This guest blog by Fresh Advantage Director Marydale Debor first appeared on Food Solutions New England. You can view the original blog in full here.
This past July 4th, Share Our Strength, in collaboration with a leading advertising agency, filmmakers, and media outlets, launched a public awareness campaign that deftly challenges assumptions about America’s “greatness,” perhaps even our sense of national identity and the direction of our moral compass in the face of our nation’s ongoing hunger epidemic.
In a series of PSAs that are a part of the campaign, Slovenian, German, and Chinese adults, speaking in their native languages, are featured together with images of US children in local neighborhoods. US hunger statistics that exceed rates in these other developed countries are recited, with English subtitles, ending with an appeal that their own country come to America’s aid.
Some commentators have characterized the PSAs as a spoof on traditional charity ads, although they are hardly funny. Rather, the ads give a new perspective on this statistic: 48.8 million Americans—including 16.2 million children—live in households that lack the means to get enough nutritious food on a regular basis.
How can that be? In the greatest nation on earth? Something must be very wrong.
Clearly, the root of this domestic evil is not lack of capacity. The fact that millions of Americans suffer from “limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods [accessible] in socially acceptable ways” stems from the lack of political will needed to address the complex problem of hunger, married as it is to pervasive poverty, expanding inequality, and the poor health status of Americans in comparison to the citizens of other developed nations.
So, the question becomes where to turn—within—for answers. What can America do? Advocacy and action by community “anchor” institutions can help:
- Schools must stay the course with respect to following the nutritional guidelines set by the USDA. School districts could extend their programs, for example, to supper service and summer meals.
- Non-profit hospitals can focus their community benefit programs on supporting local programs that provide access to nutritious foods through partnerships that
- Provide support to USDA school and early childhood feeding programs
- Enable food banks to increase their inventory of nutritious and fresh foods
- Offer double-value coupon programs to extend SNAP benefits for the purchase of fruits and vegetables at local farmers markets
- Invest in upstream, “community building” food system development, such as food hubs. For suggestions, see this discussion on how non-profit hospitals can partner with local and regional food systems to increase access to nutritious food.
- Hospitals can join forces with USDA feeding programs, as Arkansas Children’s Hospital and Hennepin County Hospital (Minnesota) have done by becoming sponsor sites for summer meals programs.
- Food banks can take advantage of Affordable Care Act–based changes in health care by becoming more active in promoting community health efforts, such as adding food assistance on site at health care institutions. For suggestions, see Food Banks as Partners in Health Promotion, a report published by Feeding America and The Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation at Harvard Law School.
Finally, individual voters can insist candidates running for political office (federal, state, and local) articulate their “food policy.” A credible food policy should not be limited to supporting essential public nutrition programs such as SNAP and school and summer meals for low-income children. Instead, such a policy should include measures and funding to improve access to adequate nutrition linked to agricultural and economic development. We need regional and national food policies that will encourage the development of small and mid-size farms and new growing methods. Diversified production can create jobs and economic independence as well as increase the supply of healthy food.
By electing representatives who will pursue policies aligned with the “American values” of independence, strength, and productivity—even the humanistic and patriotic desire to take care of our own—we may not need help from Slovenia . . . or China . . . or Germany.