Across America, Eating for a Cause

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Photo Courtesy of Josh Viertel


I was lucky to attend an Eat-In in Chicago, on August 26, organized by Slow Food Chicago's Lynn Peemoeller and her team. It rained all morning, and, as if by divine intervention, stopped about 20 minutes before the event kicked off.

A big, beautiful table sat in the middle of Daley Plaza, abounding with local peaches and plums. People from all over the city had come for the meal: young people from Growing Power, friends from Windy City Harvest, representatives from the Illinois Local and Organic Food and Farm Task Force, and state representative, soon-to-be senator Julie Hamos.

The whole staff of Angelic Organics showed up wearing cardboard hats with messages like "I grow my own tomatoes: Ask me how," "I keep bees: Ask me how," "I raise goats: Ask me how!".

Just being right isn't enough. No movement is worth being part of that doesn't inspire creativity, art, a sense of humor to change the system.

And the Cornettes were there. They were my favorites. These advocates for urban agriculture made corn-ear costumes, salt and pepper shaker costumes, and a stick of butter costume. And their costumes were made out of cut up seed-bags for round-up ready, genetically modified corn. Good movements incorporate good theater. Just being right isn't enough. No movement is worth being part of that doesn't inspire creativity, art, a sense of humor to change the system. In Chicago, they were inspired.

On Labor Day, we are going to see this kind of creativity and dedication all over the country, in 300 locations, in every state as people gather for a Day of Action to kick off the Time for Lunch campaign. The campaign aims to update the National School Lunch Program (which expires in Sept. 2009) so that schools have the ability to serve food that benefits our children's health, rather than the fast food and junk food that makes them sick. We're telling Congress that it's time to provide America's children with real food: food that tastes good, is good for us, is good for the planet, and is good for the people who work to grow and prepare it.

You should come to one. They are easy to find. Just use this map or search by state. While you're there, sign the Time for Lunch petition.

In Santa Rosa, Calif., 300 people will gather on a six-acre community garden that serves the Latino community in the area. The organizers are a few of many who have translated their materials into Spanish, and they will be busting open a snail piñata.

At the Eat-In in Marksville, La., participants are going to install a school garden for their public school. In Dover, N.H., they are repairing a greenhouse so that a local pubic school can use it to grow vegetables year round.

In Asheville, N.C., organizers have been running cooking classes for kids in low-income neighborhoods, so that, by the time Labor Day comes around, they will be able to cook food they believe in and share it at their Eat-In.

Originally we were concerned that we would be over-represented in San Francisco and New York, and that, in states like Mississippi and Iowa we'd have a hard time getting folks to organize. As of today, Mississippi is having three Eat-Ins and Iowa is having five. Georgia is having 13, and Wisconsin is having 16! In the end, when you look at the map, it seems as though the density of these events follows population density. People, no matter the state, no matter their political affiliation, want real food for kids in public schools. Who wouldn't?

Some of these Eat-Ins are small, some are big. I had no doubt that San Fran and Berkeley could organize events with more than 200 people. But there will be over 200 people in Atlanta, Phoenix, Boulder and Denver.

Some towns are having more than one event. Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles are having six. Atlanta, where I will be spending Labor Day is having ten. Milwaukee is having eleven!

At some events, state and federal legislators are speaking, including Representative Barbara Lee, leader of Congressional Black Caucus and Representative Lynn Woolsey, co-leader of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

When we began working on this campaign, it was important to us that it be bigger than Slow Food USA, that anyone could attend, that anyone could organize an event, and that the campaign bring in new leaders, new groups, new constituents. More than 40 percent of the Eat-Ins have been planned by people and organizations not previously associated with Slow Food's work. They are concerned parents, neighborhood groups, PTAs, Lions Clubs, school administrators, and church leaders. To me, this is a sign that the movement is growing.

There are Eat-Ins in public parks, on farms and in community gardens, in schoolyards, churchyards, backyards, and at block parties. These events, the people who organized them, and the places where they are gathering, say something important to me. They say that the kind of community and neighborhood I believe in, that I want to share, is alive and well here.

So, this morning I'm going to the Ditmas Farmers Market in Brooklyn. I'm going to buy some food from the farmers I know, and tomorrow, I'm going to share it with the people I meet at an Eat-In. Please join me. Bring some food you believe in.

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Josh Viertel is the president of Slow Food USA.

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