When the “silent tsunami” of high food prices struck in 2008, I approached the UN World Food Programme with an idea: Let’s compile a country-by-country report on the crucial safety net protecting children from hunger and poverty — school meals.
The idea was to identify the shortages facing school feeding programs, as many are underfunded and face a barrage of shocks such as food price increases, drought, or even conflict. What has to be done to make sure every child can receive school meals?
The result was an online series Ending World Hunger, and a subsequent book with over 50 nations’ school feeding programs profiled. It shows how critical school feeding is to developing nations. It was the hope that this publication would raise awareness and action to this vital issue.
Based on recent action in the Congress to reduce funding for international food aid, it may not seem like child feeding is very crucial. History tells us otherwise.
The idea for the school feeding series came from a book called the American Epic, Volume 4 by Herbert Hoover. By request of President Harry Truman, Hoover and a team visited 38 countries after World War II to assess the hunger crisis. They were food ambassadors and problem solvers. Child feeding was highlighted for each country. Where there was a shortage of food for children, this was seen as a crisis that had to be acted on, at the highest levels.
The point was they understood the importance of fighting child hunger and what it meant for winning the peace after World War II. What followed was food: CARE packages, Friendship Trains, and a Marshall Plan.
This same thinking was behind the Food for Peace movement that became a law signed by President Eisenhower in 1954. Look at some of the results of historical school feeding: Germany, Japan, Korea, Brazil, to name a few, all benefited from these post-WWII Food for Peace efforts. They all are donors to the World Food Programme today, helping fight hunger around the globe.
The scene of child hunger and malnutrition today is in Afghanistan, Sudan, Nepal, Yemen and other countries. These nations do not have universal child feeding. Hunger fighting missions by WFP and others face low funding. None of these countries will achieve a future of peace and progress without healthy children. You cannot tackle the problems facing these countries without that foundation of food.
It makes little sense for the U.S. to reduce its funding for child feeding now, especially with food prices rising again. Some will argue we have to make budget cuts to save money. However, hunger-fighting programs are some of the most inexpensive foreign policy initiatives you will find. You can cut them all but it would not even make a dent in the federal deficit.
It may be urgent to cut costs. But it’s more important to fight child hunger. As Dwight Eisenhower once asked how can we expect hungry children to become “apostles of peace.” A hungry world is an unstable world. And leaving children hungry will set the stage of a generation of misery.
I think the Congress needs to go back to the drawing board on its budget proposals, and remember our Food for Peace tradition, what it meant and what it can mean today.
I will gladly provide any member of Congress with a copy of my Ending World Hunger/school feeding reports, including the most recent updates.
Visit the World Food Program USA take action page for contacting your member of Congress. Also read the World Food Program USA blog post to learn about how members of Congress tried to eliminate funding for Food for Peace and McGovern-Dole.