This Sunday, July 10 is the birthday of one of America’s great treasures, the Food for Peace program. President Dwight Eisenhower, or Ike, signed into law what was originally known as Public Law 480 on July 10, 1954.
The idea was to send U.S. surplus food overseas to fight hunger, and what better way to build a peaceful world than to defeat the cause of so much desperation and instability: hunger. Eisenhower said, “food can be a powerful instrument for all the free world in building a durable peace.”
President Dwight Eisenhower signed into law Public Law 480 on July 10, 1954. This would become known as the Food for Peace program. (Eisenhower Library)
Countries that have received Food for Peace support over the years include India, South Korea, Italy, Japan, Austria, Germany, Poland, and Brazil. During the Kennedy administration, there was a big windfall of school feeding for a number of countries.
President Ronald Reagan called Food for Peace “an instrument of American compassion” and one that recognizes “that people who are hungry are weak allies for freedom.”
Some of those who have received Food for Peace are now helping other nations fight hunger. As an example, Brazil is a major supporter of school feeding in Haiti.
Food for Peace is a defining characteristic of America’s foreign policy and our ideals.
It’s a birthday to be celebrated, although don’t expect some members of Congress to be coming forward with a present. In fact, the House of Representatives has proposed reducing Food for Peace funding. Some members of the House even tried to eliminate almost all funding for the program.
What should happen is an increase in funding. Recent years have seen an under-utilization of Food for Peace and other hunger-fighting programs. Not enough funding is provided by the Congress and it’s very detrimental to our foreign policy.
We cannot build peace today on a foundation of hunger and suffering. We see that in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan, Yemen, and many other parts of the globe. We need our Food for Peace program to support its international counterpart, the UN World Food Programme. Fighting global hunger is an international effort, but the U.S. needs to take the lead.
Right now, we have a major drought occurring in the Horn of Africa. Millions are at risk of severe malnutrition and even starvation. Funding for the relief mission there is low. In Afghanistan, rations are being cut for child feeding programs also because of low funding. In other countries, the same story is repeated. Is that what you call a strategy for peace? It makes no sense.
America and the world would be better served with a bulked up Food for Peace program now. It’s relatively inexpensive; it’s much cheaper, for example, than large, unnecessary nuclear weapons stockpiles.
If you do want to give the Food for Peace program a birthday present, send a message to your representatives in the House and Senate. Ask them to build back the Food for Peace program and its partner, the McGovern-Dole global school meals program.
It’s our foreign policy that is being developed in these budget negotiations ongoing in Congress. We decide what it is going to be, but only if we speak up. That conversation needs to be about feeding hungry children and building their minds and bodies so future generations can have peace.