U.S. President Joe Biden on Wednesday set a target of ending hunger and reducing diet-related diseases in the U.S. by 2030 as he opened the White House’s first hunger conference in 50 years, convening experts to discuss how the world’s largest provider of international food assistance can better feed its own.
One in 10 American households is food insecure, according to figures from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
And food campaigners note that figure includes 9 million American children – a population Biden emphasized in his address to attendees.
“Just last week at the United Nations, I talked about commitments we're making to tackle food insecurity worldwide,” he said. “Because in every country in the world and every state in this country, no matter what else divides us, if a parent cannot feed a child, there's nothing else that matters to that parent.
“If you look at your child and you can't feed your child, what the hell else matters?”
Hunger is a global phenomenon, and the U.S. is hardly the hardest hit. The latest Global Food Security Index ranks the U.S. 13th most secure worldwide.
On Wednesday, Biden announced a raft of federal government measures, plus $8 billion in public and private sector commitments. Among them are plans to increase free school meals and expand food-related government benefits for children and families.
Funding from Congress is far from assured. Republicans typically favor nongovernmental means to address societal ills. Even hunger advocates note that Washington can’t do it alone.
“I will say it is a very ambitious goal to end hunger by 2030,” Noreen Springstead, executive director of WhyHunger, a New York-based global organization, told VOA via Zoom. “There's lots of things that the federal government can do. But it really has to be a joint effort of federal government, state government, local government, corporations, philanthropy and all of civil society to do this.
“So I herald the idea that they need to bring all of government to the table, this interagency task force really looking at the intersections of hunger and health, hunger and education, hunger and housing.”
The challenges cross borders. Food insecurity increased during the pandemic and also with the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“The pandemic and the war against Ukraine have shown us that global supply chains are very fragile, and that if we're totally dependent on them, that we're putting ourselves at risk,” said Danielle Nierenberg, who leads a nonprofit called Food Tank.
“And what we need is more investment from governments and the private sector and regional and local supply chains so that there are more mills in certain areas or regions, that there are more canneries and tinneries, that there's more of a way for food to get to and fro.”
And, Springstead said, making food itself cheaper is just part of the challenge.
“Economic justice really has to be a pillar here, and increasing the minimum wage to one that is really a living wage" is vital, she said.