In the mid-1970s, Michael Jacobson created Food Day to push for better food safety legislation and convince more Americans to eat healthier. At the time, the only food-related issue regularly making headlines was hunger. Eating local, organic food was not on anyone's mind. The event ran for three years before low budgets and low enthusiasm caused its demise.
In 2011, food issues—from sustainable agriculture to food deserts to "buy local" initiatives—occupy a prominent space in the public eye. So Jacobson decided it was time to bring the event back, and today marks the first Food Day since 1977. The goal is ambitious: to "transform the American diet," says Jacobson, founder and executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. That means events in dozens of cities across America focused on educating people about where their food comes from and how to "push for healthy, affordable food produced in a sustainable, humane way."
"For the great bulk of Americans the challenge is helping them eat healthier food, cook a little more," Jacobson says. "We're not purists—nobody is saying you have to eat all organic—but there's a real recognition in the health arena that things need to change."
Events include Rhode Island launching a state Food Policy Council, a healthy food festival in Savannah, Georgia, and a series of classes on the subject in Bentonville, Arkansas, home of Walmart. Jacobson spent the early part of the day at a subway station in Queens handing out apples with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The six official "Food Day Principles" include supporting safe conditions for farm workers, expanding access to nutritious food, and cutting junk food marketing.
"There are so many organizations focusing on food from different perspectives … that I thought it would be an appropriate time to build links between these different groups and issues," Jacobson says. Individuals can get involved by contacting their legislators to push for action on policy questions, or just eating a healthy meal—ideally including some local food—at home.
Jacobson, who has spent 40 years advocating change in the way Americans produce and eat food, says he realizes that these challenges won't be solved in a day. The event will take place annually, he says, but the goals should be a priority for Americans year-round.