Food Literacy

Untitled Document

Something to Chew On: Libraries and Food Literacy

By: Gwen Vanderhage, MLIS
Collection Development Librarian

March is National Nutrition Month. In addition to getting the ground ready for planting or scooping up the first produce of the season at the farmers' market, it is a great time to highlight food literacy inside and outside the library.

Food literacy is all about helping kids and adults understand the story of food: where it comes from, how to prepare it, and the impacts of food choices on our health, environment, and economy. Public libraries across the nation are treating food literacy as another component of overall literacy in the community.

Beyond recommended reading and displays, libraries are forming community partnerships and hosting programs. Many libraries, from Seattle, to Denver, to the suburbs of Boston, are providing their services at neighborhood farmers' markets. The Denver Public Library utilizes mobile library card sign-ups, gives away advanced reader's copies and weeded titles, and brings along the ever-popular button maker for on-the-fly programming. Presenting storytime at the market is a beloved way to build community relationships. Many public libraries in smaller communities host farmers' markets in their parking lots, bringing the connection and programming opportunities even closer.

Public libraries from California to Georgia are home to seed libraries, where patrons can “check out” packets of heirloom and open-pollinated seeds. These are free for patrons to plant in their own gardens. The libraries then offer resources and classes throughout the spring and summer about growing, harvesting, preserving, and cooking the fruits of those seeds. The same climate- controlled spaces that benefit books and archival materials also benefit seed storage.

One of the new (or new again) ideas that goes along with the Makerspace movement is The Library of Things. In addition to microscopes and museum passes, some libraries are loaning out kitchen gadgets, from Wilton cake pans to canning kits. Hillsboro Public Library (OR) lists such diverse items as cherry pitters, steamer pots, and a deep fryer. Brendan Lax, Collection Development Librarian at Hillsboro says, “It’s nice to be able to try out a cake pan or a kitchen gadget, instead of purchasing one only to find out it’s not something you really need, or will use, and it ends up taking up valuable cupboard space for years.” The meaningful connections to lifelong learning and food literacy are endless when patrons are able to try out a kitchen tool they may not be able to afford or are curious to sample. Lax continues, “By being able to try these things out, I feel like our patrons can become better informed consumers and really figure out what they need and would like in their own personal collections. The spiralizers and the sous vide are perfect examples of this - and some of my favorite kitchen gadgets in our collection.”

But what about the books? This month celebrates the five-year anniversary of the children's publishing company Readers to Eaters. As their website states, their mission is to “promote food literacy from the ground up. We want children and families to have a better understanding of what and how we eat.” Readers to Eaters' most popular and award-winning title, Farmer Will Allen and the Growing Table, is a perfect example of putting that mission to the page. A biography of the engaging former basketball star turned urban farming phenom, the book highlights Allen's mission to bring healthy food to the inner city and teach kids and teens how to farm. Readers to Eaters is a small press whose entire catalog is featured in Brodart’s Food Literacy book list for kids.

We have compiled Food Literacy book lists for both kids and adults. These feature books on the history and politics of food, health (without going down the diets rabbit hole), do-it-yourself foodways (from containers of herbs to butchering), and cookbook basics. The kids list also includes picture book, poetry, and fiction titles for readers up to age 12.

So plant a seed, grow a reader...or an eater.