Everyone has to eat. We’ve been doing it a long time. So, you would think that our philosophies about “Food” would be simple.  They are not. “Food”  (and the politics that govern it) is very complicated.  

Fears about food safety such as outbreaks of salmonella and E. Coli have led Congress to consider passing a bill which will allow federal agencies the authority to recall tainted products if a manufacturer refuses. I don’t understand why this is controversial? It seems like common sense to me.  Currently, there are 15 federal agencies that oversee food and drug inspections.

Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service– Protects the health and value of U.S. agricultural resources (e.g., animals and plants).
Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration – Establishes quality standards, inspection procedures and marketing of grain and other related products.
Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) – Establishes quality and condition standards for dairy, fruit, vegetable, livestock, meat, poultry, and egg products. (Has no statutory authority.)
Agricultural Research Service – Conducts food safety research.
Economic Research Service – Provides analyses of the economic issues affecting the safety of the U.S. food supply.
National Agricultural Statistics Service – Provides statistical data, including agricultural chemical usage data, related to the safety of the food supply.
Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service – Supports food safety research, education, and extension programs in the land-grant university system and other partner organizations.
Food and Drug Administration (FDA) – Inspects all domestic and imported food products except meat, poultry, or processed egg products.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – Protects the nation’s public health, including foodborne illness surveillance.
National Marine Fisheries Service – Provides voluntary, fee-for-service examinations of seafood for safety and quality.
Environmental Protection Agency – Regulates the use of pesticides and maximum allowable residue levels on food commodities and animal feed.
Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau – Enforces laws covering the production, use, and distribution of alcoholic beverages.
Department of Homeland Security – Coordinates agencies’ food security activities.
Federal Trade Commission – Prohibits false advertisements for food.
We can spend lots of money to teach people about the importance of a healthy diet, but we can’t tell them what to eat or where to buy it.  These are personal decisions guided (often as not) by availability and cost more than by our personal preferences. If you are poor, it is harder to get access to good food at an affordable price.
Michelle Obama wants to change our national food policies to help with this.  She has appeared at soup kitchens and community centers to talk about the importance of a healthy diet. She has visited schools seeking to improve their lunch menus.  And, to increase people’s access to fresh fruits and vegetables, she has promoted the local-food movement. 
White House Garden
Here at Chesapeake Central Library we are trying in our own way to foster some of the same ideas. We have partnered with Plant-A-Row and the Chesapeake Agriculture Department  to start a small garden behind our Children’s Department .  Library programs teaching children about seeds, gardens and food are being organized.  So far, we have made pots for our plants out of recycled newspapers and planted beans. 
This summer, school children came to the First Lady’s Garden to help plant (and later harvest) food.  The intent was to show children the step-by-step process of how food gets to the table.  This is something that many children who live in the city don’t know.  Don’t vegetables come in cans?

Even some children who live outside urban areas may not know much about how food is grown.  I remember years ago we bought our little nephew a bag of hot roasted peanuts at a sporting event and after a few minutes he broke a shell open and exclaimed excitedly, “ Hey! There’s peanuts in here!”  He was so surprised. (The only peanuts he had ever seen were already shelled, salted and in a cellophane wrapper.)

Here at Central Library, we have taken some wooden pallets from our loading dock and repurposed  them to create “raised planting beds” outside our Children’s area.  We’ve stapled landscaping cloth to the bottom and sides and filled the top with potting soil and then laid them horizontal on the patio. Ta Da! A place to grow food when you can’t dig!  Apartment dwellers with small balconies or outdoor space could do the same.

We are in the process of planting these flats with beans, peas, onions, lettuce and radishes.We have tomatoes in ceramic pots, sunflowers planted against the brick wall and a selection of herbs and flowers to be planted in two vertical pallets.

If our Garden Project takes off here -as we hope it will-we envision a meandering walkway around the building with pockets of edible plants scattered among the bushes and flowers. In fact, plans have already been drawn up.  (As always with new ideas, however, it is the practical matter of funding that will or will not ensure it’s success.) Wish us luck.


Because having great food isn’t much use if you don’t know how to cook it, part of the White House plan is to also inspire families to cook.  By working with Brainfood, a non-profit organization that helps young people build life skills and promotes healthy living,  they are using food as a teaching tool to show people how to grow and cook food.

While I can’t say I really “enjoy” cooking all the time, I am old enough to have grown up during a time and place when there wasn’t any other option.  If you wanted to eat, you had to cook it yourself.  So, I learned early and have just considered it to be part of life.  Apparently, there are a lot of people who don’t cook at all!  (And I thought it was only my husband.)


I am hoping that the food gathered from our garden will not only feed people, but will also spawn some library programs for teens on how to cook, for adults on how to can produce,  for everyone how to eat healthy and promote the idea of food sovereignty for everyone.

Perhaps we can also form some new partnerships with people and organizations who are interested in reforming the way agriculture is subsidized, changing regulations to improve the environment, raising nutritional standards in public schools or better food labeling in the markets.  It’s amazing the ideas that can be grown in a garden, isn’t it?
Did you know that just learning how to cook food caused a big jump in human intellect 150,000 years ago?   Cooking breaks down fibers in foods and sends nutrients to the brain faster because less energy is required to digest it. This freed up calories to feed our brains.
If we all started growing some of our own food, and/or eating healthy locally-grown products, just think of the increase to our brain power and all the things we could accomplish! Maybe “Food” isn’t supposed to be as complicated as we have made it after all?
by Christian Wiman
When the time’s toxins
have seeped into every cell
and like a salted plot
from which all rain, all green are gone
I and life are leached
of meaning
somehow a seed
of belief
sprouts the instant
I acknowledge it.
Little weedy hardy would-be
tugged upward
by light
while deep within
roots like talons
are taking hold again
of this our only earth.


Born to read, forced to work.

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