Shirley Watkins was the first African American to head the US Department of Agriculture’s Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services Agency. Her years of experience and dedication have afforded her positions and opportunity to make a difference in the lives of millions of Americans. Presiding over a $43 billion budget in the 1997 fiscal year, Watkins oversaw the Food Stamp Program, the School Lunch Program, and many other systems by which the Federal Government feeds lower-income American citizens.
A forthright woman with 30 years of experience in the nutrition field, Shirley sees food education as one of her top priorities. For this reason, each program serves a healthy portion of education along with its assistance, in an effort to emphasize the link between nutritious food and a healthy lifestyle. Another urgent issue is food recovery-finding ways in which fresh produce can be gleaned and sent to food pantries and community kitchens serving the poor and the hungry.
Shirley’s road to the stewardship of American School Food Service Association began with a popular degree with female college students in the 1950s—a bachelor’s in home economics, which she earned from the University of Arkansas. But unlike many other young post-graduate women of the era, she did not simply direct her knowledge into running her own home efficiently and economically. Instead, she decided to learn to teach others about food, cookery, and the importance of good nutrition.