Thursday, October 13, 2011

From Food Stamps to Food Prize

Today we celebrated the 25th Anniversary of the World Food Prize by honoring past Presidents John Kufour of Ghana and Jose Lula de Silva of Brazil for their tremendous efforts in transforming their countries by putting hunger and food security first. 

I’ve spent the past three days listening to panels on global hunger, women in agriculture, the role of the private sector, and making amazing contacts. However – no interaction struck me more than meeting the Midwestern Representative of the USDA Nutrition Service. I actually met her in the bathroom, both of us were judiciously re-applying our lipgloss, and she made me promise that I’d visit her booth immediately after leaving the restroom. I briefly thought about the fact that this wasn’t exactly in my sweet spot, but I gave her my word and beelined it to her booth after my brief touch up.

There at the booth I saw a long list of programs run by the nutrition service, topping these off were food stamps, WIC, free lunch, and school breakfast programs. I thought to myself, they might as well have put a portrait of me on this board! I had been a recipient of these programs from my first days in public schools until donning my cap & gown and heading to college. These programs allowed me to focus on school without a hungry belly, helped my mom keep her income to pay bills and household expenses, and benefited countless kids in my neighborhood. Yet I never knew that these programs were connected to agriculture, in my head the USDA was about food pyramids and now "My Plate" lol.

Americans are just beginning to connect agriculture to food in a real way. Unfortunately, most of the discussion rallies around opposing science and innovations that aren’t completely understood. While I am definitely a fan of today’s push for organics, labeling, and urban gardens, I also understand hunger in the global context and know that it takes the right mix of tools to put a dent in the numbers of hungry people. Both of today’s food prize recipients made school feeding a crucial component of their strategies to leave no person hungry in their countries and each are well on their way to surpassing the goals set for Millennium Development Goal 1: halving global hunger by 2015. They’ve paired school feeding with investments and application of technology, policy change, and development programs that work. It can be done.

Reading the materials, I felt proud of my journey and extremely humble. I remember being ashamed of going to the store with food stamps (I was pre-EBT card) and frustrated about my inability to buy pizza or sodas at lunch. Today I realize just how much of a blessing these programs are. They allowed this black girl to go from food aid to food’s biggest stage.



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