For the first time since the Nixon administration, the White House will host a conference on hunger, nutrition, and health, bringing together advocates, lawmakers, and experts to offer strategies to address food insecurity and health issues. food-related health.
The conference comes after a spike in food insecurity rates across the country during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly among Black and Latino families. The goal of the conference is to offer strategies to achieve a huge goal: to end hunger and reduce diet-related disease in the United States by 2030.
“It’s a big deal,” said Dr. Sara Bleich, director of nutrition security and health equity at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service, which helps plan the event.
Details on the conference, scheduled by the Biden administration for September 28, remain scarce. So far, the White House has only released a skeleton calendar, and many stakeholders are still awaiting their formal invitations.
According to Bleich, the conference will result in a national strategy, which “will really outline how the federal government is going to go about achieving the goals of the conference.”
If the 1969 Hunger Conference is any indicator, that event could have lasting implications for food and nutrition security policy in the United States.
This original conference resulted in the creation and expansion of many federal nutrition assistance programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as Food Stamps), the special supplemental nutrition for women, infants and children (WIC), the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and School Breakfast Program (SBP).
“Thinking about all that has come out of this, it’s really encouraging to think about what could come out of today’s conference,” said Lyndi Buckingham-Schutt, assistant professor of community health and nutrition at the ‘Iowa State University.
The White House has held a series of listening sessions over the past few months in preparation for the conference, and Midwestern anti-hunger groups are among those who have provided input during those sessions.
“Overall, our message is that we know what works and what has an impact. And our problem is that we never scaled it,” said Chris Bernard, executive director of Hungerless Oklahoma.
Bernard says the pandemic has been a good trial to expand food benefit programs, like P-EBT, and he’d like to see the White House make them permanent.
“It’s ultimately about giving people the resources they need to buy the food they want,” he said.
He also hopes the White House will commit to expanding child nutrition programs, like the federal school lunch and school breakfast programs, which he says have helped feed many rural Oklahomans during the pandemic.
“As a state that has a ton of rural space, we’ve been advocating for this for a long time,” he said. “Collective feeding requirements don’t make sense for summer meals and after-school meals in rural settings.”
The White House has sent out continuous invitations over the past week, but Bernard is still waiting to hear if he’s on the guest list.
With the conference imminent, last-minute invitations could dictate who can attend in person, Buckingham-Schutt said.
“Having to book a flight, having to change childcare plans, having to do all of this within two weeks, is kind of a privileged way of thinking about how we can do things, and it could really hurt the different people who can be there to represent the different voices that need to be part of this conversation,” she said.
The conference will also have a robust virtual component, according to USDA’s Bleich.
“There is a very small in-person presence that will meet in DC,” she said. “What the conference organizers are insisting on is that we want people to watch around the country, have watch parties and discuss what people are hearing.”
Ultimately, Bleich said, the conference serves to start conversations that will span the next 10 years.
“It should be a launch pad for where we are heading as a country and how we can really tackle these important issues,” she said.