WORCESTER, Mass. - Hunger isn’t a new concept and it isn’t a new problem. We’ve been fighting hunger for a long time and, while we’ve made real strides in recent decades, we haven’t ended hunger.
We know that hunger transcends age, race, and gender. In the most difficult times, like those we’re slowly recovering from today, even the middle class is not immune from hunger.
Today’s face of hunger isn’t the one we’re used to seeing. Most people still think of sunken eyes and swollen bellies, of poor children in a far-off African country. They don’t think of an overweight or obese neighbor; they don’t think of a chronically ill senior citizen or an underachieving student in their neighborhood school.
But those are the faces of hunger in the 21st century. That’s because hunger forces people to do what they can with less. More than 50 million people in the United States live in families that struggle to put food on the table, including nearly 17 million children. Food insecure families often make difficult choices between important necessities, like choosing between paying for food, medical care, transportation, or utilities. Low-income families are forced to buy low-cost, low-nutrient, high-calorie, nutrient-deficient food. Hunger impacts a family’s ability to maintain good health, access to employment, and it impacts a child’s ability to concentrate and perform well in school.
And it’s not as if we don’t have the food, resources or knowledge to end hunger in America. We do. We know how to get the job done. It’s not a lack of food. It’s not a lack of money or know-how. It’s simply a lack of political will. Hunger is, in the end, a political condition.
That’s why I have called for a White House Conference on Food and Nutrition. It’s simple. We need the President to seize this issue. We need the President to stand up and say this is a national priority, one that we will tackle sooner rather than later.
I’m grateful for the work the First Lady has done on nutrition and healthy eating. We are learning more and more about healthy food and fitness in large part because of her efforts. But we do a disservice to that effort if we don’t address hunger at the same time.
This is the time for real leadership – Presidential leadership – on this issue. Only the President can knock down the bureaucratic walls that prevent different agencies from working together. Only the President can bring together the various leaders of industry, academia, social entrepreneurship and public policy. Only the President can stand up and say hunger is a national issue; an issue that we can and will solve.
I was privileged to be the person to announce then-candidate Obama’s pledge to end childhood hunger by 2015 during the 2008 campaign. I flew to Iowa to make that announcement and I believed it was possible to achieve that goal.
Unfortunately, we’re not going to end childhood hunger by 2015 – at least not at this rate. But it doesn’t mean we should hide from that pledge. This is a seminal moment in our fight to eradicate hunger in America. A White House Conference on Food and Nutrition that convenes public and private sector leaders at the local, state, and national level, harnessing the energy, innovation, and resources necessary to end hunger would elevate the issue for all Americans. If the White House agrees to host a meaningful Conference on Food and Nutrition, one where there we develop benchmarks and goals, one that gives everyone an achievable assignment, one that fully addresses hunger across all ages, then we will have truly achieved something worth celebrating.
President Richard Nixon hosted the first, and so far only, White House Conference on Food, Nutrition, and Health in 1969. Under his leadership, Food Stamps – now SNAP—were modernized, WIC was created and we made giant strides in working to end hunger. We made real progress – and now we must go further.
I want President Obama to be the President who ends hunger. He can be the President that makes our nation healthier through better eating and by making sure everyone has access to nutritious food. And it starts with a White House Conference on Food and Nutrition.
We are the richest, most powerful nation on Earth. It is a national disgrace that so many of our fellow citizens are hungry. It is a moral failure and one that costs us dearly – from affordable health care costs to children who don’t learn in school.
It’s time to act boldly. We can end hunger.
U.S. Rep. James McGovern currently represents the Third Congressional District in Massachusetts. He will represent the Second Congressional District, due to redistricting, after Jan. 3, 2013.