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Changing our food system, one (Food) day at a time

The third annual Food Day takes place Oct. 24, 2013. Food Day is a movement that brings to public awareness the most pressing food issues that affect our country. It was created by the Center for Science in the Public Interest and is now organized by a large number of partners throughout the country. The organization describes its purpose with these words: “With Food Day, we can celebrate our food system when it works and fix it when it’s broken.”

According to its website, Food Day and its partners come together to create a “vision of food that is healthy, affordable and produced with care for the environment, farm animals and the people who grow, harvest and serve it.” I personally love the Food Day vision, because it includes the opportunity to involve “everyone who eats food.” Instead of promoting a particular diet, restaurant or social/political group, it encourages awareness and involvement of all Americans to create a healthy and fairer food system.

Food Day brings to the forefront crucial food issues, some of which are often ignored. Below is a list of the five specific Food Day priorities:

*Promote safer, healthier diets: This Food Day priority highlights the fact that our diet has the power to improve our health and prevent chronic illnesses. However, according to the Centers for Disease Control, 3 of the 10 leading causes of death in the U.S. are preventable and diet related: heart disease, cancer and diabetes. Many studies have demonstrated that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and lean proteins can reduce risk of these conditions.

What you can do: Small diet changes can result in big health improvements. Check out Harvard’s healthy eating plate for a simple and realistic diagram of how to create a healthy plate at every meal,

*Support sustainable and organic farms: Sustainable food is a buzz word that is thrown around a lot in the news, but rarely is it explained. Food Day defines it as “food that is affordable, accessible and produced with care for the environment, animals and the women and men who grow, harvest and serve it.” Sustainable food and agriculture help to ensure that your food was grown and sold fairly and that it will be available in the future. Organic foods reduce the amount of dangerous pesticides that harm the environment and our bodies.

What you can do: Shop at farmers’ markets, buy local and organic when possible and educate yourself about the practices of the food brands that you purchase.
*Reduce hunger: Hunger is often invisible in our country even though 1 in 6 Americans is food insecure. The organization, Feeding Hungry, defines a food-insecure household as “one where the members are unable to consistently access the adequate amount of nutritious food necessary for a healthy life.” In Minneapolis alone, 11.8% of the population is food insecure.

Hunger is a particularly important issue now, as Congress is battling over the Farm Bill. Billions of dollars of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits are on the line for millions of working Americans who depend on this supplemental income to feed their families.

What you can do: Write a letter, email or call your congressperson to urge them to vote to maintain SNAP benefits. Volunteer or donate to a food bank to help local families in need.

*Reform factory farms to protect the environment and animals: Many of the current animal farming practices in the United States have serious implications for the animals they farm. A single Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO) may house over a million hens and 50,000 cattle in inhumane conditions. In addition, antibiotics are routinely given to many farmed animals. This is a factor that may contribute to antibiotic resistance since they are the same medicines we receive to fight infection. Food Day calls on farms to reform their practices for the wellbeing of the animals, environment and our citizens.

What you can do: Educate yourself about animal farming practices and advocate for humane conditions. The Humane Society’s website is a good start,

*Support fair working conditions for food and farm workers: Farm workers have one of the hardest and most physical jobs there is, yet most do not even make a living wage. The federal tipped minimum wage for restaurant workers is $2.13 and has not increased in 21 years. In Minnesota, the tipped minimum wage is $5.25 for small employers and $6.15 for large.

What you can do: Support minimum wage increases and talk to the managers at your favorite restaurants about working conditions and benefits that their employees receive. Educate yourself about farm workers’ rights at

How to get involved in Food Day: Community involvement is at the core of Food Day. It relies on schools, groups and individuals to organize events that are most relevant to their communities. You can hold your own event by teaching a cooking class, organizing a movie screening or hosting a locally sourced dinner. For more information and a ton of additional ideas and resources visit,
If you don’t have time to organize your own event, here are two local Minneapolis happenings:

University of Minnesota Food Day Food Expo

Oct. 24, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m., Coffman Memorial Union (Great Hall)

The Food Expo brings together student groups, local organizations and food vendors all around the common theme of creating a sustainable food system. A sampling of expo events includes:
Iron chef battle between two of the chefs from University Dining Services. The winner will have their item featured in the dining halls across campus
Bike raffle hosted by the ReUse center on campus
*Cooking demonstration around 11 a.m.
*Free catered lunch at 12:15 p.m.
*Free lunch bags and water bottles to the first 500 attendees.
This event is free and open to the public. Contact Rachel Weidt at for more information.
Minneapolis Public Schools - Food Day Celebration!
*Oct. 24. Events at many public schools in the city include:
*All-local school lunch for students in the cafeteria
*Food Day outreach contest
*Educational resources and fun promotional materials
*Pledge to “Eat Together” with family/friends during Food Day

For more information, visit and make sure to have conversations with students you know about what they learned from Food Day.

Questions, comments or suggestions about the column? Email me at







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