“The destiny of nations depends on how they feed themselves.” – Brillat-Savarin
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Please Pass the FEED Act and Help Empower Communities

Zucchini and Squash Discarded by Farmer in Florida (Photo by Joe Raedle)

The most recent report produced by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations (The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2019) indicates that global hunger has been on the rise since 2015. In 2018, more than 821 million people were undernourished – that was about 11% of the world’s population. Furthermore, a relatively new indicator which looks beyond hunger to the issue of food access, or lack thereof, suggests that – in addition to those who are plagued with chronic hunger and/or undernutrition, close to 10% of the world’s population experiences severe food insecurity. This means that they have likely run out of food and gone for days without eating. Furthermore, an additional 17% of the world’s population has experienced moderate levels of food insecurity, so that approximately 1.3 billion people are unable to consistently access an adequate supply of high quality (i.e. nutrient-dense) food. In short, over one quarter of the world’s population is experiencing some form of food insecurity.

When natural or man-made disasters strike, the task of addressing and rectifying the food crisis becomes even more challenging, and urgent action is paramount. For example, according to the Food Security Information Network’s 2019 Report on Food Crises, approximately 113 million people in 53 countries experienced acute food insecurity in 2018 – spurred by stressors such as climate-related disasters, economic shocks, conflict, refugee crises, and displacement. In the United States – the world’s largest food exporter – an estimated 1 in 9 Americans were food insecure in 2018, equating to over 37 million Americans, including more than 11 million children. 

On 3rd January 1976, The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), a multilateral treaty adopted by the United Nations General Assembly, came into force. Parties to the covenant agreed that food should be available, sufficient, and accessible to an extent which guaranteed the right to feed oneself. Furthermore, the agreement recognized that governments had an obligation to provide sufficient food for their citizens in instances where food access was compromised due to circumstances beyond the control of the populace. As of January 2020, 170 parties had signed and ratified the Covenant – while four countries (including the United States of America) had signed but not ratified the treaty. However, the statistics relating to world hunger, moderate levels of food insecurity, and acute food insecurity that have been cited above indicate that governments have fallen short of fulfilling their obligations.

About ten years ago – after the 2010 Haiti earthquake – celebrity Chef José Andrés founded the nonprofit World Central Kitchen with a view to creating smart solutions to bridge the gaps that create disparities resulting in hunger and poverty. Since then, the organization has served over 19 million meals in response to humanitarian crises in the United States and abroad. The restaurateur often stresses the ‘urgency of now’ in handling these crises. In a recent interview with Jeffrey Brown, Andrés bemoaned the fact that we take food for granted, and stated that “our food sources should be part of the national security conversation, in the same way we talk about missiles protecting us” (PBS News Hour, April 9th 2020). His organization has demonstrated that it is possible to build systems and networks that increase food access and have the infrastructure and adaptability to respond immediately to events which create acute food insecurity. 

The basic business model of the WCK is that when people in disaster areas need to be fed, local restaurants are paid to prepare meals using ingredients purchased from area farmers and small vendors. The recently created FEMA Empowering Essential Deliveries (FEED) Act has some resemblance to this model. The bill, which was introduced to Congress in early May, appears to have bipartisan support. It authorizes the administrator of FEMA to approve plans – at both the State and locality level – to partner with small and mid-size restaurants and nonprofit organizations to provide nutritious meals to vulnerable populations (e.g. seniors and underprivileged children). The FEED Act further ensures that the Federal government pays 100% of the costs associated with such partnerships. 

According to Andrés, 

“When we empower neighbors to care for one another, and restaurants and non-profits to ensure food and nutrition are not forgotten, we give our communities an opportunity to combine response with recovery to create the possibility of a better tomorrow.”

We trust that our US senators and congressional representatives will – like Chef Andrés – also appreciate the ‘urgency of now’ and pass this FEED Act with some expediency. There is currently a glut of fresh vegetables, fruit, and milk in the United States. Dairy producers are dumping millions of gallons of milk; and farmers are tossing eggs, dumping tons of fresh produce, turning it into mulch, or watching their crops decay in the fields before they are even harvested. Even before this crisis, 40% of the food produced in this country was never eaten. Essentially, there is no reason why anyone in the United States – with its ‘amber waves of grain’ and ‘fruited plain(s)’ – should experience hunger or any form of food insecurity during this crisis, particularly when there is no real shortage of food in the country.

Mel est bonum; sic est doctrina

Copyright © 2020 by Julie Francella Richards
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