TIMES SQUARE — Celebrity chef Mario Batali and "Super-Size Me" star Morgan Spurlock dined in the open air of Times Square Monday to help kick off the first-annual national "Food Day."
An "Earth Day" for food-related issues, the newly-established holiday is intended to raise awareness about a range of hunger, nutrition, and environmental concerns, according to a statement by organizer The Center for Science in the Public Interest.
At the Times Square event, Batali and Spurlock joined dozens of other food activists and local officials for a lunch of roasted red pepper hummus and autumn vegetable curry — a far cry from the fast food and boiled hot dog fare that generally pervades the Great White Way.
Asked to identify the most promising areas for food-related change, Batali pointed to the need for healthier lunches in schools and better food education for America's youth.
"For some strange reason people think it's cheaper to eat at Popeyes or McDonald's. It's not," said Batali, the restaurateur behind Manhattan institutions Babbo and Del Posto.
"A meal for four at McDonald's is like 25 bucks. You can roast a chicken, have a lot of vegetables [for less money] and still have a lot of change," he added.
Spurlock, on the other hand, called for the government to re-allocate grants and subsidies so that healthier foods are cheaper for consumers.
"The food that's the best for you should be the cheapest and it's not," Spurlock said. "I should be able to walk into a grocery store and buy a gigantic sack of apples for a dollar."
The filmmaker, who gained fame by subjecting himself to a 30-day, all-McDonald's diet in his movie "Super-Size Me," recalled the enthusiasm that he witnessed on Earth Day during his college years.
"You hope that something like this can gain that same traction and excitement," Spurlock remarked.
Also among the Times Square lunch guests was New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley, who addressed the crowd to announce a new wave of advertisements for the city's "Pouring on the Pounds" campaign to discourage consumption of sugary beverages.
Farley said the new round of ads would attempt to inform New Yorkers about the health effects of sugary drinks by relating the facts in real-life terms.
"If you drink one 20 oz. sugary drink a day, you're going to be eating 50 lbs. of sugar [each year]," Farley explained.
Another of the ads, on display outside the lunch, claimed that a single 20 oz. soda would require you to walk 3 miles — the distance from Yankee Stadium to Central Park — to burn off the calories.
"That's a lot of walking for a 20 ounce soda," Chante Allen, 35, remarked as she passed one of the new ads in Times Square Monday afternoon.
Allen, who works in sales and "occassionally indulges in a sugary beverage," said was inspired by the ad campaign to take the Health Department's challenge to swear off sugary beverages for a week.
"I'm definitely going to take the challenge," Allen said, suddenly remembering weekend plans to celebrate a friend's birthday. "But it might have to wait till next Monday."