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What’s Cooking, Uncle Sam? Government and the American Diet

Poor Uncle Sam’s got a lot on his plate these days: a curdled economy, an overcooked climate, a soured populace. It’s enough to give a national icon a capital case of indigestion. Anti-government sentiment is running so high that half the country seems ready to swap his stars and stripes for tar and feathers.

Sure, Uncle Sam’s always been kind of a drag, with his stern face and wagging finger. But to “nanny-state” haters, he’s a Beltway busybody in drag, democracy’s Mrs. Doubtfire, a Maryland Mary Poppins. If you believe that government is always the problem, never the solution, then you have no use for, say, more stringent food safety regulations, or Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” campaign to combat obesity.

But the new exhibit “What’s Cooking, Uncle Sam? The Government’s Effect on the American Diet” at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. offers an intriguing display of documents, posters, photos and other artifacts dating from the Revolutionary War to the late 1900s which serve to remind us that our government has long played a crucial role in determining how safe, nutritious and affordable our food supply is. Read more

Elitism is Dead: The New Debate for the Good Food Movement

On Wednesday, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, farmer, poet and food movement hero Wendell Berry, physicist and seed-saving advocate Vandana Shiva, nutritionist and professor Marion Nestle, and His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales were among the speakers at The Future of Food, a conference put on by the Washington Post at Georgetown University.

The media was quick to focus on the comments by Prince Charles, who has been farming land on his Highgrove Estate for 26 years and selling produce under the name Duchy Originals, the profits of which are given to charities. But though the Prince gave a thorough and informed 45-minute speech about soil loss, the importance of biodiversity, and a critique of U.S. agriculture policy (you can read the whole speech here), some media and online comments focused on the perceived hypocrisy of the Prince as an environmentalist with a huge carbon footprint, and the old fall-back of detractors of the food movement: Elitism. Read more

White House Garden Brought Attention. Now, Teacher Says School Gardens Need Support

As one of the teachers involved with Michelle Obama and the White House vegetable garden, I’ve been impressed with the sudden surge of public interest in the simple act of children planting seeds. At Bancroft Elementary School, where I work first and foremost as an art teacher, we know only too well the benefits children get from growing their own food.

But I don’t think the public has any inkling how hard it is for teachers to maintain school gardens like the one we have at Bancroft. Despite all the hoopla over school gardening, the truth is teachers engage in these activities at risk of their jobs. You see, gardening is not part of the mandated school curriculum. We are supposed to be teaching reading and math. As much as we believe school gardens offer a multitude of teaching opportunities, schools do very little to support us. Principals and teachers have been bluntly told that they will lose their jobs if math and reading scores don’t improve. We desperately need help. We need someone to take charge of our school gardens. Read more

Michelle Obama and the Launch of the White House Farmers Market

The White House likes healthy, fresh, local food — that was the message of First Lady Michelle Obama at the opening of the farmers market around the corner from the White House on Thursday. “I have never seen so many people excited about fruits and vegetables,” she began. “That’s a very good thing.”

She linked the market to the garden on the White House lawn. “When we decided to plant the White House garden, we thought it would be a way to educate kids about eating more healthy. But the garden has turned out into so much more than we could have expected,” she said. “This has been one of the greatest things I’ve done in my life so far.”

She also tied it to the health debate now underway. “I realized that little things like the garden can actually play a role in all of these larger discussions,” she said. Read more

Fruits Of Our Labors

If you’ve spent years listening to well-meaning and otherwise well-informed people patiently explain to you why it’s elitist to think everyone should have access to fresh, delicious and locally produced food – if you’ve occasionally even lost the will to argue back, then each encouraging word on the subject from Michelle Obama arrives like a long-awaited gift. Read more