For most Los Angeles food-related charitable events, the cause often takes a back seat to the thrill of epicurean overconsumption. Not saying that you shouldn't pony up the $100 for the All-You-Can-Drink Craft Beer Marathon where half the proceeds go to a local foodbank, or shell out for VIP tickets to the Annual Celebrity Chefstravaganza to support school gardens. But instead of supporting your local food nonprofits with a check, why not donate your time and effort?
This Saturday, as part of Cesar Chavez Day, an internationally celebrated day of service, the Los Angeles Food Policy Council will host dozens of food-related volunteer opportunities across the city as part of the first-ever Good Food Day LA.
The event is the latest day of service sponsored by the Mayor's office--past events have focused on public schools and the L.A. River--but this is the first to be sponsored by the L.A. Food Policy Council, a group of activists, policy makers, educators, and local nonprofits who formed last year around a strategy statement called the Good Food for All Agenda. The council hopes to increase the production and consumption of "good food" in Los Angeles, meaning food that's not only grown within a 200-mile radius of the city, but is also healthy, affordable, ethically produced and environmentally sustainable.
The goal of Good Food Day LA is for anyone in L.A. to be able to learn about and participate in the vast and varied landscape of local food production. "What I really hope that people get out of this is that they see they're part of this system," says Paula Daniels, founding chair of the council and Senior Advisor on Food Policy and Special Water Projects in the Mayor's office. "You can see how you fit into the system by the choices you make and then, that your action can radiate."
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This Saturday's long list of volunteer activities range from garden plantings to food policy workshops, so you're likely to find some way to get involved near you. This is an excellent opportunity to discover a nearby community garden, learn about a food-related nonprofit in your neighborhood, or examine the nutritional options at your local corner store. But that doesn't mean you can't embark upon a personal expedition to explore your own food system -- supporting your local farmers' market, starting a compost bin, donating produce to a shelter. If you already do some of those things, KCET Departures will be at the event, camera in hand, recording food stories for a StoryShare feature.
After a morning of service, the Good Food Day LA Festival kicks off at 11:00 a.m. at Metabolic Studios, the urban agriculture center in Chinatown. Food trucks, chef demonstrations and live music will cluster under the Spring Street Bridge, where, at 1:00 p.m., a panel discussion at will tie together the farmworker legacy of Cesar Chavez Day with contemporary local food production. "From Local to Global: Will Food Ever Be Fair?" is the question poised to Los Angeles Times newbie Jonathan Gold, as well as speakers like Joann Lo of the Food Chain Workers Alliance and Muthoni Muriu from Oxfam America, moderated by the city's food voice, KCRW's Evan Kleiman.
Perhaps the most interesting element of the day is a citywide cooking contest, also at Metabolic Studios. While the council agreed that the cooking contest should focus on a single ingredient, one that was healthy and affordable, choosing a single fruit or vegetable that sliced through the city's diverse appetites was not easy. Cabbage was chosen because it was the "food of the people," according to Joyce Chan from Sustainable Economic Enterprises of Los Angeles (SEE-LA), who is sponsoring the contest. From Kimchee to Coleslaw will accept entries in three categories: fermented, cooked and raw (go here for more details on how to enter) and will be judged by Gold, farmer James Birch, Melisse chef Josiah Citrin and city councilmember Eric Garcetti. One of the prizes is lunch with BLD chef Neal Fraser (I hope that means he's cooking it).
Could a day of service inspire people to make changes in their food choices? The council thinks so. One of the day's goals is asking participants to sign a pledge to support good food, with promises ranging from eating one seasonal, local fruit or vegetable a day, to eating dinner together as a family. While signing a pledge might not change someone's diet overnight, it might get them thinking. What the council really wants to see is a renewed sense of awareness about how food is grown and distributed, even from Angelenos who don't think of themselves as foodies, says Daniels. "When you eat the fruit, you think about the place where it's from."
Good Food Day LA takes place Saturday, March 31 at various locations around L.A. starting at 8:30 a.m. The festival at Metabolic Studios kicks off with a Tongva blessing at 9:00 a.m. and the cabbage cooking contest check-in begins at 9:00 a.m. as well.
[Photo of oranges on display at an L.A. farmer's market by orphanjones/Flickr.]