“Food Day” Events Across NYC Raise Questions About Food Production, Hunger

Food Day Blog ImageIt is a pleasant 10-minute walk from the Macaulay CUNY Honors College to the downtown A train a few blocks away. Central Park West provides a picturesque backdrop complete with tree- lined blocks, the occasional hot dog vendor and high-priced apartment buildings that epitomize the Upper West Side neighborhood.

The A train subway car is much different. It’s a mix of what, one assumes, are young professionals listening to iPods, members of the city’s homeless population, rambunctious teenagers and blankly staring persons of any number of ethnicities. Those blank stares are not necessarily a sign of fatigue from a day’s work or lack of sleep from the night before but, quite possibly, something far more serious: hunger.

The Macaulay Honors College was just one venue across the city that held a “Food Day” event in the last week of October. The day-long event consisted of lectures, workshops and cooking lessons pertaining to food production and food accessibility across the U.S. Sponsored by the Center for Science and the Public Interest, Food Day is modeled after Earth Day – with the intention of spreading awareness of food issues and hunger. One of the more notable lecturers at the event was Joel Berg, the head of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger.

Berg delivered a passionate hour-long presentation in which he examined the problems regarding hunger and his views on how to solve them. Unsettling statistics about hunger in the United States and New York City were a large part of his presentation. According to Berg, 49 million Americans need food assistance, as well as one in six New Yorkers. How can we curtail this hunger issue in the United States? Community food drives? Church-sponsored soup kitchens? Not according to Berg.

Berg, who served for eight years in the Clinton Administration in senior executive service positions in the USDA, believes the only way to effectively combat hunger problems in the United States is through policy reform. He shared anecdotes about how volunteer work that should have been government-run has failed in the past. For example, the “bucket brigades” – volunteer fire departments of the 19th century – were viewed as heroic and altruistic groups, but were extreme failures, as evidenced by great fires that engulfed cities like Chicago and San Francisco. Fire control was never a successful endeavor until government was involved; the issue of hunger is similar. Grassroots work he says is better than nothing, Food Day is an example of this.

The Franciscan Action Network (FAN), a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group, supports Food Day and the push to spread awareness about hunger in the United States. Christine Elliott, the Director of Care for Creation for FAN, said about Food Day: “Food Day is a valuable opportunity to reflect internally on how the values of an Order or Congregation apply to the U.S. food system and to reach out to share these values with others. FAN encouraged Religious Communities to participate in or consider hosting an event and inviting others to join.”

The supporters of Food Day and the various Food Day events around the country have differing views regarding what the day should embody and ways to solve food-related issues. For Joel Berg, convincing people to lobby the government to support legislation regarding hunger is integral. The Franciscan Action Network thinks the day should provoke self-reflection on how everyone influences the U.S. food system.

One thing all involved would agree on is awareness about food issues needs to be spread, that more people need to recognize that blank stare on a stranger’s face in the subway may be the stare of someone who does not know when his or her next meal will be.

Ben Feuerherd is a senior at St. Francis College in New York City. He interned with FAN in Summer 2011.

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Published in: on November 21, 2011 at 12:01 am  Leave a Comment  

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