Herbert Hoover’s book American Epic Volume Four gives a country-by-country breakdown of the siege of hunger after World War II. Detailed reports reveal the crisis of child hunger and the desperate race to find solutions.
The book is a great history of the World War II era and the fight to save millions from starvation after the fighting had ended. It tells a story not often covered in the histories of this time period.
But I think the book represents more than an outstanding history. It’s something we can learn from in today’s struggle to win peace.
Herbert Hoover meeting with President Harry Truman to discuss the food crisis in Europe after World War II. Hoover writes about post-war hunger in American Epic, Volume Four. (National Archives photo)
When I saw Hoover’s book a few years ago, I asked: Why not have something like this today? Why not have a country-by-country look at all-important child feeding? I felt this was not being covered enough in the news. The “silent tsunami” of high food prices had struck and the number of hungry children worldwide was fast growing.
So I contacted Jennifer Parmelee of the UN World Food Programme (WFP) in Washington, D.C. I presented my idea and it took off from there. It led to the creation of an interview series covering school feeding programs worldwide and then the book Ending World Hunger.
Laura Sheahen of Catholic Relief Services/Caritas also was very instrumental in helping develop the series. The feature continues online at Blogcritics today with its most recent update including the Norwegian Refugee Council providing school meals in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The idea is to bring the issue of child hunger into the spotlight and talk about solutions, and to connect the issues of hunger and nutrition to the pursuit of peace and development. This is something American Epic does.
A school meal program for Germany saved that country after World War II and it can do the same for others today.
Yet hunger has not been made enough of a priority and low funding plagues relief operations in Afghanistan, Yemen, Ivory Coast, Haiti, Sudan, and other nations. In East Africa, critical months lie ahead in saving the region after the massive drought last year.
In Sudan food is vital to the peace process. Whether it’s the nutritious peanut paste plumpy’nut (or plumpy’sup for malnourished infants), food for school age children, or agricultural development, it can mean the difference between peace and conflict.
This child in Sudan is receiving food aid from the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC). Many more children in the world are in need of food safety nets. (NRC Sudan photo)
Currently, low funding for the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has led to reductions in its school feeding for Afghan children. In Benin, WFP is able to feed only 64 percent of children in the school feeding program. The funding shortages again limit the reach of the program.
There is a lot more that can be done to fight hunger around the globe.
Hoover’s American Epic showed what a food ambassador could do to rally cooperation, both domestically and internationally, for fighting hunger, and why it’s so important that child feeding programs get the support they need. Nutrition matters.
As Hoover said, “Civilization marches forward upon the feet of healthy children. We cannot have recovery of civilization in nations with a legacy of stunted bodies or distorted and embittered minds.”
I think the Congress needs to think of this when they are drawing up the new budget. Think of what the consequences will be of reducing U.S. international food aid – what that will mean for future generations, and what it will mean for our prospects for peace.
I think that is a key lesson to take from Hoover’s American Epic.