I know, I know. The last thing you want to think about right now is another holiday in October. As much as many of us love the High Holidays — the sweetness, the reflection time, the motley collection of creative community sukkahs, the lulavs and etrogs, and joy — there’s a point at which (probably around now), we’re done.
But there’s one non-religious day I want you to add to your calendar now that this month of Jewish holidays is almost over.
The First Annual Food Day is Monday, October 24, with events happening all around the country. Food Day is billed broadly as a day to change how Americans eat and think about food. It’s also a very specific opportunity for individuals and organizations to make our advocacy for sustainable, fair food systems go even further.
Food Day is focused on six broad, interrelated issues: sustainable farming, hunger and food access, nutrition and diet-related disease, problems with factory farming, junk food marketing to kids, and food-worker and farm-worker justice. Organizations, schools, community groups, religious communities, individuals, and local governments around the country have planned events that educate people, highlight existing work, launch new projects, or push for policy change. These events, spread over a three-week span surrounding October 24, include film nights, fundraising dinners, community discussions, 2012 Farm Bill petitions, mayoral or gubernatorial proclamations, community organizing efforts, youth advocacy, junk-food demonstrations, and more.
Okay, so why the Jews?
This is great for anyone advocating for sustainability, and for tasty, nutritious, fairly-produced, and accessible food. But it’s also very Jewish. And the timing — hard as it may be to believe — is great.
Sukkot and Rosh Hashanah naturally get us thinking about locally harvested foods and community generosity and responsibility. But what happens next? What happens in the winter, when it’s harder to find fresh produce grown nearby, when some have already given away their High Holiday tzedakah money, or when it gets even harder for many to feed their families?
Food Day is a reminder that the commitment isn’t over.
This weekend is Shabbat B’reishit, the Shabbat of new beginnings when we read the Creation story. Just as we’re wrapping up the holidays, we’re also starting a new year of commitments. Our acts of tzedakah and tikkun olam and our harvest celebration during the holidays weren’t a closed-period of commitment; they were the start of a year in which we hope to produce actual change.
I get it. So what are we doing, already?
Jewish organizations are getting involved. Here are just a few of the events that have been planned:
Hazon, the largest Jewish environmental organization in North America, is launching their Food Change Project for Food Day. Hazon is credited with a sizeable role in launching the thriving Jewish food movement, thanks in part to its annual Food Conference and its work to cultivate more than 50 faith-based CSAs around the country.
Per the organization, “The Hazon Food Change Project will help Jewish institutions — including synagogues, JCCs, day schools, and camps — navigate food choices through a Food Audit. The project will also offer practical suggestions in a Food Guide for bringing our ancient traditions of keeping kosher to bear on the range of food choices we’re making today.”
Makom Hadash, a shared space for Jewish non-profit organizations in NYC is hosting a potluck lunch and screening of Food Stamped for its members. (Food Stamped is an informative documentary film following a couple as they attempt to eat a healthy, well-balanced diet on a food stamp budget.)
American Jewish World Service (AJWS) just launched their Reverse Hunger: Ending the Global Food Crisis project in conjunction with World Food Day (October 16). AJWS will run a number of fall activities including Global Hunger Shabbat dinners in over 100 synagogues around the country in early November and 18 Days of Action. The focus is on educating the community about aspects of US agricultural food policy that have unintended but negative consequences abroad. As Timi Gerson, AJWS’s Director of Advocacy, described, the goal is to “add in a Jewish voice to this larger, broader movement about reforming the Farm Bill, and try to make our US agriculture policies promote food justice abroad.” Their next step is to work with other Jewish organizations nationally to see how they can advocate on shared domestic-global issues together.
So, what can I do?
Attend a local event (find out what’s going on near you!) or plan one of your own (it’s not too late!). Small or large, public or private, you can still [put your event on the national Food Day map] and go down on the record as an organizer for Food Day in its year of inception.
Host a Food Day Shabbat potluck this week (Shabbat B’reishit) or the next (when we read about the flood story in Parshat Noach), highlighting local foods or perhaps trying out Slow Food’s $5 Challenge.
Advocate for change at your business, organization, shul, or school: Can you get more local foods in the cafeteria? Soda machines removed? A portion of proceeds going to an organization working on food systems?
The more events that happen around the country, the more momentum we can build to change food systems in this country for the better. Not just during the holidays, not just during the harvest, but for the foreseeable future.
Deborah Gardner is the West Coast Coordinator for Food Day. She studies public health, writes fiction and nonfiction, and has contributed pieces about food, cooking, and/or food systems to The New York Times Diner’s Journal, The Atlantic food blog, and her blog, Seattle Local Food. She lives in Seattle and San Francisco.