The Future of Food Day
Brie Mazurek, CUESA Staff
October 28, 2011
From a star-studded eat-in at Times Square to a harvest festival at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, the first national Food Day swept the country on and around October 24, with more than 2,300 community events in 50 states. So, what exactly was Food Day, and does America need another national day of awareness?
Started by the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest, Food Day, modeled after Earth Day, aspires to bring together millions of Americans under the banner of healthy, sustainable food. Events took place in schools, churches, farmers markets, restaurants, and public spaces, providing a wide tent for groups to educate and advocate for a better food system.
Throughout San Francisco, there were potlucks, gardening workshops, cooking demos, food giveaways, crop swaps, panel talks, and city proclamations. At the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, CUESA’s harvest festival included apple cider pressing, DIY pickling, and a children’s bake sale by Sprouts Cooking Club.
Adding to a statewide effort, Ferry Plaza market-goers joined more than 16,000 citizens and 66 advocacy groups (including CUESA) in signing California’s Food Day petition, which urges Governor Jerry Brown and congressional leaders to support a fair and healthy farm bill. “California has always been a role model in the good food movement,” said Food Day National Campaign Manager Lilia Smelkova. “We hope that this petition will serve as a catalyst toward policy change.”
Celebrating Victories and Looking Ahead
On the steps of City Hall, Supervisors David Chiu and Eric Mar, Director of Food Systems Paula Jones, and other city leaders issued Food Day proclamations, celebrating the growth of farmers markets and urban gardens throughout the city. They noted recent accomplishments, such as the passage of the Healthy Meal Incentive Ordinance, which places nutritional requirements on kids’ meals served with toys, and urban agriculture zoning code changes that legalize the sale of garden produce within city limits.
While these local policies have put San Francisco on the national stage, speakers stressed that Food Day was not just an occasion to celebrate, but to also push for greater legislative reform. Supervisor Eric Mar called for systemic change, praising the work of the grassroots food movement in challenging the corporate food system. “My hope is that we keep organizing and advocating and building coalitions for food justice every day.”
Juliet Sims, program coordinator at the Oakland-based Prevention Institute, which took the lead in organizing California’s Food Day efforts, noted that federal and state nutritional assistance programs, such as Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) and CalFresh, are under the threat of severe cuts.
“Food Day reflects the momentum that Californians have been creating for decades to advance healthy food policy,” said Sims. “It’s a time to strengthen our resolve to continue to fight for an equitable food system that doesn’t just have big agribusiness’, food and beverage’s, and chain restaurants’ interests in mind.”
Farm Bill at Stake
Meanwhile, as Food Day events were being planned around the country, last week leaders of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees announced a fast-track plan to submit a draft farm bill by November 1 to the congressional Super Committee convened in August to reduce America’s deficit. The new bill is anticipated to cut $23 billion from the food and agriculture budget, with large hits to conservation and nutrition programs and little impact on commodity crop subsidies.
Through this surprise plan, a new farm bill could be written behind closed doors by members of the ag committees, without input from the rest of Congress. While food advocates are already less than optimistic about the next bill’s prospects, this “secret farm bill” accelerates and sidesteps the usual democratic process. California, despite being the nation’s largest producer of agricultural products, is underrepresented on these committees, and will have less say in the final outcome.
Although the game has changed, it is not over. Advocacy groups are continuing to fight for a fair farm bill and educate the public about how national policy impacts the food system. Environmental Working Group and Roots of Change, two of the lead sponsors of California’s Food Day petition, believe the campaign sends a strong message to state officials that food, health, and the environment are state priorities. “This petition should clarify for our political leaders that food and farming must move back to the center of our national agenda,” said Michael Dimock, president of Roots of Change, in a recent press release.
While the legacy of our first Food Day is to still be seen, the coordinated efforts of thousands of individuals and organizations speak volumes about the growing importance of food, health, and farm issues in the national consciousness. “The huge success of Food Day shows that the moment is ripe to prioritize food that is sustainable, healthy, and delicious,” said Smelkova.
Top and bottom Food Day photos by John Orvis (www.flickr.com/orvised).