By Natalie Kornicks
Capital News Service
Nearly 100 events are taking place Thursday in Maryland to celebrate national Food Day, a movement to promote healthy, affordable and sustainable food.
“Our plan is to utilize as many services and to leverage as many programs as possible to end hunger in the state of Maryland,” said Michael Wilson, executive director of Maryland Hunger Solutions, a member of the state Partnership to End Childhood Hunger launched by Gov. Martin O’Malley in 2008.
The Maryland advocacy organization will be joining farms, schools, universities, hospitals and other institutions around the country that will be hosting events like chef demonstrations, healthy food tastings and farm-to-table lunches, said Food Day National Coordinator Catherine Kastleman, who oversees events in Maryland and 14 other states.
While Food Day, created by the Center for Science in the Public Interest in 2012, has national priorities, Kastleman said the effect of things like budget cuts on supplemental nutrition assistance programs really makes people in Maryland “think about how they can turn to their local food system to find sustenance in the community.”
For example, the weekly Crossroads Farmers Market in Takoma Park, which held an early Food Day celebration on Wednesday, makes fresh, local and healthy food accessible to low-income people by doubling federal nutrition benefits.
“Food Day is a great event for raising awareness around the country about food issues related to sustainability and food access,” said Christie Blach, executive director of Crossroads Community Food Network.
Another event that will take place in Maryland on Thursday is the Big Apple Crunch.
More than 12 bushels of apples were donated by a local farm so that 15 organizations could encourage lunchtime participants to “crunch into an apple to represent healthy eating,” said Andrea Taylor, Food Day coordinator for Prince George’s County.
Maryland Hospitals for a Healthy Environment and the Chesapeake Food Leadership Council of food service professionals will also be encouraging healthy local eating by launching a new campaign Thursday, said Louise Mitchell, sustainable foods program manager for Maryland Hospitals for a Healthy Environment.
“[The campaign] encourages intuitions to serve at least one certified organic food on Food Day,” she said. “[And] with alliances forming between hospitals, universities and schools, changes can be made to the whole food environment, including what foods are available.”
One of the greatest challenges to ending childhood hunger is people’s awareness that it’s even a problem, according to Molly McCloskey, the director of Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry Campaign in Maryland.
According to Katherine Klosek, the director of the Baltimore Partnership to End Childhood Hunger, food insecurity in Maryland is connected to lack of access.
“[There is] definitely an anti-hunger focus on Food Day in Maryland and really this nutrition education and teaching kids where this food comes from; it all comes back to access—what’s healthy, what’s not,” she said.
“Children might only see Cheetos and soda at the corner store, but it’s about telling them, ‘Did you know at Reservoir Hill there is a farmers market where you can buy fruits and vegetables?’ It’s about showing other sources of food they might not be used to—that’s not something you learn in school, and it might not be something the parents even know,” she said.
During a Food Day event Thursday hosted by Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, the Baltimore Partnership to End Childhood Hunger will release its plan to end childhood hunger in the city by 2015.
And the Partnership to End Childhood Hunger in Maryland has a statewide plan that includes ensuring that 70 percent of students who participate in the free and reduced school lunch program also participate in the free and reduced breakfast program, McCloskey said.
“We are closing in on the 60 percent mark, and we want to see 70 percent by 2015,” McClosekey said. “...Hungry children can’t learn, hungry children don’t thrive—we can’t have a strong state with weak children.