Berkeley joins national Food Day on Monday

 With a BYO lunch picnic on Memorial Glade, a mini-showcase of sustainable dining by Cal Dining, and an “Edible Occupation 101” panel on careers in food and agriculture, Berkeley took part in the nation’s first Food Day on Monday, Oct. 24.

Some 1,600 events — from a high-profile “Eat-In” at New York’s Times Square to the distribution of whole-grain bread samples from the Berkeley’s Cheeseboard at Sproul Plaza — were staged on or around Food Day nationwide.

Food Day flyer

Food Day is a project of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a Washington, D.C., advocacy group. The intent is to raise awareness about sustainable food issues and to get more people involved in efforts to reform American food systems.

More than 200 college campuses have jumped on board. And Berkeley has the benefit of having two of its own former students involved as organizers. Berkeley’s full plans for the day can be found on the University Health Services website, and links to events around the country can be found on the Food Day website.

Coordinating campuswide events to mark Food Day is Kristen Rasmussen, worksite wellness dietitian for University Health Services at the Tang Center. And managing the entire national Food Day — and also a speaker at Monday’s lunchtime picnic — is Lilia Smelkova, who completed the Beahrs Environmental Leadership Program in Berkeley’s College of Natural Resources in building her career as a sustainable food leader.

Food Day fit perfectly with Rasmussen’s focus: helping the campus community learn more-healthy ways of eating. So when she heard about the idea in August, she ran with it. Enthusiasm ran high in meetings with Cal Dining, the ASUC and other campus organizations, she recounts; people immediately got busy planning events and Rasmussen took the reins.

Lilia Smelkova

For Rasmussen, events like the Food Day picnic are all about “taking time to sit down and enjoy a meal with other people and pay attention to what you’re eating.”

She was a natural for the role. After graduating from Berkeley in 2007, Rasmussen got involved with the sustainable food movement while she earned her master’s in nutrition at Arizona State. She arrived back at Berkeley in 2010, working with the Eat Well Berkeley initiative, and now runs cooking classes and demonstrations and manages behavioral-change programs aimed at helping people improve the way they eat. 

Smelkova, a Belarus native who worked for 10 years in Slow Food International’s headquarters in Italy and will appearing at a number of Food Day events in the Bay Area, says she’s happy to be speaking at Berkeley’s picnic, because of her connection to the campus.

The Environmental Leadership Program, which brought her to Berkeley in 2008, really helped me to know what I want to do in food systems and in the food world. (The program’s website has posted a full profile of Smelkova.)

In addition to raising awareness and inspiring involvement, Food Day’s organizers hope it will bring together the disparate entities working to change food systems.

“(One) goal is to to get the groups to dialogue with each other, as Earth Day did for the envirnomental movement,” she says.