In 2008, I took part in a teleconference with former Sen. and presidential candidate George McGovern of South Dakota. 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, Kansas 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 around $200 million in funding, is being cut to help pay for the president's proposed $54 billion increase in military spending.
Part of South Sudan was just declared 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 have been one our best food aid tools for countries suffering from conflict, drought and poverty. It's been this way for years.
When Gen. 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.
Gen. Lucius Clay said our post-WWII school lunch program in Germany "saved the health of German youth." In South Korea and other nations U.S.-supported school lunches have made a huge impact on reducing hunger. These nations have gone on to become donors themselves.
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 (WFP) 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. We should fund school lunches for the many hungry Syrian children in their war-torn homeland or in neighboring countries.
Children need food and education to develop and have a future. That is why we have school lunch programs in this country. Children in every nation deserve school meals.
We should not turn our backs on the many countries that need our help. Congress should work with the president to get the budget right, but remembering that food is peace.
Funding for the McGovern-Dole school lunch program should be increased in these desperate times of world hunger.
William Lambers is an author who partnered with the United Nations World Food Programme on the book “Ending World Hunger.” He writes on History News Network, the Huffington Post and many other media outlets. Tweet him @WilliamLambers
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