One hundred million bananas are being labeled with special stickers. Volunteers are harvesting surplus vegetables for those in need, and chefs across Boston are preparing wholesome dishes like pumpkin bisque topped with seared apples. All this is happening for one reason: Food Day.
Next Monday marks the first national Food Day dedicated to raising awareness about issues related to food, from gourmet to political. The event is sponsored by the Washington-based Center for Science in the Public Interest, though that group will not be alone in marking the occasion. Organizations across the country (www.foodday.org lists all local events) are hosting events that champion some or all of the day’s six stated principles: reducing diet-related disease; supporting sustainable agriculture; alleviating hunger; protecting the environment; reducing marketing of unhealthy foods to children; ensuring good working conditions for laborers in food-related industries.
In Boston, cookbook author Nina Simonds is coordinating Food Day activities at restaurants including Myers + Chang and Hamersley’s Bistro, which will feature special menus. “We’re trying to focus on seasonal, sustainable, plant-based, healthy, delicious foods,’’ says Simonds, who will also be leading a class and cooking demonstration at Boston University with Walter Willett, who heads the Department of Nutrition at Harvard.
Au Bon Pain and Dunkin’ Donuts nutrition consultant Judy C.C. Phillips is also working to promote healthy options for dining out on Food Day. “In Europe we’re used to seeing carcasses hanging at the butcher shop,’’ says Phillips, who grew up in Italy. In comparison, she observes that many Americans are squeamish about the origins of their food. “I find it extraordinary that people can eat a hot dog and not question what’s in it,’’ she says. Phillips will spend Food Day with chef Didi Emmons, who will be cooking with students from the Timilty Middle School in Roxbury as part of a class at Haley House. Community members are invited to partake of the results.
On Food Day, Boston will also be home to community potlucks hosted by groups such as Boston Food Swap. “I think that as humans we are actually wired to feast in some sort of a communal way,’’ says Lyn Huckabee, one of the group’s organizers. Several area colleges, including Babson and Simmons, will be holding farmers’ markets, discussions, or special meals. The Museum of Science is screening the new documentary “Food Fight,’’ and in the week leading up to Monday, the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources is kicking off the Massachusetts Gleaning Network, a program that coordinates volunteers to pick and donate crops that farmers are not able to sell.
“These are the fruits of their labor and they want to see the food get eaten by people if possible, so that’s where we fill in and get it to people who really need it,’’ says Laurie Caldwell, executive director of the Boston Area Gleaners. “Especially for people where fresh produce is maybe a stretch or even beyond their means.’’
On the national level, Dole is putting Food Day stickers on all those bananas and Bolthouse Farms is doing the same for 11 million bags of carrots.
Congressman Jim McGovern plans to spend Food Day at a festival centered around the Main South Farmers’ Market in Worcester. “This is an opportunity to raise awareness for what will hopefully become a new approach in this country to supporting local farmers, to supporting farmers’ markets, and to be able to tie the issues of poverty, hunger, and nutrition together,’’ McGovern says.
“I thought it would be really useful to have a day that encourages all kinds of collaborations between different kinds of organizations,’’ says Michael F. Jacobson, the CSPI’s executive director. He hopes it draws from all walks of life. “People can enter the Food Day world at whatever level they’re at,’’ he says.
“We have great momentum, and I think that if it continues, this country could be the next Europe when it comes down to food,’’ says chef Vittorio Ettore, the creator of the pumpkin bisque with seared apples, which he will be serving at his West Medford restaurant Bistro 5 on Food Day. “Unless we keep it up, though, it’s not going to happen.’’
Aaron Kagan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.