it tasted good back then), despite naysayers and roadblocks, a big thanks is due.

This day is for you. Eat well.

Lee Svitak Dean • 612-673-1749

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