Back in 2003, Theresa Marquez had an idea. “I always thought Earth Day should have a meal,” she says, thinking back on that time. “Every other holiday got a meal. Why not Earth Day?”

Marquez, then marketing director for Organic Valley, and a little team of writers set to work on a concept that became known as Earth Dinner. They created a series of events and worked with author Douglas Love to craft a card deck full of questions and quotes to inspire conversation around the dinner table. In 2004, they kicked off the first Earth Dinner with non-profit partners Eco Education and Social Venture Network. (Read more about Theresa and Douglas below.)

Original Earth Dinner poster from 2004.

Original Earth Dinner poster from 2004.

The rules were (and still are) simple:

  • Have a meal of local, seasonal and organic foods.
  • Know the story behind the food on your table.
  • Inspire meaningful conversation about where your food comes from and your connection to food and to the earth.

Earth Dinner is an intentional meal, time for us to purposefully sit down at the table together (something that doesn’t seem to happen much in today’s rush-rush culture) and talk. Tell stories. Learn something new about the people we have known for years.

Environmentalist Wackos?

That first year started off with a bang. The Earth Dinner and its message was celebrated nationwide by partners, dinner participants and the media…all except for one. Enter the infamous Rush Limbaugh. Unsurprisingly, he was not impressed.

“A coalition of ten environmentalist wacko groups is pushing to replace Thanksgiving with something called ‘Earth Dinner,’ a new national holiday. A touchy-feely alternative to Thanksgiving. Move over Thanksgiving! Just in time for Earth Day, America’s sprouting a powerful new holiday tradition.”

He went on, with characteristic sarcasm, to deride Earth Dinner as an attack on capitalism by “the left” and urge listeners to visit the Earth Dinner website en masse to overload the servers. But in the process, he also managed to explain what the Earth Dinner was all about and what people could find at the website. Thank you, Rush Limbaugh, for giving the fledgling Earth Dinner free publicity to your millions of listeners!

At an event later that year, the Earth Dinner organizers celebrated the campaign’s success (and their sense of humor) by presenting each organizer with a certificate:

Lush Bimbo Environmental Wacko Award: We hereby honor you for speaking your truth in the face of ridicule, for having the audacity to want to clean up and protect the environment, for believing in taking care of the human family, and for putting the needs of the world before your own.

Clearly, they’d embraced their new new title.

“People are hungry for meaningful rituals that emphasize community over commerce,” said Marquez in 2004. “Earth Dinner will help us get back in touch with where our food comes from. Our simple, everyday food purchases have a huge impact on the health of the Earth and our personal health.”

Start planning your own Earth Dinner by checking out our “how-to” section of articles on various types of Earth Dinners, and download helpful resources at “Start Planning Your Earth Dinner“!

And remember: It can be Earth Day every day!

Mother of Earth Dinner: Theresa Marquez

TheresaMarquez_03-11_47772A pioneer of the natural foods movement, Theresa has been a passionate advocate for organic food and farming since 1978. Well known for her unwavering belief that organic is the key to solving many of the challenges we face today in the food system, Theresa has demonstrated that organic can make a difference for farmers, citizens and the planet. Theresa and a wonderful team of creative minds birthed the Earth Dinner idea back in 2003, when Theresa was chief marketing executive for Organic Valley / CROPP Cooperative. Today she is honored to serve the cooperative as its first mission executive, a position in which she can ensure the CROPP mission will be upheld into the next generation of cooperative leadership and pursue her passion for educating about and advocating for organic food and farming. Read more of Theresa’s Rootstock musings.

Author of the Earth Dinner Card Deck: Douglas Love

DouglasLove_headshot_web sizeAuthor of more than 25 books and three-time Parent’s Choice Award winner for his Disney and HBO television series, Douglas Love is a content pioneer. His World Book Encyclopedia learning websites boast more than 26 million subscribers in more than 30 countries. His career was launched in the mid-‘80s when he co-wrote Marlo Thomas’s Free to Be…You and Me for the stage, published by Rogers and Hammerstein Theatre Library. He has been the Kid’s Creativity Expert for ABC News, and his online product, Dramatic Learning, is the largest classroom-based arts education program in the world.