Let's Ask Marion Nestle: Who's Got The Power to End Hunger in America? | Civil Eats

Let’s Ask Marion Nestle: Who’s Got The Power to End Hunger in America?

Environmental advocate/writer Kerry Trueman checks in with food politics pioneer and NYU nutrition professor Dr. Marion Nestle, whose most recent book is Why Calories Count, with Malden Nesheim. Read more of Nestle’s insights at food politics.com and follow her on Twitter @marionnestle. Nestle is currently working on her next book, Eat, Drink, Vote: The Illustrated Guide to Food Politics, due out from Rodale in September 2013.

Trueman: We produce more than enough food in the U.S. to feed every man, woman and child. In fact, we’ve got such a surplus that we throw away almost half of it. But more than 47 million Americans–including roughly 16 million kids–struggle with hunger.

And with budget cuts undermining our food stamp program, aka SNAP, this problem’s only getting worse. Who has the power to change this shameful state of affairs, and how?

Nestle: I’ve just seen A Place at the Table (a film in which I briefly appear), which lays out today’s hunger problem in a particularly poignant way. It was clear from the film that its low-income participants had to deal with what is now called “food insecurity,” meaning that they couldn’t count on a reliable supply of adequate food on a daily basis and sometimes didn’t have enough to eat. But they also had to deal with another problem: the food that they did get was mostly junk food. So the question really should be worded somewhat differently: How can we ensure that everyone in America can afford enough healthy food?

I’m guessing that the makers of A Place at the Table intended it to do for the 2013 version of food insecurity what the CBS television documentary, Hunger in America, did in 1968. That film showed footage of children so starved and listless that they might as well have come from countries at war or refugee camps.

What seems impossible to imagine in 2013 is the effect of that documentary. It shocked the nation. Viewers were outraged that American adults and children did not have enough to eat. Within that year, President Nixon called a White House Conference on Food, Nutrition, and Health to recommend programs and policies to end hunger, and Congress appointed the Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs (the McGovern committee) to develop legislation. This worked. Food assistance and other programs reduced poverty and hunger. Our present-day WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) and SNAP (food stamp) programs are the legacy of that outrage.

Where is that outrage today? Without it, Congress can ignore the millions of people who depend on SNAP benefits and view the nearly $80 billion cost of those benefits as an enticing target for budget cutting.

We’ll bring the news to you.

Get the weekly Civil Eats newsletter, delivered to your inbox.

Who has the power to do something decent about hunger? In a word, Congress. Unlike the situation under presidents Nixon, Kennedy, and Johnson—all of whom took decisive action to help the poor–hunger in America today is nothing but a pawn in Washington power politics. We have come to value personal responsibility at the expense of social responsibility. It’s hard for many Americans to think that we must be our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers when our own economic status feels at risk.

If we can’t count on Congress to do the right thing, we have to try to create our own local food security and engage communities in helping to care for one another. This means advocacy and coalition-building on two levels: national and local. On the national level, it means exercising democratic rights as citizens to lobby congressional representatives to address poverty and its consequences no matter how futile that may seem. On the local level, it means working with community residents to address their needs. It means engaging the media to get the word out.

That’s where Food Bloggers Against Hunger can help. Your job is to generate outrage and to encourage your readers to act. Go for it!

Today’s food system is complex.

Invest in nonprofit journalism that tells the whole story.

Kerry Trueman is a climate change activist/writer/consultant who advocates low-impact living, healthy eating, sustainable agriculture and related topics in a lively, non-wonky way. She has been a Huffington Post blogger since 2007, and occasional contributor to AlterNet, Grist, Civil Eats, and MomsCleanAirForce. Trueman also wrote the chapter on how to eat ecologically for Rodale's Whole Green Catalog. Read more >

Like the story?
Join the conversation.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

More from

Food Access

Featured

Popular

As the Ukraine Invasion Disrupts the Sunflower Oil Supply Chain, Small US Producers Step Up

sunflowers in a field in northern california

California Takes a Step Toward Restricting Bee-Killing Pesticides

Close-up of honey bee pollinating almond blossom in Northern California almond orchard. California contributes over 80% to the worldwide almond market with many of those almonds being grown in Butte County.

As the Infant Formula Shortage Drags On, Food and Farm Workers Focus on Breastfeeding

Mother breastfeeding her son at home

How an American Crisis Brought Together US Dairy Farmers and Mexican Farmworkers

Ruth Conniff and the cover of her book, Milked, about the dairy industry and dairy workers