That victory garden Michelle Obama dug last week on the White House lawn with the help of local schoolchildren, and which will supply the White House kitchen, is a strong symbol. But symbolism isn’t enough. The government’s policies need to change if we are to get away from the fast, unhealthy food much of the nation is hooked on and move toward the kind of local, sustainable agriculture that garden represents.
It won’t be easy, given the influence of agribusiness, but there are some encouraging signs that the first lady, first man and an increasing number of elected officials and policymakers are seeing how food, public health, environment, energy, oil, land use, etc. are all interrelated.
Helping them to see it are people like Michael Pollan, author of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” a book that eloquently and convincingly makes these connections, and which many members of Congress are reportedly walking around with these days. In fact Pollan made a strong pitch for a White House garden, and for those necessary policy changes, in a long New York Times Sunday magazine piece, written as a letter to President Obama before the inauguration.
Will people pay a little more for fresh, healthy, locally grown food that will have the added benefit of saving farmland in their communities? The strong success of farmers’ markets like the one started last winter in Schenectady suggests that they will. The government can help poor people do the same by providing more food stamps if they are used at farmers’ markets.
But as the White House garden shows, people could pay just a little, or not at all, if they grow the food themselves either in their own yards or in a community garden. Let’s not only keep talking, but start digging.