Monday marked the first annual Food Day, an occasion dedicated to celebrating healthy eating and local food.
The observance – launched by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) and supported by more than 120 partner organizations – was intended to start a dialogue about a host of issues surrounding food, from making nutritious mealtime choices to combating hunger; from the benefits of eating locally grown products to improving the security of the food supply.
More than 30 governors and mayors proclaimed October 24 Food Day. The day was observed in one form or another in all 50 states by over 20,000 organized events.
And, like the food celebrated by the movement, festivities across the nation had their own local flavors. In New York City, apples grown in-state were handed to commuters in Queens by Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The city’s health commissioner, Dr. Thomas Farley, spoke in Times Square about the local government’s expanded campaign to reduce consumption of sugary beverages.
The city also launched its new website, www.nyc.gov/nycfood, which provides guidance for New Yorkers on where to find healthy foods, how to prepare nutritious meals for the family and how tap into nutrition assistance programs.
The morning of Food Day, 50 celebrities from the food world gathered in Times Square to stage an “Eat In.” The group ate a balanced meal comprised mostly of sustainable ingredients from the farmers market.
A Food Day festival held in Savannah, Georgia was estimated to have around 1,500 attendees.
In Detroit, all public schools offered a special menu for Food Day, including local produce such as acorn squash and blueberries.
And the district intends to expand its offerings to include other Michigan-grown foods – such as potatoes, apples and asparagus – in the near future, a sign that the effects of food day will ripple beyond the spot designated for it on the calendar.
“Today is this national day to mobilize people, to get them involving themselves in changing policy,” said Morgan Spurlock, who brought the dangers of a fast-food-dominated diet into sharp relief with his documentary “Supersize Me.”
“Food education plays a big part in our health, so what I hope Food Day does is start to kinda turn the tide a little bit and make people understand this interaction that we have with our food can impact our health and the longevity of our lives.”
On the lifespan front, New York is ahead of the average for the nation. And some credit for that goes to the city’s recent campaigns to improve the healthfulness of its food offerings, said Mayor Bloomberg, who appeared on ABC’s new show “The Chew” Monday.
“In New York City, we’re very proud. Life expectancy keeps going up. Today it’s a year and a half longer than it used to be 10 years ago. It’s because of getting people to eat better, stop smoking, drive more carefully and make sure they have smoke detectors at home. All those things go into it.”
Bloomberg’s advice for healthy eating?
“You eat everything, but you’ve just gotta do it in moderation. That’s the key.”
The Mayor also stressed the importance of safe food handling, noting that New York City has started awarding a sanitation grade to all restaurants, from A through F, which must be posted at the front of the establishment.
“People tend to go to the ones with an A, so it’s a good incentive for the restaurants to make sure that their kitchens are clean and that they do everything by the book,” he explained. “They don’t have to do it but it hurts their business if they don’t. If you don’t get an A, you can clean it up and move up to an A, and most people have. It really has been very successful.”
Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, emphasized the impact that Food Day could have on improving the overall health of Americans.
“Food Day is an important way to focus on the critical need to have well-funded public health agencies that work on preventing diet-related and other diseases,” he said in a statement Monday.