The inaugural Food Day will not, as you might think, take place on Monday, Oct. 24. The inaugural Food Day actually took place some 36 years ago, when the Center for Science in the Public Interest launched the event to raise awareness of raising food prices, world hunger and — doesn’t this sound familiar? — “the declining quality of the American diet.”
Back in 1975, the idea was to piggyback on the still-incipient Earth Day movement, draw attention to the increasing industrialization of the food supply and slowly build awareness of America’s imminent health crisis. Food Day, alas, lasted only until 1977.
“We ran out of money and energy, and we put it aside,” says CSPI founder and executive director Michael Jacobson, who wonders where the locavore/Slow Food/organic movements would be today if only Food Day had kept pace with Earth Day.
Fast forward to 2011, and CSPI is ready to launch Food Day 2.0, as Jacobson calls it. The second iteration of this grass-roots event has been in the planning stages for about a year, and it shows. There are 1,800 activities around the country, including more than two dozen in the Washington area alone, such as this grass-roots campaign to improve public school lunches in Fairfax.
What’s more, Food Day organizers have put together a curriculum for teachers, developed a recipe booklet (with dishes provided by chefs and cooks such as Dan Barber, Ellie Krieger, Mario Batali and Washington’s own Nora Pouillon of Restaurant Nora), organized a Web campaign to convince Congress to support Food Day’s goals and provided you with online tools to host your own event (or attend an existing one). Epicurious has even joined the party: The Web site is encouraging people to organize potluck suppers and dinner parties to raise money for food banks and charities.
Pouillon, one of Washington’s leading voices for organic food, recently co-wrote an essay with Susan Bass, senior vice president for the Earth Day Network, in which they argued for the importance of Food Day events to give children a real hands-on experience.
“Although modern technology has helped educate today’s youth about the wide diversity of plant and animal species and the interconnectedness of food production with the health of our planet, an intellectual understanding is no substitute for the keen emotional attachment and sense of ownership that come from experiencing the bounty of nature firsthand,” the pair wrote.
Further distancing the younger generation from the roots of our food supply is the popularity of fast food. Each day, one in four Americans visits a fast food restaurant. Forty percent of American meals are eaten outside the home. Shockingly, children often recognize the McDonald’s logo before their own name, and 25 percent of their total vegetables are consumed in the form of potato chips and French fries.
Farmer’s markets, which are on the rise across the nation, offer a promising opportunity to help children connect the dots between the food on their plate, their personal welfare, and the sustainability of our planet. In selling locally grown, natural and organic produce and products, farmers have become small scale teachers and naturalists, educating consumers about the superior quality of their products and helping children and families recognize the relationship between food production and the earth’s seasons and ecosystems.
Education is a major goal of Food Day, acknowledges Jacobson. Organizers hope to educate people on the issues right in their own communities. But on a larger scale, Food Day is also about agriculture policies and moving the country, as a whole, “in a direction that’s healthier for consumers and for the environment,” the executive director notes.
“We’re not focusing on a particular bill” to pass, adds Jacobson. “We are encouraging people to focus on city and state [food and agriculture] policies.”
Despite the grass-roots nature of many events around the country, there are also some high-profile gatherings and displays. One is an event that Jacobson is calling an “Eat Real Eat In” on Times Square in New York City: Batali, Krieger, filmmaker Morgan Spurlock, nutritionist Marion Nestle and others will sit down at a communal table on Monday and have a serious discussion about various food issues, as an audience watches.
Dole Food is publicizing the event by placing Food Day stickers on approximately 100 million bananas, while Bolthouse Farms will do the same on about 11 million bags of carrots. You’ll have to be seriously out of touch — or seriously away from supermarkets — to miss the Food Day message. CSPI has spent nearly $750,000 to make sure you don’t.
But what advice would Jacobson give a newbie that feels overwhelmed by the massive scale of Food Day?
“Two things,” Jacobson says. “They could go to our Web site and attend an event that is being held...They could also celebrate Food Day with an especially healthy and delicious meal they serve at home...and have some of the conversation be about the food issues that concerns them.”