In 2008, I took part in a teleconference with former senator and presidential candidate George McGovern. He recounted witnessing child hunger in Europe during World War II.
This moved him to dedicate his life to feeding the hungry. McGovern teamed with another WWII veteran, Sen. Bob Dole, to create an international school lunch program. The McGovern-Dole school lunch program today feeds hungry children in developing countries.
But now President Trump, in his just released budget, has proposed the complete elimination of the McGovern-Dole program. Ironically, Dole supported Trump in his election bid. Is this how Trump returns the favor by calling for the elimination of one of Dole’s greatest achievements?
The McGovern-Dole school lunch initiative, which only gets about $200 million in funding, is being cut to help pay for the president’s proposed $54 billion increase in military spending.
What the Trump administration fails to recognize is that school lunches are a critical part of our foreign policy. With the vast number of hunger emergencies worldwide today, school lunches and other food aid plans should see a massive increase in funding.
Part of South Sudan was just declared in a state of famine. Yemen, which has a civil war, is also on the verge of famine. So, too, is Nigeria, which has been victimized by Boko Haram violence. Somalia is also on the brink of a famine disaster. Many other nations are in danger as well.
The U.S. Famine Warning System said in January that “70 million people, across 45 countries, will require emergency food assistance this year.” That warning should call for an increase in food aid budgets, not a reduction.
School meals is one our best food aid tools for countries suffering from conflict, drought and poverty. It’s been this way for years.
When General Douglas MacArthur was trying to help Japan recover from World War II, he ordered a huge school lunch program that ended up feeding close to 7 million children by 1948. School lunches for Japan were also supported by the Food for Peace program started by President Dwight Eisenhower.
Now today, school lunches play a key role in helping bring nations some stability in time of crisis. Food at school encourages parents to send their children to class. The alternative is the tragedy of children being forced to work or beg on the streets for any bit of food.
In Haiti, for example, funding from McGovern-Dole allows the U.N. World Food Program to feed hundreds of thousands of school children. This is crucial for this nation that has suffered through a massive earthquake and disasters like Hurricane Matthew.
In Ethiopia, likewise, WFP is using McGovern-Dole funds to feed children in drought hit areas. Catholic Relief Services uses McGovern-Dole funds to feed children in conflict-torn Mali.
School lunches make a difference, and we cannot win the peace without them.
William Lambers is an author who partnered with the U.N. World Food Programme on the book “Ending World Hunger.”