Pink slime was a wake-up call.
Americans were mortified to see news footage of slabs of fat traveling along a conveyer belt, destined for a spin in a centrifuge and a spritz of ammonia before being mixed into fatty ground beef. The resulting "lean finely-textured beef" (the euphemism for the slime) is safe, but the unappetizing controversy was many Americans' first glimpse into the high-tech world of industrial food production. And they clearly didn't like what they saw.
Similarly, Americans were recently stunned to learn that the innocent-sounding "caramel coloring" in their Coke and Pepsi wasn't made from melted sugar, but rather produced using ammonia and sulfites in conditions that formed carcinogens. Or that Starbucks' strawberry Frappuccinos owed some of their pink color to the ground up bodies of the cochineal insect. Or that 80 percent of our antibiotics are destined for farm animals, not for family members.
Signs that our food system is broken are all around us. So are the signs that Americans are craving change and want to do something about it.
We eat every day, but Food Day is October 24. It's a celebration of healthy, sustainable food and a grassroots campaign to improve food policies for the benefit of our health, the environment, animals, and the men and women involved in farming and food production. More than 2,000 events in all 50 states took place on the first Food Day, and we expect that the second Food Day will be even bigger.
Food Day brings together organizations and individuals working on food issues as varied as hunger, nutrition, agriculture policy, animal welfare, and farmworker justice. Some 2011 Food Day events were large in scale, such as a big festival in Savannah, Ga., and a Times Square Eat In, attended by celebrities, chefs, and prominent food activists. But many others were modest -- in a home, grade-school classroom, or farmers market.
This year, Food Day will take place just 13 days before the 2012 elections, and organizers expect that it will provide an opportunity for citizens and candidates alike to discuss important food policy issues.
Last year, elected officials used Food Day to launch new food policies, highlight locally grown produce, or issue proclamations. Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick promoted gleaning on farms with the state's agriculture department, while Mayor Thomas Menino of Boston used Food Day to deliver a "State of the Food Union" address. In Maine, Rep. Chellie Pingree announced a new bill to assist small and mid-sized farms, while in Los Angeles, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's Food Policy Council coordinated healthy cooking demonstrations, film screenings and other events. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and I handed out apples to commuters in Queens.
Food Day will reach millions of Americans through events on college campuses, schools, houses of worship, and even restaurants.
But Food Day can also be celebrated by simple, solitary actions, such as stopping drinking soda or other sugar-based drinks, or forgoing fast food in favor of a healthy, brown-bag lunch.
October 24 is about six months away. And that's plenty of time to consider how each of us might take advantage of the occasion to change our diets and to reform the system. Whether you're grossed out by pink slime (or simply hot dogs, which are the meat industry's traditional way of selling junk meat), fed up with junk food advertising, or just tired of heavily-processed foods clad in shrink wrap, barcodes, and cardboard, you can use Food Day to launch your own effort to eat better. Or better yet, put your politicians on the spot by asking them what they intend to do to fix our broken food system.
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