The White House created its first conference to explore hunger and nutrition in the United States in 1969. Since then, hunger has not only remained, but it’s regularly surged to staggeringly high levels.
Now, in the wake of the social, health, and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Biden-Harris administration is getting ready for another conference on hunger, nutrition, and health this upcoming September. The mandate is ambitious: “End hunger and increase healthy eating and physical activity by 2030, so that fewer Americans experience diet-related diseases like diabetes, obesity, and hypertension.”
More than 38 million people in the US, including 12 million children, struggle with food insecurity, meaning they’re unable to get enough food to be healthy, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. During the pandemic, more than 53 million Americans turned to food banks as bank accounts dwindled and fridges emptied.
Barbie Izquierdo, food security activist and consultant and the winner of the 2022 Global Citizen Prize: Citizen Award USA, is all too familiar with the deprivations of hunger, having struggled with it for much of her life. She’s been sharing her lived expertise in listening sessions that are aimed at feeding into the White House conference process.
On June 29, she was part of a listening session where she shared several recommendations for action that the White House can take to end hunger.
First, she wants the White House to acknowledge poverty as a root cause of hunger.
“Not having adequate livable wages, a safe environment filled with support, resources, networks, education, affordability, accessibility, [and] health care due to the limitations of poverty all contribute to food insecurity,” she said during the session.
“Without these things, we are failing millions of families and communities by not addressing the social determinants of health that affect their safety, mental health, and well-being,” she added. “People who have experienced poverty know the difference between everyday survival, and having the opportunity to thrive. We all just want to be closer to financial freedom and to be heard with access to those opportunities to thrive, without having to sacrifice basic necessities anymore.”
She also wants the White House to empower people who actually experienced hunger and poverty to be in decision-making roles because they know best how to end this crisis, she argued. That means allowing people like Barbie to inform, guide, and oversee policies meant to make nutritious food more accessible.
Recognizing the role of poverty in hunger entails developing policies that mitigate the issue, like increasing the thresholds for what counts as poverty so more people can take advantage of welfare programs. Currently, many people encounter what’s known as the “benefits cliff” when they begin to earn more money than the upper category limit of poverty. Paradoxically, even though the person is now making more money, the end of benefits leaves them even poorer.
Barbie also called for a broad expansion of food and nutrition support for families, mothers, and students, while also helping families cope with the rising effects of inflation.
“I ask that we work together to fix and secure better safety nets so that less families suffer from benefit cliffs that keep the cycle of poverty alive,” she said during the session.
The world currently produces enough food to end hunger, which means the ongoing presence of hunger is simply a failure of governments worldwide.
The White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health is an opportunity to set in motion policies that will end this crisis once and for all, allowing people everywhere to achieve healthy bodies and thrive.
But listening to advocates like Barbie Izquierdo is the first step.
Global Citizen is working with Barbie to share with the White House the experiences and recommendations of people who know the impacts and realities of hunger firsthand. If you've experienced hunger or work to fight hunger in your community, you can share your feedback. We'll compile your responses and submit them to the White House team working on the new anti-hunger strategy, ahead of the July 15 deadline to make sure they’re considered.
2. Include people with lived expertise in the conference planning.
3. Expand access to SNAP, WIC, and Free and Reduced School Lunch programs.
4. Update and raise the federal poverty guidelines used to measure and determine food assistance program eligibility to reflect inflation and the real cost of living that rises every year.
5. Change the way income and expenses are analyzed and calculated to reflect the true expenses families face including all household bills and accurate amounts as deductions.