This Voice was completed by Joel Berg, CEO of Hunger Free America
Type of submission
President Joseph Biden recently announced that he will be holding a White House Conference on Food, Nutrition, Hunger, and Health (the first since 1969) this September. Getting Congress to fund, and the White House to agree to hold, the second-ever White House conference on food and nutrition, a step long championed by Hunger Free America, is a big victory for the antihunger movement.
We are grateful to the House Rules Committee Chair James McGovern, who fought incessantly for this for years, finally achieved this crucial milestone and that the Biden Administration is enthusiastically championing and advancing this effort. It is extremely encouraging that President Biden is committing to ending U.S. hunger by 2030, a truly historic pledge.
We cannot end U.S. hunger without significantly reducing poverty, and we cannot significantly reduce poverty without first raising wages, reducing inflation, boosting economic opportunity, and bolstering the American middle class. Similarly, we cannot ensure good nutrition for all Americans without first ending domestic hunger. The incontrovertible facts below will prove the truth of those statements.
If the White House is serious about using its upcoming September 2022 Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health to propose a plan to achieve its two historic goals set by President Joe Biden – ending hunger and increasing healthy eating for all Americans by 2030 (in only eight years) – the Conference must propose economic and social policies to raise wages and slash U.S. poverty, make the cost of living more affordable, dramatically increase economic opportunity, and make it easier for low-income Americans to enter, and stay in, the middle class.
It is simply not accurate to claim that we can end U.S. hunger without increasing economic mobility, reducing inflation, boosting wages, and reducing poverty. Claiming we can end hunger without reducing poverty would be like claiming we can end drought without more water.
The White House now faces two choices: either include poverty reduction and economic mobility as additional pillars of the Conference or scale back the pledge to end hunger by 2030.
Obviously, seriously planning to end hunger is the wiser choice – substantively, politically, and morally.
In order of importance, the nation needs to do the following if it is serious about ending domestic hunger, food insecurity, and nutrition insecurity:
1) Create jobs, raise wages; make it easier for low-income people to develop assets by
moving from owing interest to owning income-producing resources; boost upward
mobility; and strengthen the middle class.
2) Reduce prices for housing, childcare, health care, higher education, transportation,
clothing, utilities, prescription drugs, phone and Internet costs, and food.
3) Significantly increase the number of people who benefit from, and the size of the
benefits in, the federal nutrition safety net programs. Increase benefit amounts
while making it easier for low-income people to be enrolled in such benefits, and to
redeem those benefits, online, particularly for home delivery of healthy foods.
4) Fully integrate food and nutrition into Medicaid, Medicare, and the ACA, including
a focus on defining “food as medicine.”
5) Fully engage virtually every domestic federal agency in concrete, meaningful,
systematic efforts to fight hunger and boost nutrition.
6) Every other key player in our society – state, city, county, tribal, and territorial
governments; businesses, including food growers, processors, manufacturers, and
retailers; farmers and ranchers; nonprofit organizations and civic groups;
foundations and philanthropists; higher education institutions and K-12 school
boards; hospitals, HMOS, and insurers; organizations that serve older Americans;
religious denominations and congregations; and private individuals – should all
work together to fill in the gaps when steps one through five are not enough.
Areas of divergence
If the White House is serious about using its upcoming September 2022 Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health to propose a plan to achieve its two historic goals set by President Joe Biden – ending hunger and increasing healthy eating for all Americans by 2030 (in only eight years) – the Conference must propose economic and social policies to raise wages and slash U.S. poverty, make the cost of living more affordable, dramatically increase economic opportunity, and make it easier for low-income Americans to enter, and stay in, the middle class. Including a focus on aiding the middle class would also reinforce the reality that food insecurity is not just a problem for the very poor, and send a clear message that the President still cares deeply about the struggles of all working Americans.
It is concerning that, out of the five Conference pillars originally listed by the White House, increasing physical activity is included, but decreasing poverty and increasing economic opportunity are not. This gives the false impression that the White House believes that the leading cause of poor health in America is personal behavioral choices, when I know that President Biden and his staff are well aware that the top causes are structural and economic, not personal. Substantively, proposals that rely more on changing personal behavior than redressing structural inequities in the nation are destined to falter. From a messaging standpoint, any implication that the Administration wants to essentially lecture Americans that they need to exercise more and eat better but is unwilling – or unable – to improve their economic well-being so they have more money and time to do both – would be a political misstep.
Similarly, there would be significant substantive and political risk if the Administration set a public goal of ending hunger by 2030 while proposing a plan that would not come close to doing
I understand that, above all, the White House wants the Conference to be practical. It does not want the Conference to propose unachievable, pie-in-the-sky goals. I could not agree more. The Conference's goals should indeed be concrete, focused, and attainable.