When Americans unify under one voice and one message, we accomplish incredible things. This weekend marks the anniversary of one of our first such achievements — when we came together and declared each American’s unalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Those freedoms — a radical mandate at that time — paved the way for America to become the great nation and global leader it is today. In the 239 years since, we have been at the forefront of scientific development, education and the global economy, and a shining symbol of democracy, freedom and equality. Our forefathers recognized that those inalienable rights could unlock vast human potential, which in turn would spur generations of innovation, community and leadership.

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Today, our country faces a challenge that directly impacts millions of Americans’ inalienable right to unlock their own human potential. Hunger is a very real problem for too many of our citizens, compromising millions of hardworking Americans of every race, age and background. Consider these numbers: In this nation, 1 in 5 of our children go to school hungry; 15 percent of our seniors worry about finding food; and 3.9 million parents skip and skimp on meals to provide for their children. Altogether, 48.8 million Americans, or 16.7 percent of our total population, struggle with food insecurity.

Hunger doesn’t just impact those with empty bellies. It impacts us all. On average, kids who struggle with hunger receive lower test scores, have lower cognitive development and are less likely to graduate than their peers. These early educational setbacks often hinder their ability to contribute economically and prosper as adults. Chronic reliance on charity food is damaging to their psyche, creating a legacy of shame and low self-esteem. Hunger also leaves a devastating imprint on the physical and mental wellbeing of individuals it affects and can lead to a lifetime of chronic health conditions, including heart disease, diabetes and, paradoxically, obesity. All of this adds up to lower productivity and higher education and healthcare costs, threatening our ability to prosper economically as a whole. When millions of Americans go hungry, we all pay the price.

There is good news. America has a long history of successfully taking on the greatest challenges of our day: We’re the nation that put a man on the moon. Our private-public partnerships created the Internet. Our researchers developed the treatments that forever altered the trajectory of diseases like polio, measles and AIDS. We are a great nation, and that’s what great nations do: they take on seemingly intractable problems and solve them. We already know the cure for hunger; currently we have more than enough food to feed our hungry citizens. What we lack is the political will to make sure everyone can access that food and afford it. America can’t be great on an empty stomach, and so it is our patriotic duty as Americans to make ending hunger a priority.

That’s why we’re launching Great Nations Eat. Great Nations Eat is an unprecedented media campaign that will be on air, online and in print across the country to raise awareness about the problem of hunger in America and to build the national will to call for solutions and end it for good. Fixing hunger is good for our economy, our children and our consciences. This Fourth of July, let’s come together to remember what made us a great nation — our collective resolve to make this a land where each one of us can meet our human potential. Our forefathers made it happen in 1776. We can make it happen now.

 

Nelson is the president of national anti-hunger organization Share Our Strength. Colicchio is a celebrity chef, restaurateur, lead judge on “Top Chef” and MSNBC food correspondent.