For the first time in 50 years, the White House will host a conference on hunger. On the agenda: ideas like expanding school lunch programs and updating nutrition labels.
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For the first time in 50 years, the White House will host a conference on hunger. On the agenda for tomorrow’s event, ideas like expanding school lunch programs and updating nutrition labels. NPR’s Ximena Bustillo has more.
XIMENA BUSTILLO, BYLINE: President Joe Biden has set an ambitious goal. He wants to end hunger in America by 2030. But advocates are worried that the administration won’t be able to meet the high bar set by the last conference hosted by Richard Nixon in 1969.
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RICHARD NIXON: This meeting marks an historic milestone. What it does is to set the seal of urgency on our national commitment to put an end to hunger and malnutrition due to poverty in America.
BUSTILLO: The Nixon conference issued 1,800 recommendations. Sixteen hundred were implemented within two years.
STACY DEAN: Directly coming out of that conference, we now have a WIC program, the Women, Infants and Children program, that serves half the babies born in this country with food and nutrition education and health services.
BUSTILLO: That’s Stacy Dean, the top nutrition official at USDA. She said the conference helped launch official dietary guidelines. It was also the launching point for programs that help families, like food stamps and school meals. The first conference was really focused on addressing poverty. Now, in the shadow of a pandemic, this conference is more focused on health.
DEAN: We saw during COVID – right? – the increased incidence and mortality rates for those who are struggling with diet-related disease who contracted COVID. And so I think there is a huge opportunity because of public interest, focus, awareness on both helping our neighbors in need and also making sure that our children are healthier and have stronger, brighter futures.
BUSTILLO: The White House is bringing together hundreds of people tomorrow, including lawmakers, cabinet members and nonprofit leaders. They want to talk about proposals to expand food stamps, put nutrition labels on the front of packages and have Medicare experiment with coverage for medically tailored meals. Advocates say it’s time to update America’s food and nutrition policy.
CORY BOOKER: The last conference was the year I was born, 1969.
BUSTILLO: That’s New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, one of the four lawmakers to introduce bipartisan legislation that’s now funding the conference.
BOOKER: I live in a low-income, Black and brown neighborhood, where kids in my neighborhood walk into a bodega or corner grocery store and find a Twinkie product cheaper than an apple.
BUSTILLO: Democrats, Republicans and dozens of organizations are anxious to see the administration follow through, just like the country did 50 years ago. One big criticism of that first conference is who was there and who wasn’t. Imogene Williams (ph) was a participant of the 1969 conference, and she spoke up during a panel on the first day after seeing a directory of who was participating.
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IMOGENE WILLIAMS: I didn’t see nothing but Ph.D.s. And I said, well, this couldn’t be our conference on hunger. I said, well, where are the (inaudible)?
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Now that just…
BUSTILLO: Conference leaders then argued that low-income people did participate in panels and were consulted. This time, the Biden administration has said that people with, quote, “lived experiences” will inform and attend the event. Advocates like Jordan Teague, interim director for policy analysis at Bread for the World, want to see those who have experienced hunger and poverty given a larger voice.
JORDAN TEAGUE: You know, it’s one thing to get together and imagine how to solve hunger from D.C., but it’s another thing entirely to really include and pull the experiences and resources and knowledge from folks who are living this day to day.
BUSTILLO: There’s pressure on the Biden White House. It will need the backing from Congress and Republicans for most of its big ideas, something that’s unlikely to happen as quickly as it did 50 years ago.
Ximena Bustillo, NPR News, Washington.
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