Hunger must be on presidential plate
By George McGovern and Jim McGovern
More people die from hunger in the world today than from war.
Yet in all the presidential debates, there was not a single question to the candidates on their plans to end this terrible problem. With all due respect to Joe the Plumber, we think making sure people have enough to eat is as important as his tax issues.
The number of hungry people in the world is fast approaching one billion. More than 400 million are children. Here in the most prosperous nation on the planet, there are more than 35 million of our fellow Americans who can be classified as hungry. There is not a single community in our country that is hunger free.
We see the harsh impacts of hunger every day in our own communities. Kids who are hungry don’t learn in school; they have developmental problems; they’re more likely to get sick, and often end up with early age illnesses that result in a shorter life-span. Pregnant women who lack enough food are more likely to give birth to babies with serious abnormalities. The elderly who can’t afford the cost of prescription drugs, fuel and food too often go without food, and are ending up in our emergency rooms.
And the cost of hunger is staggering. A recent study by Harvard University documents that hunger in our country results in an annual cost burden on the American people of more than $90 billion.
This is a serious crisis that is getting worse. And what is maddening to us is that those in positions of power to fix the problem seem indifferent. Hunger is a political condition. We have everything we need – including enough food – to end hunger in the United States and around the world. However, we lack the political will to make ending it a priority.
Our leaders in Washington are able to muster the will to fund a mistaken war in Iraq (at $10 billion a month). They came together in a bipartisan way to bail out our financial institutions with $700 billion. Why can’t we launch a campaign to save the lives of hundreds of millions of people by ending hunger?
The United States continues to export more arms and weapons around the world than any other nation. Administration officials defend this policy as a necessary means to protect our people and our national security.
Let’s rework our foreign aid programs and reprogram some of these tax dollars to focus instead on ending hunger. Rather than sending more and more weapons, let us send increased food or funding to grow, produce and buy food in-country. It will enhance our national security. It will also save more lives, create stability and get people in other parts of the world to view the United States favorably. This may be a radical idea in Washington, but we believe when people like us they are less likely to do us harm.
We also suggest our next president appoint a hunger czar, a point-person in his administration to oversee and coordinate the various food, nutrition and anti-poverty programs that fall under the jurisdictions of many different departments and agencies – so we can develop a single, comprehensive and concrete plan to end hunger here at home and around the globe.
Ultimately, the goal is not to hand out food but rather to increase the independence, purchasing power and food security of every human being.
One of us is 86 and the other is 48. Both of us believe that we can end hunger in our lifetimes. We desperately need leadership at every level of our government to make this happen. The next president must make it a top priority.
George McGovern was the Democratic nominee for president in 1972. Jim McGovern represents Massachusetts’ 3rd Congressional District.