We Almost Won the War on Hunger

Congressman Jim McGovern

When I talk about hunger, I almost always start off by reminding people that hunger is a political condition. The conventional wisdom is that hunger is the result of some kind of scarcity or lack of food – but nothing could be further from the truth. America is the breadbasket of the world. In fact, we have so much food that billions of dollars’ worth goes to waste every year. We live in the richest, most powerful country in the history of the world. We have the resources, the infrastructure, and everything else we need to end hunger – except the political will.

What’s even more surprising – and frustrating – is that ending hunger used to be nonpartisan. In 1967, CBS broadcast a news special called Hunger in America that highlighted the growing malnutrition crisis in our country. It stirred the country to action, and a year later, my mentor, Senator George McGovern – no relation – formed a Select Committee in the United States Senate on Nutrition and Human Needs. Senator McGovern was a staunch Democrat, but he worked together with Senator Bob Dole of Kansas – a staunch Republican – to improve the accessibility and reach of our anti-hunger programs. They built a system that worked. With broad bipartisan support, they actually eliminated some of the most stubborn pockets of malnutrition in America. We almost won the war against hunger.

Sadly, the 1980s ushered in the rise of trickle-down economics. Attempts to demonize those who relied on anti-hunger programs escalated, funding was cut, and hunger came back with a vengeance. By the time I got elected in 1996, the situation was so bad that I knew my top priority in Congress was preventing further cuts and bringing back the political will to end hunger in America.

I think back often to those critical moments when we got so close to ending hunger in America. What did we have then that we’re lacking now? How can we once again make hunger a bipartisan issue? To be sure, there are some Republicans who have offered their assistance. Representatives Roger Marshall of Kansas and Jackie Walorski of Indiana have both joined me on a bipartisan Food is Medicine Working Group to increase awareness about the costs of hunger in our healthcare system and the need to provide families with healthy food.

If we want to build on these gains and truly make ending hunger a bipartisan issue once again, we need to focus on awareness. Awareness that families in our own neighborhoods quietly struggle to afford the food they need. Awareness that children show up to school hungry, embarrassed to ask for food and unable to focus until after breakfast. Awareness that seniors on a fixed income don’t know they’re eligible for assistance, and have no money left for food after they pay their medical bills.

Food insecurity in 2019 doesn’t look like what it did a few decades ago—today, it’s possible and common to be overweight and food insecure.  Ending hunger isn’t just about making sure that Americans have equal access to just any food, it’s about making sure that all Americans have equal access to healthy and nutritious food.

I think if more people knew the true scope of this problem, they would demand that politicians in Washington act. They would create the political will we need to solve this problem. The Coalition to End Hunger plays a pivotal role in building that political will, and I’m so proud to fight alongside all of you to end hunger once and for all.