Radio Readers BookByte: Art & Sustenance

Aug 28, 2017

Reluctant, but hungry -- for food and sustenance.
Credit EDSITement / National Endowment for the Humanities

Radio Readers,  we’re discussing The Food of a Younger Land edited by Mark Kurlansky as part of the 2017 Fall Read – Food and Story.  I’m Meagan Zampieri from Norton, Kansas and today I’d like to talk about  the role of the federal government.

In April of 1935, with 25% of the American population out of work, the Works Progress Administration was established. Kurlansky writes of Franklin Roosevelt’s intent - that it was vital to “not only sustain these people but to preserve their self-respect, their self-reliance, and courage, and determination.” [Roosevelt’s] idea was to let the unemployed earn money by working for the federal government.

Writers, artists, musicians were not left out, and the Federal Arts, Theatre, and Writers’ Projects gave much needed support to Jackson Pollock, and Orson Welles, and Zora Neale Hurston (who is only briefly featured in America Eats).

Winston Churchill once said, “The arts are essen­tial to any com­plete national life. The State owes it to itself to sus­tain and encour­age them….Ill fares the race which fails to salute the arts with the rev­er­ence and delight which are their due.”

FDR’s brilliant politicking and optimistic stance toward the role of government got him re-elected three times, but then and now, critiques of his spending persist.

Fast-forward 80 years, and we the people are having the same fight. When the President’s proposed budget was released earlier this year, the elimination of departments was largely overshadowed by the possible elimination of several favorite programs like Meals on Wheels.

I wrote to my senators and representatives about the importance of the Institute for Museum and Library Services and the National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities. Both senators replied with an obviously carbon copied letter complaining about the size of our federal government.

Former Governor Mike Huckabee wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post, published on March 22nd of this year, wherein he praises federal investment in music education. He says, “I care greatly about the real recipients of endowment funds: the kids in poverty for whom NEA programs may be their only chance to learn to play an instrument, test-drive their God-given creativity and develop a passion for those things that civilize and humanize us all.”

Myself, I’m not sure I would be alive or healthy without federal investment in my education, which was one of the arts. Nor would I be able to contribute to society at the level I am now. I would be a bartender or waitress, probably in more than one restaurant or bar, and I wouldn’t have time to spend with my son, and I would be constantly worried and tired.

This book doesn’t much talk about the places where the food was scarce 80 years ago. To write interesting stories, it stands to reason writers had to gravitate toward the plenty. It wouldn’t have been my house. Oh, at my gramma’s house there was always enough. Mother tells stories of bringing home friends at school who hadn’t any lunch in their pails, and Gramma would make another batch of biscuits or added some broth to the hash… But mother was a divorcee with three children, who didn’t have a college degree.

My grandpa’s name was Sam, but it was our Uncle Sam who made sure I had enough to eat.