The White House on Wednesday announced plans to hold in September the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health, the first such meeting in 53 years.
The White House didn’t release details of the conference but said there would be a series of listening sessions leading up to it.
"Too many families don't know where they're going to get their next meal," said President Joe Biden. "There are too many empty chairs around the kitchen table, because a loved one was taken by heart disease, diabetes or other diet-oriented diseases, which are some of the leading causes of death in our country."
The conference is intended to “catalyze the public and private sectors around a coordinated strategy to accelerate progress and drive transformative change in the U.S. to end hunger, improve nutrition and physical activity, and close the disparities surrounding them, according to the conference web page.
The fiscal 2022 spending bill enacted in March provided $2.5 million to fund the conference process.
The last such conference occurred during the Nixon administration in 1969 and led to an expansion of the National School Lunch Program and what is now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, as well as to creation of the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, known as WIC. The conference also led to a significant expansion of succeeding farm bills.
The congressional proponent of the 2023 conference, Massachusetts Democrat Jim McGovern, who chairs the House Rules Committee and sits on the Agriculture Committee, said in an Agri-Pulse Newsmakers interview that he wanted the conference to produce “a comprehensive plan to end hunger, to end food insecurity and to end nutrition insecurity in this country.”
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Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the conference “will help drive the transformative solutions we seek to enact in the Biden-Harris Administration through a whole-of-government effort and alongside public and private stakeholders.”
In conjunction with the White House announcement, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Food Systems for the Future, Tufts University's Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, and World Central Kitchen announced formation of a Task Force on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health as well as a Strategy Group on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health to advise the task force. The task force is intended to inform the goals the conference is expected to set. The White House is not involved in the task force.
"To me, this conference is the biggest opportunity of our lifetime not only to fight for food and nutrition security, but to open our lens on what food should mean to our nation and to our world: a more resilient agricultural system, a key to the problem of climate change, a more just immigration policy, and even a national security priority," said José Andrés, the chef who founded WCK to provide meals in the wake of natural disasters and during wars.
The first White House conference was the result of a stunning CBS documentary in 1968, Hunger in America, which opened with a baby who was dying of starvation.
In a speech opening the conference, President Richard Nixon said the event was an “historic milestone” that “set the seal of urgency on our national commitment to put an end to hunger and malnutrition due to poverty in America. At the same time, it marks the beginning of a new, more determined and more concerted drive than ever before, to reduce the malnutrition that derives from ignorance or inadvertence.” (Read President Nixon's speech on the hunger conference here.)
Four years later, Congress took the historic step of merging the food stamp program, now known as SNAP, with the farm bill, a move which greatly expanded the legislation's political reach.
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