National Press Club

Times Square 'Eat In' launches nationwide push for healthier diets, sustainable food production

October 20, 2011 | By Lorna Aldrich |

An "eat in" in Times Square at noon Oct. 24 will launch a nationwide campaign to promote healthy eating and an environmentally sustainable food industry, Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said at an Oct. 19 Newsmaker.

The event, Food Day, will be proclaimed by mayors in more than 30 cities, including San Francisco, Boston, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Los Angeles, St. Louis and Seattle. More than 1800 events are scheduled for the day, which will become an annual event.

Although Americans have an "extraordinarily abundant and affordable food supply," it results in poor health, environmental degradation, inhumane treatment of animals and poor working conditions, according to Jacobson.

"There are serious problems out there in Foodland," he said.

American dietary problems, including the consumption of too much fat and sodium, lead to obesity and elevated rates of premature death from heart attacks, strokes and diabetes, Jacobson said.

Another problem, according to Jacobson, is that livestock feed production creates environmental degradation through excess use of energy and fertilizer. The livestock industry also treats food animals inhumanely.

The goal of Food Day is to improve the food system, Jacobson said. He hopes that the event will provide a vehicle for nonprofits, animal welfare organizations and other groups to educate the public and advance their goals. The campaign aims to extend its reach as broadly as Earth Day does, Jacobson said.

Jacobson highlighted food companies that promote healthy eating and environmentally sustainable production and distribution practices. For example, Kraft plans to advocate healthy eating in its employee cafeterias during Food Day.

Walmart, which sells 20 percent of the nation's groceries, has asked its suppliers to reduce sodium and fat, he said.

"Walmart is acting almost like a regulatory agency," Jacobson said.

As part of Food Day, schools in Bentonville, Ark., where Walmart is headquartered, will have five days of classes on food and nutrition, he said, while art students will create junk food halls of fame.

Jacobson acknowledged that industry changes would create winners and losers. He cited the example of Whole Foods, which has replaced small health food stores.

"We have to see how things work out," he said.

Prospective farm legislation will be another focus of Food Day because agricultural subsidies and food assistance programs run by USDA will likely be cut in efforts to reduce the federal budget, Jacobson said.