Food Day: Working to Reform Our Food Systems From Farm to Fork

The executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest explains why he conceived of Food Day and what he hopes it will achieve

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The way our food is grown, transported, processed, marketed, and ultimately eaten is not sustainable -- for the environment or our health. Diet, together with a sedentary lifestyle, cause obesity, diabetes, heart attacks, and cancers that result in several hundred thousand deaths each year. Raising livestock uses enormous amounts of energy to grow and transport feed; cattle feedlots stink up vast areas; and the animal manure often pollutes waterways. The animals generally endure miserable conditions, as do the packinghouse workers.

While disparate groups don't see eye to eye on everything, there are countless opportunities where they can build on each other's strengths.

My organization, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, has long fought for consumer protections -- food labeling, vigilant food safety programs, and more-healthful foods. I have to admit that we, like most advocacy organizations, are usually toiling within our "health" silo. But because reforming America's food system is such a daunting task, organizations need to climb out of their silos and start collaborating with one another to make faster progress. Health groups should work with farm-animal welfare groups. Anti-hunger activists should work with sustainable agriculture advocates. Nutrition advocates should work with environmentalists. While those disparate groups don't see eye to eye on everything, there are countless opportunities where they can build on each other's strengths. And some have already started.

It is in that context that I conceived of Food Day. I envisioned it being like Earth Day, celebrated widely with thousands of events around the country. It would be a vigorous day or week of national focus on food issues that all sorts of people and organizations could tie in with (a smaller World Food Day is celebrated in some churches and campuses). As with Earth Day, I thought that a national mobilization focused on food could accelerate ongoing initiatives aimed at reforming the food system from the farm to the fork.

But, frankly, a year ago, I had no confidence that Food Day would catch on. Would people who are busy with their own lives actually organize activities?

I did know that everyone likes to feel that their modest, local activity -- in Anchorage, Savannah, or Ann Arbor -- is connected to something bigger, something national, that can have a real impact. And I knew that countless students, government officials, non-profit groups, and, yes, companies are concerned about reducing the harm America's food system inflicts on our health and the environment.

My confidence began to build last summer, as I talked to dozens of people who were almost uniformly encouraging. That led to the formation of an advisory board -- and as word got around, people were actually asking to join it. Then the two co-managers of Food Day, Lilia Smelkova and Jennifer Tuttle, and I began to spread the word more broadly to such organizations as the Farmers Market Coalition, the American Dietetic Association, and the Union for Reform Judaism. Again, almost everyone said that they would like to be involved in some way.

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Michael F. Jacobson is executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which he co-founded in 1971. He is widely credited with coining the phrases "junk food," "empty calorie," and "liquid candy."

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