Food and figureheads.

Though the past week or so has been insane on the financial front, it has brought some very good news in the realm of food. If you are anything like me, you have been overjoyed at recent happenings on the South Lawn, where the Obamas broke ground for a kitchen garden on Friday. Not only will they (or, at least, an assistant White House chef and some local schoolchildren) be raising a tasty collection of organic vegetables and herbs, but a White House carpenter/beekeeper will be tending two hives. Given that the last White House vegetable garden was Eleanor Roosevelt’s victory garden, this is all very good news indeed.
The Sunday Business section of the NYT also has a lead story on food, contemplating whether a “food revolution” is in the works here in the U. S. of A. I have to say that this article in particular gives me hope, as it makes me feel a heck of a lot better about our new Secretary of Agriculture and what his legacy might prove to be. Any hope that we should have a person in that job who isn’t just a shill for agribusiness and who actually has a good understanding about the environmental, health, and land use issues around the modern food system is hope worth having, and I am pleased as punch to read that Mr. Vilsack has broken ground (or, more accurately, concrete) at the USDA headquarters for a similar garden in the heart of D.C. Having spent a lot of time going through Extension Service general correspondence at the National Archives — and some time at the National Agricultural Library — in the past couple of weeks, I’ve had agriculture policy on the brain. Looking through USDA records from the immediate postwar period drives home how much has changed since before WWII, and how critical those years of conflict and recovery were in shaping the food and farming systems of today, not just in the United States, but around the world as well. If Mr. Vilsack recalls anything of his home state of Iowa before it grew nothing but corn and soybeans, that sense of history and change will help point out alternative paths for the future.
During my time at Archives II, I had the pleasant experience of noticing one important detail that had changed since my last trip there in January of ’08. Coming down from the reading room one day, I saw that the rather goofy-looking second-term photo of Bush 43 hanging in the main lobby had been replaced — unsurprisingly, of course — by the official Obama photo that now must be hanging in the lobbies of every government building around the country. Though I had just come from finding some really good documents, this little detail caused me to break into a huge smile, one that would reappear every time I passed through the lobby thereafter. When I went back to the NAL, I took note of the two new photographs hanging there — one of Mr. Vilsack, one of Mr. Obama — and shared my joy with the security guard who was issuing me my visitor’s pass. At the time, I didn’t have much to say about the Secretary, but, having read this most recent article, I hope that, on my next visit, I will find his photograph equally reassuring. Do good work, Mr. Vilsack. We need it.
For some more interesting coverage on these matters, see the Room for Debate feature, and a little classic Pollan.

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