Serious Reads: American Grown by Michelle Obama

Serious Reads

Reviews of food-themed memoirs, beach reads, and histories.

In the past two years, First Lady Michelle Obama has made strides in her efforts to reduce childhood obesity through her organization Let's Move! The group's goal is to eliminate childhood obesity through education about improving diet and increasing physical activity. Part of this mission has been addressed through the groundbreaking White House garden (PDF), a 1100-square foot plot on the South Lawn used to grow vegetables and fruits year-round. In American Grown, Mrs. Obama talks about her childhood, describes how she came to be interested in the issue of obesity, and provides wonderful details about the growth and bounty of the White House garden.

Mrs. Obama grew up in an active family, where her days were occupied by playing tag and gobbling up her mother's vegetable-heavy cooking. But when she became a mother, she found it easy to slip into bad habits: going out to eat several times a week, eating meals on the run, and letting vegetables grow cold on her daughters' plates. But when she realized there was a real possibility of spending the next four years living in the White House, she thought about how other parents around the country must be facing the same predicaments as the Obamas. She decided that childhood nutrition and obesity would be her cause.

The garden itself is a beautifully-maintained, productive plot. Mrs. Obama is not the first First Lady to break ground in the temptingly plush South Lawn—Eleanor Roosevelt famously planted a victory garden during World War II. But Mrs. Obama's garden is by far the most extensive and public that has ever been harvested at the White House. The crops—which range from peas in spring to squash in winter—are used in the White House kitchen and also donated to local food pantries.

The garden is open to the public for tours, and is often weeded by White House staffers. Local student groups and schools come to harvest and learn about growing vegetables. The garden has become a part of the White House community, which was Mrs. Obama's ultimate goal. Except for the honey bees, which occasionally escape (to the fright of the Secret Service), the garden has been a positive addition to the White House grounds.

This book is beautiful, with large glossy pictures of vegetables, children covered in dirt, and Bo (the family's dog). It also provides a look into the daily life of Michelle Obama, whose energy and enthusiasm have powered the Let's Move! campaign and its accomplishments. I also enjoyed that this book said very little about Barack—whom Michelle only referred to as "my husband," as though his name or position was rather irrelevant to this story. From facts about gardening to interviews with the White House groundskeepers, American Grown is a portrait of a garden and a woman whose influence is being felt by communities around the country.

About the Author: A student in Providence, Rhode Island, Leah Douglas loves learning about, talking about, reading about, and consuming food. Her work has also been featured in Rhode Island Monthly Magazine.