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Beyond Yuck and Yum: Programming with Picture Books about Food

by Laquanda M. Fields, 2022 Spectrum Scholar on May 11, 2022

Food and the Library

When brainstorming ways to include food in library programming, it’s easy to think about the traditional ways in which food has been included in library programming – nutrition, cooking, and gardening/farming. What if food in library programming could build communities around food? What if it could start conversations about culture and food equity? Well, that is what ‘Beyond Yuck and Yum: Programming with Picture Books about Food,’ a program held at the 2022 PLA Conference, inspired librarians to explore. Moderated by Craig Seasholes, Teacher-Librarian, Friends of Winthrop Library; June Jo Lee, Author and Publisher, Readers to Eaters; and Suzanna Urminska, Free Library of Philadelphia, the program challenged us to “connect the gut to the heart” by bridging food and literacy because food can be more than nourishment.

Food is Culture
June Jo Lee, food ethnographer and author studies how, what, and why we eat. She co-authored Chef Roy Choi and The Street Food Remix and Sandor Katz and The Tiny Wild with Jacqueline Briggs Martin. Both are picture books about food and culture.“So often, food is who we are,” June said as she shared her personal food story about Kimchi. As a child, the traditional Korean dish was embarrassing for June. It wasn’t until she became an adult that she began to appreciate the cultural dish. She even used it at some of her book talks for Chef Roy Choi and The Street Food Remix as an opportunity to share her culture with readers. Lee painted a beautiful portrait of how food connects to culture and identity. Smells, tastes, recipes, and traditions are cultural, and culture is our collective story. It is meant to be shared.

Food is a Lived Experience
Suzanna Urminska, Curator of Exhibitions at the Free Library of Philadelphia, shared about connecting library collections to lived experiences. “The library is a laboratory,” Urminska said. The Free Library of Philadelphia is home to the Culinary Literacy Center. Patrons are learning through food as the library provides cultural literacy programming, and programming goes beyond cooking classes. The Culinary Literacy Center is also about building community and promoting civic dialogue. An example – “Building A Good Food System: Dialogues from a Digital Series,” a grant-funded dialogue series that the library hosted virtually during the pandemic. The Free Library of Philadelphia hopes that the Culinary Literacy Center is a model for libraries worldwide. No kitchen required.

Where We Are From/Where We Are Going
What’s your food story? Everybody has one. I didn’t think I had one, but I know I do now. Your food story shows where you’re from. Sharing with others shows where you’re going.

Food and the library–why? Why not? Food is life.

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