I have a shirt that says “Every Day is Earth Day.” My brother gave it to me as a birthday gift one year. It’s organic cotton, dark brown (probably dyed with dirt), and has a nice artistic image of a tree on it. Real Yuppie stuff, right? I wear it sometimes on Earth Day. Not as a way to undercut the holiday, or diminish its meaning. I don’t mean to take away from the valuable reminder that day is for everyone. Instead, I like to think it celebrates the day, while inspiring people to think of the Earth everyday.
Today, on Food Day, almost exactly 6 months opposite of Earth Day, I have a similar impulse. The act of picking one day to celebrate something so important as the Earth, or Food, is both powerful and limiting at the same time. It’s like Christmas. Every year you feel such joy on that day, to be among friends and family, truly celebrating being alive. And you wish you could live the whole year with that reverence. Marketers try to extend the season, pushing it earlier and earlier every year (anyone seen any ads yet?), but it doesn’t feel the same as that day feels. The concentrated focus of one day is often what makes it so meaningful, yet you hope every year that you will remember those lessons in February, or July. I hope that Food Day will be the same. A focused celebration of food and call to action to change the way we eat, that will be special in its “dayness,” yet also teach us lessons we will carry with us throughout the year.
If I had to pick one lesson to focus on above anything else for this year’s Food Day, it would be a reminder of what it means to actually be food, and not a “food-like substance.” With Halloween just a week away, it is a poignant juxtaposition, in my mind. Halloween is a celebration of the very opposite of food; candy. And like anyone else, I love me some candy. But, while indulgence is certainly a very human activity, let’s not forget what food is. Food is whole. Food is unprocessed. Food is produce, grains, legumes, meats, milks. Stuff your Great-Grandmother would recognize. “Food-like substances,” as coined by Michael Pollan and Mark Bittman, are processed and industrially produced; candies, cereals, chips, pre-made frozen entrees with high salt and additive content, industrially produced meats and dairy products, and the list goes on. While a shift to entirely eating real food is a very large one, and one that must happen gradually, start today by simply eating more of the right stuff. Cook your meal tonight instead of ordering in. Snack on an apple instead of a bag of chips. The best part about this switch is that it is self-reinforcing behavior. The more you do it, the more your body craves more of it. It is time to rewire our brains to crave the right stuff again.
And the first step is today, Food Day.