What do the Pilgrims, George Washington, Sarah J. Hale, and Abraham Lincoln all have in common? Hint: they liked heritage breed turkeys. Yes, they all contributed to the formation of the national Thanksgiving Day holiday. We all know the pilgrim story. Some may not know that President Washington offered the first proclamation on November 26, 1789, declaring a national day of thanksgiving. It was not until November 1863, after the July battles of Gettysburg and Vicksburg, which sealed the fate of the south, that Lincoln renewed the tradition and declared the last Thursday of that month a day of thanks. Sarah J. Hale, a magazine editor, is credited with planting the idea in the weary leader’s head.
Each year from that time, with the exception of one year during the Great Depression, every president issued a similar proclamation on the same day. In 1941 the Congress formerly established the holiday we know today. So we have a long history of giving thanks, and I am grateful for that. It is an important social and civic act too little appreciated in our time.
Maybe it is because so many of us feel things have gotten off track. Right or left, urban or rural, rich or poor, most all of us seemed perpetually perturbed by the state of the world, the nation, or our communities. As a consequence, we are adept at, blaming, attacking, and/or ignoring, particularly when directed at leaders. It is easy for us to forget our role in the many messes and to blame “them,” the damn leaders.
Particularly as activists, we are constantly asking for change. There is always more to be done, and often, what is getting done is not good enough. But we too rarely stop to acknowledge the good that is taking place.
Roots of Change (ROC) has decided that this Thanksgiving season is the perfect time to pause and show our gratitude to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for taking an unprecedented step towards making a sustainable regional food system a real priority through the “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” initiative. We have just launched a letter writing campaign to offer thanks. I am not shocked, but a bit disappointed that we have gotten negative comments about sending a positive message to Secretary Vilsack and Deputy Secretary Merrigan.
ROC understands that there are still many issues that are not getting addressed by the USDA, that contradictions in policy and message exist, and that there are ways that “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” could be improved. What can one realistically expect in this day of polarized politics in which corporate interest too often controls debate.
The bottom line, though, is that we want to acknowledge that the USDA is making a real, risky and unprecedented effort to support regional food systems. Regional food systems are the best road to agricultural and food literacy I can image right now. They will help sustainable farmers and ranchers, the healthcare system and local economies. Yet, we must realize that many industrial-scale-cheap-food manufacturers who benefit from subsidies and over production of undifferentiated commodities are seeking to undermine this recent initiative.
A wonderful note. We absolutely need to find ways to remain positive and be grateful for the work great people like you and many other advocates have done. It is so essential that positivity infect the movement to fix America's broken food system. It is so easy for all of us, with our individual passion projects, to see that our particular issue isn't gaining the traction as quickly as we like. And that can be very troubling. Nevertheless, we can take a moment from the activism and passion and just be grateful for small steps we are taking.
Thank you for this post today and Happy Thanksgiving
Bravo for taking the positive approach Michael!