Discussion of world hunger, the crisis which drove the creation of the original Food Day in 1975, is conspicuously absent from the agenda of events being staged for today's observance.
"We did a survey when we defined Food Day and, unfortunately, world hunger was an issue that was less interesting to the 30,000 survey takers," says Lilia Smelkova, Food Day campaign manager for sponsoring organization Center for Science in the Public Interest.
The reinvented Food Day, which returns to the calendar after a 34-year hiatus, is focused on "transforming the American diet." A three-paragraph statement outlining the event's purpose includes eight references to "America."
Smelkova said organizers decided to take a more community-oriented approach to issues--including worker justice, obesity, sustainable farming, food access, and environmental protection--than their predecessors. Rather than draw attention to world hunger, events were designed to spotlight domestic food insecurity: Food Day's outreach programs include sessions covering SNAP benefits and eligibility.
In Seattle, Rainier Valley Food Bank this Saturday hosted a "Nourish Your Neighbor" vegetable exchange in conjunction with Food Day. Other local Food Day events include a roast duck-and-dumpling party; breastfeeding classes; a chance to take the "Soda Free Sunday" pledge; and an Eat Local Now! community dinner.
"We want Food Day to be for the food movement what Earth Day is for the environmental movement," Smelkova says.
Michael Jacobson, a co-director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), was inspired to organize Food Day after a teenage girl asked him what she could do about global food shortages. He wondered whether the tactics honed by activists over the previous decade--teach-ins, boycotts and demonstrations--couldn't be used to agitate for fairer food policies worldwide.
"The whole idea of Food Day is to involve people who are interested in nutrition, poverty, world food shortages, the weaknesses of our national food policies, grain storage, agribusiness, and so on," Jacobson told The New York Times in 1975.
The first year's programming included fasts, "third-world lunches," and screenings of films about world hunger. Many of the events were sponsored by churches and synagogues.
"The faith community was more involved then," Smelkova says.
The CSPI hoped legislators would enact a joint congressional resolution declaring April 17, 1975 as Food Day, but controversy clung to the project after Food Day organizers issued a list of "the Terrible Ten foods" they blamed for deranging the American food supply. The offending foods included prime grade beef ("fattened on grain that could otherwise be consumed by hungry people"), Pringles ("the ultimate insult to the potato"), Gerber baby food ("the first junk food many people eat"), Frute Brute cereal, sugar, bacon, and grapes, then the focus of a United Farm Workers-led boycott. The list angered food producers and puzzled scientists, who accused Food Day organizers of conflating politics and nutrition.
The fights over Food Day exhausted organizers, and the concept petered out after two years. "They ran out of energy," Smelkova says.
The project was picked up by Patricia Young, who persuaded the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations to sponsor World Food Day, "a worldwide event designed to increase year-around action to alleviate hunger." The event has been held every Oct. 16 since 1979. Young continues to administer World Food Day, but now also sits on Food Day's advisory board.
"World Food Day doesn't have the grassroots movement," Smelkova says. While Dole Food and Mario Batali have signed on as event supporters, Smelkova points to a function on Food Day's website that allows anyone to create and publicize an event. "In all states, we have 2,000 events," she says. "And we went beyond hunger: Food Day has a much broader platform."