Food Day, on October 24th, will highlight the good, bad, and ugly of the way we consume food in this country

Can Food Day, which is on October 24th, do for the growing food movement what Earth Day did for the nascent environmental movement back in 1970?

The organizers, the Center for Science in the Public Interest in D.C., certainly hope so. A national, grassroots campaign, Food Day is designed to celebrate what we eat while drawing our attention to the need to overhaul this country’s food system from farm to fork. In this way it is similar to Earth Day which sparked widespread interest in the fragile nature of our planet.

Events planned for Monday, including in Berkeley and around the Bay Area, will highlight the good, bad, and ugly of the way we consume food in this country.

Simply put, how we grow, transport, process, market, and eat is not sustainable for the environment or our health, said Michael F. Jacobson, executive director of CSPI and the creator of Food Day in a recent piece for The Atlantic. Dietary diseases such as obesity, diabetes, and heart attacks are rising at alarming rates. Industrially raised meat sucks up energy, pollutes the land and water, and is cruel to beast and worker alike.

Even in places like Berkeley where local, seasonal, organic, sustainable, and fresh food is available in abundance, too many people lack access to good grub and/or go hungry or malnourished.We are a nation, to quote UC Berkeley visiting scholar Raj Patel, of the “stuffed and starved.” Food Day, whose advisory board includes Michael Pollan and Alice Waters, local heavy hitters on the edible revolution front, seeks to mobilize citizens to step up efforts to reform what’s wrong with our food system (hello Farm Bill). The campaign has six admirable goals:

1. Reduce diet-related disease by promoting healthy food.

2. Support sustainable farms and cut subsidies to agribusiness.

3. Expand access to food and end hunger.

4. Protect the environment and animals by reforming factory farms.

5. Promote health by curbing junk-food marketing to kids.

6. Obtain fair pay and safe conditions for food and farm workers.

Tara Firma Farms: one of the farms on Ecology Center tour to mark Food Day

The Berkeley City Council voted to proclaim October 24th Food Day, and to adopt the Seattle Farm Bill Principles. This is a set of six guiding principles that could serve as a framework for policy discussions around the renewal in 2012 of the federal Farm Bill, the primary piece of legislation that determines the nation’s food and agriculture policy.

“Sometimes it takes action at the local level to help to create change at the federal level,” said Ecology Center Executive Director Martin Bourque. “This may be a case — as with the Kyoto Protocol and climate change — where cities lead the way with innovative government strategies. We need a Food Bill not a Farm Bill.”

On Monday, the Ecology Center will mark Food Day with a tour of local women-owned farms for its members, as part of a series of activities in honor of what many hope will become an annual event.

Food Day activities will get major play in and around the UC Berkeley campus on Monday, said Kristen Rasmussen, a workplace wellness dietician for faculty and staff at Cal who serves as the university’s Food Day coordinator. Highlights include a BYO Lunch Picnic. (Read the full list of events.)

Speakers include Food Day co-organizer and UC alum Lilia Smelkova and Appetite for Profit author Michele Simon. “This is an excellent opportunity to talk about what’s wrong with our broken food system,” said Simon. “But we don’t want to do a lot of complaining. We also want to talk about solutions and what individuals can do to improve food for themselves and their communities, both locally and nationally. The time is ripe to organize around this issue.”

The Berkeley Student Food Collective plans on hosting a sandwich-making event during the day (11 am-4 pm) at its storefront at 2440 Bancroft across from campus, and in the evening will co-host Edible Occupation 101: Careers in Sustainable Food and Agriculture, a panel discussion featuring Sprouts Cooking Club founder Karen Rogers, local farmer Esperanza Pallana, and urban agriculture planner Nathan McClintock.

Every Monday the student stand The Local sells fresh organic produce on campus. Photo: Courtesy The Local

The Local, the student-run organic produce stand that is on campus every Monday (Upper Sproul Plaza, 10 am-2 pm) will be open for business as usual and will also distribute free samples of Cheese Board wholegrain bread.

“Though the food movement is growing, many still see it as exclusive,” said The Local’s Mickey Davis, a 21-year-old senior in the Nutrition Sciences Department. “Not everyone is aware of the peril our food system is in, and a dangerous number of people do not understand the severity of the situation we are in health-wise, environmentally, or economically, and how the food system is closely related to that. It is important to invest time, celebration, and awareness to these issues on Food Day, to help spread the word to others who may otherwise not know.”

While Berkeley has much to celebrate on Food Day, there’s still plenty of work ahead on the food front, even in this food-focused and food-forward town.

“We can take pride in being early adopters as far as farmers’ markets and CSAs, and for being leaders on school food reform, and on the forefront of community gardens and urban agriculture,” said Bourque at the Ecology Center. “But even in Berkeley, with its very advanced alternative food system, we have large numbers of people dealing with diet-related illnesses and huge disparities still when it comes to access and affordability. We need to keep fighting to make good food available to every person in our community.”

Sarah Henry is the voice behind Lettuce Eat Kale. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Cheese Board Collective: 40 years in the Gourmet Ghetto [07.08.11]
Author Raj Patel’s food revolution: From chips to salad [04.01.11]
Berkeley Bites: Alice Waters [10.22.10]
Berkeley Bites: Berkeley Student Food Collective [10.08.10]
Berkeley Bites: Ben Feldman, Farmers’ Market man [06.18.10]
Sprouts for sprouts: When kids learn to cook [02.01.10]
Michael Pollan talks food rules at Ferry Building [01.23.10]