On May 20, 1946 a man walked into an emergency food collection center in Cincinnati, Ohio to make a donation. Cincinnati, like many cities and towns, was trying to help people in Europe and Asia suffering from food shortages in the aftermath of World War II. The man gave 30 dollars to help this effort. This may not seem like much money today, but back in 1946 it was the man’s entire weekly paycheck. The following day the Cincinnati Post reported the story of the anonymous man’s generosity which represented the spirit of many Americans in helping the starving peoples of the war-torn countries.
Today’s generation must show the same spirit in tackling the current global food crisis. This is no easy task, especially when you consider the ongoing financial emergency that has struck everyone, but as Josette Sheeran of the UN World Food Programme (WFP) points out, “As we take care of Wall Street and Main Street, we can’t forget the places that have no streets.”
As President, Barack Obama will need to show leadership in fighting hunger. The challenges are overwhelming when one looks at the food crisis in different countries. High food prices during 2008 forced millions more people into the already swollen ranks of the hungry.
Where should Obama begin? He could start by appointing a White House coordinator to oversee the U.S. response to global hunger, as stipulated by the Global Food Security Act introduced by Senators Lugar and Casey. This “global hunger czar” could strengthen cooperation between existing U.S. government agencies, the private sector, and charities in order to maximize hunger relief efforts.
S/he could also advise the president and place the fight against hunger into the very forefront of American foreign policy, such as it was after World War II. In 1946, President Harry Truman called upon former President Herbert Hoover to serve as a “food ambassador.” Hoover led a mission to over 30 countries to find out the food requirements and how to meet them. His mission also demonstrated the dedication of the United States to help countries in need. It was a show of great strength and compassion.
Hoover maintained a dialogue with the American people including his address to the nation on May 17, 1946. Perhaps Hoover’s speech inspired the anonymous donor in Cincinnati and many others.
Truman also formed a Cabinet Committee on World Food Programs to monitor world hunger. Defeating hunger was paramount as an effort to rebuild war-torn countries. In 1947, Secretary of State George C. Marshall summed it up best stating, “Food is the very basis of all reconstruction. Hunger and insecurity are the worst enemies of peace.” The success of Marshall’s proposed European recovery program rested on the foundation provided by food.
Today, Obama’s hunger czar could work on Food for Peace initiatives across the globe. In Iraq, universal school feeding should be enacted for children. Forming this program requires cooperation between the Iraqi government, donor governments, the World Food Programme, and other agencies. A global hunger czar could help make such a program a reality for Iraqi children. The same holds true for Afghanistan, Sudan, and many other countries. These may not be initiatives that grab headlines, but they often form the bridge from war to peace as we found out after World War II.
Citizens should contact their representatives urging support for the Global Food Security Act, which would create Obama’s “global hunger czar” position.
It is difficult perhaps for someone to give an entire paycheck like the gentleman from Cincinnati did in 1946, however, consider that even a donation of about $1.50 can provide a child with a school meal for an entire week. Even the smallest of donations to the UN WFP, World Vision, ChildsLife International, Catholic Relief Services and many other dedicated organizations can go a long way.