On October 24th, the United States celebrated, for the first time, National Food Day (NFD). Following closely on the heels of World Food Day (Oct 16th), National Food Day calls for a major transformation of the American food system through raising public awareness, education and advocacy. Its goals include: promotion of healthy, sustainable, and local food; expanding access to food, alleviating hunger, and supporting fair conditions for food and farm workers; and protection of the environment by reforming the way we look at farming. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), creator of the NFD Project, stated the event press release that “Much like Earth Day has drawn attention to environmental issues at all levels, Food Day aims to build momentum for a healthy, sustainable and equitable food system in communities across the country.”
ELP alumnus Lilia Smelkova (2008) is lead organizer of CSPI’s National Food Day Project. Lilia explains the purpose of NFD and the hundreds of events she has helped to organize over the last year across America:
Food Day is a national grassroots campaign to fix the food system, and a celebration of healthy, affordable food produced in a sustainable, humane, and just way. It aims at raising awareness about our food system, improving food policies and strengthening the food movement. To this end, Food Day provides a unique platform for the groups that work on
different issues, helping them to get out of their silos and establish a dialogue. Through Food Day we also want to get families cooking meals at home again. We already have 1,600 events planned for October 24, and many more on the way.
Lilia Smelkova was hired a year ago by CSPI director, Michael Jacobson, to bring the dream of a National Food Day to full fruition one year later. She left her position with Slow Food in Italy to assume this challenge in a new country, and has never looked back. Lilia relates her training with the ELP to her current leadership position:
My experience with the ELP was indeed an enlightening one, which defined much of my subsequent achievements. The program’s interdisciplinary approach, a unique group of contributing faculty, the access it provides to up-to-date knowledge, and the amazing group of international participants made me feel that everything was possible, if we had the courage to pursue our goals. So when the Center for Science in the Public Interest offered me a position to come to Washington, D.C. to run the Food Day campaign, there were no doubts that this was the project I had long been waiting to work on. With Food Day, actively making change – even for one day – can have a tremendous impact.
Food day is supported by an all-star advisory board, including ELP Friend Alice Waters, who recently celebrated the 40th anniversary of her revolutionizing restaurant Chez Panisse.
Waters has long championed her vision of good, healthful food for all, especially children, respect for local, organic, ingredients, and a return to a society that grows, cooks, and eats together (Brickman 2011). This year the Chez Panisse Foundation, which promotes this vision worldwide, is being renamed “The Edible Schoolyard Project”. For the past 10 years, ELP alums have had the chance to see, first hand, Alice’s work, through our yearly field trips to the Edible Schoolyard (ESY), a one-acre garden and kitchen classroom established in 1995 at Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School in Berkeley. The ESY now serves as a model to help educators and health professionals reverse the growing disconnect between Americans and their food (Taylor 2011).
ELP alumnus Abenaa Akuamoa-Boateng (2005), Head of Nutrition for the Ashanti Region of the Ghana Health Service noted that meeting Alice Waters during her time at the ELP was one of the greatest opportunities of her life:
She’s not only feeding school children, providing school meals, but is using school meals as an opportunity to get children to learn more about how foods are grown and how foods influence their own growth, getting the interest of these children in connecting more with the roots, connecting with the soil, not just waiting at the table for food to be delivered.
Lilia Smelkova writes of Waters:
I first met Alice Waters at the Slow Food International Congress in Naples, Italy, in 2003. She gave a talk about the Edible Schoolyard program which weaves food activities into the curriculum and the normal school day: “If all American students were eating lunch together, consuming local, organic food,” she said, “agriculture would change overnight to meet the demand. Our domestic food culture would change as well, as people again grew up learning how to cook affordable, wholesome, and delicious food.” During the 10 years I worked with Slow Food, I focused on the same goals, devoting efforts to promote food and taste education, especially to kids. The visit to the Martin Luther King Middle School in Berkeley with the ELP 2008 group was a dream come true. Alice had fresh peaches and heirloom tomatoes ready for us, and we all ate at a big communal table by the garden. Later I initiated the Slow Food’s European Schools for Healthy Food Network.
National Food Day promises to catalyze the Food Movement to widen its reach and its power to change the dominant food system in America to one that serves all its people healthy, tasteful and just food. Lilia will continue to be a major force for change:
I hope that Food Day will become for the Food Movement what Earth Day has been for the Environmental Movement, bringing food education into school curriculum, helping to improve diets, and giving the much needed support to sustainable agriculture. We all should work on two levels to make it possible, individual change and policy will. And what happens in the coming years with the U.S. food system will have an impact on the rest of the world as well.
For more information about National Food Day, check out the Food Day Website: