Somehow, when no one was looking, the fast food industry cornered the market on the term "value meal." What's obvious to anyone who's ever masticated at Mickey D's, though, is that value has come to mean quantity, not quality.
Slow Food USA wants to turn that notion on its head.
The nonprofit that positions itself as the opposite of fast food is generating a massive grassroots movement to reclaim the value meal with a $5 challenge to Americans: just one day this year, pledge to cook a healthy meal for less than five bucks.
Last year, Slow Food President Josh Viertel asked President Obama why it's easier for families to feed kids Fruit Loops than fruit (see the video here). Uncharacteristically short on words, the President stumbled briefly before pointing to the First Lady's efforts to entice Wal-Mart toward cooperating in a healthier food agenda. (Mrs. Obama had recently celebrated an agreement with the corporation to improve food labeling and offer more fruit options.)
"Now, whether or not you like Walmart, his answer made it clear to me that all of us, as every day people, are going to need to roll up our sleeves and come up with some answers ourselves," Viertel tells TakePart. "The $5 Challenge is our way of getting started."
Viertel says the Slow Food campaign is an opportunity for everyone to learn more about what makes it so challenging for people to cook real food. "It is a chance to share our solutions—our recipes for soup, and our recipes for change. Then we will get to work together, fixing the things that make it so challenging."
In the first 24 hours, 1250 people had answered the call, pledging to host or attend events.
Though the $5 Challenge is limited to a single day, the event is essentially about creating large-scale change. Fast food production is just one byproduct of a highly subsidized, vastly distorted food system in which nutritious foods cost consumers more than those that are nutrionally devoid.
"Eating is political," Viertel says. When the $5 Challenge has come and gone, the new hurdle will be applying the lessons learned. The next step is building a campaign to tranform the Farm Bill. With a multitude of voices and a solidified community, Viertel believes that change is possible.
"Bringing people together around the table is the best way to build more enlightened eaters, and civic engagement," Viertel says. "We need both."