Mark your calendars for Monday, Oct. 24. That’s the date the Center for Science in the Public Interest has designated as “Food Day,” when they will tell us what to eat, how to produce it, and presumably, which fork to use for our salads.

CSPI bills the event as “a nationwide campaign to change the way Americans eat and think about food,” featuring activities that encourage Americans to "eat real" and support “healthy, affordable food grown in a sustainable, humane way.” I can’t wait.

In a news release issued this week, Food Day honorary co-chair Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) claims the campaign will “help foster a robust dialogue on how to promote better nutrition and health, lessen hunger and increase access to food, enhance opportunities for farm families and rural communities, and conserve natural resources.  There are,” Harkin goes on to say, “differing ideas and perspectives on these issues and surely we all benefit from discussions about the connections among food, farms, and health."

That’s true. It appears however, that the program’s planners intend for that “dialog” to be strictly one-sided, as the same news release contains their manifesto of “central goals,” including the following:

  • “Supporting sustainable farms and stopping subsidies to agribusiness. Billions of federal dollars a year would be better spent helping environmentally conscious family farmers than huge agribusiness operations.”
  • “Expanding access to food and alleviating hunger.  Far too many Americans don't know where their next meal is coming from, or have access to fresh produce in their neighborhood.”
  • “Reforming factory farms to protect animals and the environment.  Farming of animals can and should be done without cruelty, and without degrading the quality of life in rural America.”
  • “Curbing junk-food marketing to kids.  Food companies should not be targeting children with foods that promote tooth decay, obesity, and other health problems.”

So get ready for a heaping helping of rhetoric about how small, local, natural, free-range, warm and fuzzy are the only sustainable solutions for food production, and a steaming platter of agricultural advice from wealthy suburbanites who’ve never stepped foot on a farm.

I hope Senator Harkin’s call for dialog plays out, because we need to inject a little reality into this debate. Food and feed prices have jumped to record levels this year, as supplies lag behind global demand in spite of dramatic advances in agricultural productivity. This week the U.S. Grains Council projects that China’s 2011 corn imports could double or triple those projected earlier as demand skyrockets. Corn futures are topping $8 per bushel. The U.N.’s Food and Agricultural Organization meanwhile projects food production will need to double to feed 9 billion people by 2050, and do so with shorter supplies of water, fertilizer and agricultural land.

If CSPI and the sponsors of Food Day have viable ideas for addressing these issues, we’ll all be interested to hear them. A good place to start would be PlentyToThinkAbout.org, a blog sponsored by Elanco Animal Health providing a forum for dialog on the realities of feeding the world.