At its core, Food Day is about our nation celebrating the conversations taking place about increasing the healthy, affordable and sustainable food that’s available for consumption across our country. In only its second year, it has become a forum to come together and discuss achievements we see around us in the our country’s food system and a valuable day to share ideas and reflect on the food issues many in our country have faced, are facing and will face in the future. In short, a conversation that needs to continue daily.
Because of my ambitions to bring an increasing awareness to efforts taking place to end hunger, the comments from the panel discussion that resonated most with me last night came from A.G. Kawamura, farmer and former California Secretary of Agriculture. Before I summarize all that I took from yesterday’s discussions at the Capitol, I’ll share with you two quotes from Mr. Kawamura because they are such relevant “food for thought” for all of us. The first came about within a discussion on whether we would have the ability to feed a world population that will balloon to over nine billion by the year 2050. I was impressed that Mr. Kawamura acknowledged that we must confront hunger as it exists today, broadening the scope of the conversation from the nation to the world, by saying that right now in 2012 “we have the capacity to feed the world, but we don’t have the will.” This statement for me not only acts as a powerful reminder of how far we have to go, but it also set up in my mind another goal that Food Day can stand for: an end to hunger. Mr. Kawamura’s closing remark to the founder of Food Day, Michael Jacobson, summarized that goal exactly: “Won’t it be amazing the day we get to say, we fed everyone in the world today!” That was where the conversation concluded last night, but I’ll take you back to where it started.
The afternoon began as I scurried out of the office to make my way to the Cannon House Office Building. I placed a quick call to Grandpa to remind him that Chellie Pingree was the host of this year’s marquee event for Food Day 2012 titled “The Future of Food: 2050″. My dad’s side of the family hails from Maine. More specifically, my Grandpa comes from Long Island, which is one of the major islands located just off the coast of Portland in the Casco Bay. Congresswoman Pingree has lived in another small island community in Maine for most of her life. So if I ran into her, Grandpa told me I was to insert a bit of island humor into the Food Day conversations and ask if she was a “herring choker”. Before you scratch your head, laugh or google this expression, I can tell you directly from the “eighty-four years young Mainer” that the old adage comes from the joke that people from the islands only eat fish, especially herring. This would have been a wonderful talking point for the movement to “eat real” and, as you can imagine, Grandpa was tickled pink at the mere prospect of me uttering this phrase. Sadly, Congresswoman Pingree made her introduction by video, so I’ll have to wait to try it out on another Mainer.
I was lucky to attend the two panel discussions at the U.S. Capitol Wednesday night, organized by Michael Jacobson, the Founder of Food Day, and CSPI (Center for Science in the Public Interest). The talks focused on examining how the food system will evolve over the course of the next thirty-eight years. The first panel had a focus on diet and food, and was moderated by April Fulton of NPR’s The Salt. The panelists were: Eric Meade, Vice President and Senior Futurist, Institute for Alternative Futures; Andrea Thomas, Senior Vice President for Sustainability, Walmart; and David Katz, Founding Director, Prevention Research Center, Yale University.
The second panel was focused on agriculture and was moderated by food writer Jane Black. The panelists were: Catherine Badgley, Professor, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Michigan; A.G. Kawamura, farmer (Orange County Produce, LLC), former CA Secretary of Agriculture; and Danielle Nierenberg, Director, Nourishing the Planet Project, Worldwatch Institute.
So what were the takeaways?
The first panel started off by acknowledging determining factors that will always be prominent when it comes to decision making for our personal diet: taste, cost of food, convenience, and nutrition. According to David Katz, we can eliminate up to 80% of chronic disease with just our feet and our forks. It’s extremely difficult to change a culture that has evolved to value the couch and make food the centerpiece of the majority of our social interactions. Essentially, whether we’d like to admit it or not, this does not always work in our favor for physical activity and eating for survival. We were reminded that our culture will always be a medium of our own devising. A prime example is how we’ve long associated wealth with food in the creation of the expressions “breadwinner” and “bringing home the bacon” (cue aha moment). Katz also discussed the ramifications of a “disease care system” that does not promote long-term prevention. He made the assessment that we need health advisors as much as wealth advisors simply because health is a form of wealth. In conclusion, nurturing and protecting our health should always be in the spotlight.
Moving on to the panel on agriculture, I found Danielle Nierenberg’s assessment of four major changes we will see as we approach 2050 to be refreshing. First, she sees a trend towards preventing food waste. Second, an increase in the participation of youth in agriculture. Agriculture and understanding where your food comes from is extremely economically and intellectually stimulating for children. Third, the steady growth of urban farming and last but not least, an agriculture system that will have to be increasingly resistant to our ever changing climates. Badgley provided the fascinating statistic that the U.S. spends the least of all developed countries on our food, roughly 10% of our income. (This in large part is due to the massive amount of cheaply produced processed food that is consumed.) A.G. Kawamura was able to discuss how edible landscaping has taken off in California and also mentioned the state’s “Garden in Every School Program” which reinforces the idea that all young people need to be engaged with agriculture. I’m looking forward to researching the project he co-chairs, Solutions for the Land, which is working to “develop a sustainable roadmap for 21st-century agriculture.” At one point, Kawamura suggested we shift from the term agriculture by moving towards using the terms life systems and resources in our dialogue.
As you can see, Food Day’s panels touched on an array of subjects. If you’re reading this you know we’re fortunate to be living in a time in which the technology at our fingertips affords more of us the opportunity to have an expanding access to and interest in the food issues on our collective American table. We all have different priorities, ranging from whether we’re looking to achieve a healthier diet for ourselves and our families, a better understanding of farming practices and where our food comes from, or a goal of increased awareness about how we can better work together to end hunger in our communities, nation and world. However, the achievement of being connected comes along with an intrinsic responsibility to use this newfound power to do social good. Always remember, we are the innovators and we can write our own food story, we all have one. Happy Food Day!
I’ll be continuing the Food Day celebration in DC in my own way this weekend at Wangari Gardens. In conjunction with the DC State Fair, Wangari Gardens is hosting their Fall Harvest Festival from 12-6 this Saturday, October 27th. Bring a fall-themed or fall-produce containing dish for the potluck at 1pm and hang out with new friends growing food in your community. Wangari Gardens is located between Kenyon and Irving Streets NW, east of Park Place. It’s accessible by the various H bus lines and is a 10-minute walk east of the Columbia Heights metro (green/yellow lines). Details here! Hope to see you there, the more the merrier!