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Food Day 2.0 seeks system reform

Happy Food Day, one and all!

So what the heck is it? No, it’s not an excuse to go off your diet.

Think Earth Day, only a lot better tasting.

In what organizers hope is the first of an annual event, Food Day is being celebrated on Monday as a way to educate lots of people across the country about reforming the food system.

Food Day was conceived by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (yes, those guys often called the Food Police), to take the good-food movement to a much larger audience.  Michael Jacobson, the Center’s executive director, explained it in this piece in The Atlantic.

“I have to admit that we, like most advocacy organizations, are usually toiling within our ‘health’ silo,” Jacobson wrote (apparently not intending a pun on “silo.”). “But because reforming America's food system is such a daunting task, organizations need to climb out of their silos and start collaborating with one another to make faster progress.”

Interestingly, this is not the first attempt to create Food Day. Jacobson told the Washington Post  that he tried to launch it back in 1975, thinking he could piggy-back it on to the good vibes of Earth Day.

“We ran out of money and energy, and we put it aside,” Jacobson told the Post.

Seems the time is now right for what Jacobson calls Food Day 2.0 -- thanks, in part, to movies like "Food, Inc." and books like "The Omnivore's Dilemma."

The other group watching Food Day is, well, the other side. The U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance – aka “big ag” – mounted its own $11 million PR campaign a couple weeks ago, hoping to get ahead of Food Day.

But it appears that the alliance is also trying to align itself with the new day, posting a link on its Facebook page to The Center for Food Integrity with the line: “CFI asks ‘shouldn't everyday be Food Day?’ What do you think?” (The National Cattlemen's Beef Association took the same tack.)

I had a question, too, and took it to the Harvest Network. I wondered if folks were confused about “good” food and “bad” food.

I received several thoughtful responses, and if our readers are any indication, there’s not a lot of confusion, but there is some frustration.

“There is a lot of good and bad information out there,” wrote Kristina Boone, and she should know.

Boone works at Kansas State University in agricultural communications and education.  Some groups argue that most animal production is “inhumane,” she said, while some ag advocacy groups consider any criticism of production methods as “un-American.”

“There are good and bad points associated with organic, traditional, local and other food production systems. It isn’t black and white,” Boone wrote. “And that is one of the reasons it is difficult for consumers.”

Leigh Adcock, executive director of the Women, Food and Agriculture Network, wrote in from Ames, Iowa, that she only trusts groups who don’t have money for big ad campaigns (which would lock out both the Food Day and the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance). She also doesn’t trust commodity groups or promotions funded by the Farm Bureau.

“I've been an environmental advocate for 30 years, and have never experienced anything but opposition to environmental legislation from big ag and commodity groups,” Adcock wrote. “I don't believe all farmers subscribe to Farm Bureau's party line, but if they buy insurance from FB, they are counted as members and their numbers used as ammunition in policy fights.”

Hannah Amoss, of White Hall, Maryland, had an interesting perspective. She grew up on a farm, but is now a teacher and is interested in the good food movement.

I am interested in the "good food movement" and the discussion concerning good food or bad food because agriculture has always been a part of who I am. Each and every morning agriculturalists from across our nation wake up to provide the safest food supply to consumers. From the small dairy farm down the road to the chicken producer on Maryland's Eastern Shore each and every day farmers are doing their part to provide consumers with a healthy and nutritious product. The "good food movement" has grabbed the attention of consumers because they too want to know exactly where their food is coming from and want to be sure that the food that they are providing their families is safe. As a first grade teacher, I understand the concern that consumers have related to the health and affordability of their food. However, as an agriculturalist I know that the American Farmer is working each and everyday to produce food that is safe and affordable using modern and humane practices. Therefore, I am concerned with this issue because I feel as though American Agriculture which has been sustaining our nation for hundreds of years could come under "attack" by consumers or organizations that have misconceptions about agriculture.

Like Hannah, Andrew McIntire also grew up on a farm and is now a consultant in Arlington, Virginia. He sees agriculture as a regional economic development tool, but also worries that food security and soil depletion is something that will need to be addressed in his lifetime.

I would guess that Andrew speaks for the majority of Americans who meet up in the middle, much like my friend I wrote about earlier.

“There is room for both GMOs/agribusiness and small/local producers. It is an issue of quality vs. quantity and our food system has room for both,” he said. “We are no longer in the age of marketing to the middle, but instead marketing to niche consumers that make up a specific demographic.”

From out here in the middle of the country, happy Food Day.