Cincinnati, Ohio. — The upcoming White House Conference on Hunger, Diet and Health on Wednesday is a pivotal moment as we face a food crisis at home and abroad.
Neither the government nor the media pays enough attention to hunger.
The White House, which is hosting the conference, can change that by putting hunger in the spotlight. Presidential leadership is critical to making the fight against hunger a top priority, as history shows us.
It was October 1947 when the White House’s first televised address was about hunger. President Harry Truman spoke to the nation about a food crisis in Europe and how Americans can help. Truman and Secretary of State George C. Marshall gave numerous addresses to the nation on the overseas food crisis after World War II. Their messages made it clear that ending hunger is important and encouraged more people to get involved.
President Dwight Eisenhower created the Food for Peace program to end global hunger. As President Eisenhower once said, people should put “both their hearts and their minds” into fighting hunger. Domestically, Eisenhower supported nutrition, including creating the school milk program.
President John F. Kennedy promoted leadership in the fight against hunger by establishing a Food for Peace office in the White House on his first day as President. Also on his first day, JFK launched a meal stamp program for those in need at home.
The last time a White House hunger conference was held was in 1969. As President Nixon said at the start of the 1969 event, “This meeting marks a historic milestone. What it is doing is sealing with urgency our national commitment to end hunger and malnutrition due to poverty in America.”
The 1969 conference led to the expansion of the national school feeding program, improvements to the Food Stamp Program (SNAP), and the creation of the WIC Maternal and Infant Feeding Program.
But with hunger escalating dramatically at home and abroad, it is clearly time for a new White House hunger conference.
The pandemic and inflation have dramatically increased the need for food aid across America. Feeding America says 90% of its food banks have reported increased demand for their services. But food banks are tight.
We must ensure that families receive food aid and are protected from evictions when rent costs rise.
The upcoming White House conference hosted by the Biden-Harris administration may build support for legislation to make school meals free for all children. This would ensure that no child slips through the cracks of bureaucracy and would eliminate any expensive administrative costs of determining eligibility.
When schools close for the summer, all families in need should be given EBT cards, which parents can use to buy groceries so their children don’t go hungry. Congress should also make the expanded child tax credit permanent to help families escape hunger.
The White House conference should also inspire action to end global famine, as Somalia, Yemen and other nations are in dire need of food aid.
The United Nations World Food Program warns: “The number of people affected by acute food insecurity has skyrocketed since 2019 – from 135 million to 345 million. A total of 50 million people in 45 countries are on the brink of starvation.”
Save the Children, Action Against Hunger and other charities “estimate that every four seconds one person dies from hunger” around the world.
The United States must increase funding for its global food aid programs and encourage other nations to do the same. The public must also be involved and urge Congress to act.
Everyone can do more to end global hunger, and it takes leadership to advance those efforts. This White House Conference on Hunger is an opportunity to show that food is a priority, both domestically and internationally.
We could drastically reduce hunger everywhere if we have leadership and shared will.
William Lambers is an author who collaborated with the United Nations World Food Program on the book Ending World Hunger. He writes from Cincinnati, Ohio.
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