Tuesday, November 18, 2008

McGovern's Plan for Hunger Is Gaining Traction, Again

Since Barack Obama's victory, everyone on the left is adding their pet causes to the presidential wish list.

Get rid of Guantanamo. Vigorously strike down torture. Reduce global warming. Bring the troops home. Appoint Paris Hilton secretary of the interior (designing) – well, maybe not. But, one idea put forth by former presidential candidate George McGovern is noteworthy.

During a 2005 foreign policy speech at the Commonwealth Club of California (see photo above), McGovern laid out a plan to combat world hunger that is gaining some traction since the election of president-elect Obama. (Read a transcript of McGovern's speech here.)

McGovern, referring to the then-$5 billion monthly cost of the War in Iraq, believed a portion of that expenditure could be spent on feeding people worldwide.

We have about 300 million hungry kids going to school; they trudge off in the morning after a makeshift breakfast, if they are lucky, and sit for five or six hours with nothing to eat. How do you educate a youngster under those conditions? Out of those 300 million, 120 million have dropped out of school or never started, mostly girls, because of the favoritism towards us males in most societies. But when you start one of these school lunch programs, school enrollment jumps. Girls come as well as boys. Academic performance goes up, athletic performance goes up, general health improves. And a third thing happens: These little illiterate girls that stay at home in those mud huts, they start getting married as early as 10 years of age.

The meshing of hunger with education and women's rights is the most intriguing aspect of McGovern's plan. In an interesting Q&A in the current issue of Gourmet, he again returns to this idea with a finer point.

When you start a school-lunch program, both the boys and the girls come. And the parents discover that their kids can get a free meal every day, just by turning up at the village school. So they get both the boys and girls out of bed in the morning and shoo them off to school. It leaves more food for the people at home — mom, dad — and it pulls these girls into school, as well as the boys.

The idea is gaining some traction. In the Dec. 1, 2008 edition of The Nation, the editors call for the appointment of a "hunger czar" within Obama's first 100 days in office, urging him to cut hunger in half in 10 years.

Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind) introduced a bill Sept. 22 touches on many of McGovern's ideas of recognizing the connection between health and education, while hoping to stimulate U.S. farming communities and providing a better network for quick response on food distribution during emergencies. The bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations with no action to this date.

The seeds of McGovern's battle against hunger first sprouted during the 1960 presidential election, when he urged John F. Kennedy to use growing crop surpluses to help feed people in other countries. Kennedy liked the plan for its moral qualities, but also for its appeal to Midwest farmers and their votes.

Though nourishment trumps nearly all basic human desires, the political reality is that funding is tight in the current economy and other projects may trump any hunger initiative.

This is a reason why some leaders such as Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (D-Mo.) believe this issue needs to be spotlighted by the new administration.

“That’s why we need to have a food czar in the West Wing,” said Emerson.


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