Chefs, nutrition experts, anti-hunger advocates, sustainable food fans and foodies of all stripes who are interested in finding better ways to eat and feed others will celebrate the first Food Day on Monday, Oct. 24. Spearheaded by the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest and co-chaired by U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin and U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, the day will include thousands of events in all 50 states, including plenty of restaurant meals made with local, sustainable, healthy and largely plant-based ingredients.
Organizers set out six broad goals.
- Reduce diet-related disease by promoting safe, healthy foods.
- Support sustainable farms and limit subsidies to big agribusiness.
- Expand access to food and alleviate hunger.
- Protect the environment and animals by reforming factory farms.
- Promote health by curbing snack-food marketing to children.
- Support fair conditions for food and farm workers.
Events across the country range from single dinners at independent eateries to a Picnic in the Park with celebrity chef Todd English and a marquis meal in New York City’s Times Square with Mario Batali, Ellie Krieger and Marion Nestle. I spoke with national campaign manager Jennifer Tuttle to find out more about how restaurants and chefs are participating in Food Day 2011 and how the group worked to bring together so many diverse groups with one key thing in common — food.
How are restaurants participating in Food Day 2011?
Some are doing specials on Monday the 24th, others are doing weeklong specials, and we’ve created a menu insert with the logo and campaign information. It’s been really great to see the response we’re getting from people. Massachusetts has the biggest group so far, there are about 40 restaurants participating, including Blue Ginger in Wellesley, the new Legal Seafood Harborside in Boston and Grapevine in Salem, but there are restaurants and chefs in all 50 states.
It’s been really great to see the response we’re getting from people, and Eataly in New York has been doing a lot. Our marquis event is in Times Square on the 24th — Mario Batali will be attending and Ellie Krieger is preparing the [vegetarian] meal. There will be celebrities attending — Marion Nestle will be there, and we’re using the meal to highlight the Food Day goals.
I was shocked that pretty much every place I and my colleague went to around the country, it was really about reconnecting culture and food and learning how to cook again. Chefs get it, they know how to talk about it, and of course they know how to do the cooking. We’re seeing a lot of chefs who might not be doing something in their restaurants, but they’re doing cooking classes in the community.
Can restaurants still get involved?
Yes. We try to make it as easy as possible to get involved, and if they don’t have a coordinator in their area they can call the national office. We talk to them about the different ways restaurants are getting involved and, especially if they’re just doing something in their own restaurant, there’s still plenty of time.
Also, it doesn’t have to be on the 24th – some places are doing something leading up to the day and others are using it as a kickoff for later events.
Given the goals, is there a set of criteria for restaurants that want to host an event?
We didn’t want to create rules for chefs, so we came up with criteria they can build in. We’re asking them to keep menus to sustainable, local, healthful meals that include at least some plant-based dishes. There’s a wonderful cookbook we produced that has recipes from 10 different well-known chefs, and they can use that as a guide for the nutritional content. In keeping with the principles, it would be nice that the meals would be plant-based, but we realize we can’t force that on people, as long as the meal is in keeping with the spirit and general goals of Food Day.
Restaurants are an important piece because so much of what we consume is outside of the home, so we do need to start a dialogue with restaurateurs, make sure they know that people want to eat healthier and more locally sourced items. Because so much of the consumption is outside the home, knowing where your food is coming from, having a dialogue with the chef and letting them know what’s important to you is the next step in the food movement. Restaurants are a part of the community, so it makes sense. Also, so many restaurants are doing the right thing, we wanted to celebrate that.