Figured out your kids' Halloween costumes yet? The holiday season is almost upon us — the candy, then the pies, roasts, hors d'oeuvres, champagne, and finally the resolutions. Before it begins, let's borrow a play from the political playbook and move our first primary event of the season a week earlier. I'm talking about Food Day.
Like Earth Day, an environmental holiday celebrated annually as a consciousness-raising event in schools since 1970, Food Day — being observed for the first time today — hopes to raise awareness of how America eats and why. The overarching goal is to promote healthy, affordable food produced in a sustainable, humane way.
Created by the independent, nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest, Food Day offers something for everyone. It can involve simply heightened awareness of what, where, and when you eat. How many food ads do you see in a day? How is your food packaged? How far did it travel to reach you? Is it nutritious?
Food Day can also be a day of personal action.
Some light lifts: eat an apple, reject a soda and drink water instead; rent the documentary "Food, Inc." to learn more about our industrial food supply; read nutrition labels; join the "Meatless Monday" movement; support a local farmer's market; or visit websites like healthyfoodaction.org and the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future (http://www.jhsph.edu/clf/) to learn more about food policy and advocacy opportunities.
To improve student health, let your PTA know that you'd prefer the kids not be incentivized to peddle fudge and frozen pizza. Ask shopkeepers to remove junk food from the checkout areas and to remove sugary add-ons from the produce area. (Have you seen the caramel coating sold near the apples, and the marshmallows near the yams?) Write to your school board members and request healthier school lunches and vending machine snacks. Join the booster clubs that thrive on concession sales and develop better alternatives.
Food Day is about more than personal health. Yes, thinking about the industrialized food system is, frankly, unappetizing, but we avert our eyes at our own peril. Consequences of America's relationship with food include not only obesity, diabetes and heart disease, but also environmental harms, global food shortages, the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, pesticide consumption, hormones in the meat supply, exploitation of industrial food workers, animal cruelty, personal economic impacts, and the spiraling cost of health care. Because everyone eats, everyone can make a difference.
When I was little, cigarette smoke was everywhere. It saturated elevators, planes, restaurants, stores, trains, buses, even hospitals. My generation grew up and changed the toxic environment with a long, hard fight and lots of public education. I tell my kids, "Food will be the fight of your generation. Just as our parents, who loved us, allowed us to be subjected to smoke, we have allowed your generation to face obesity, disease, and the expectation of shorter life spans than our own, all because of how we eat in this country."
In the past, kids would be excited by an occasional lollipop from the bank teller. After their soccer games, kids ate sliced oranges. Today, even the office supply store has a candy aisle, and sports fields are strewn with juice wrappers. Sadly, we must teach our children to recognize marketing tactics and to maintain constant vigilance in the face of relentless temptation, ridiculous portion sizes, and fatty children's menus.
As I write this, I hear the familiar jingle of the ice cream truck and am reminded that I haven't figured out the Halloween costumes or treats yet. Too much on my plate, I suppose.
We are not powerless to change this story. Help spread the word about Food Day. Review the menu of options and take part. Together, let's make the upcoming holiday season joyful, fortifying and healthier. Our kids will thank us one day.
Dr. Jean Silver-Isenstadt, a resident of Laurel, is executive director of the National Physicians Alliance. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org. Information about Food Day is available at http://foodday.org/.