On Wednesday, September 28th, I participated in the White House conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health. It’s been more than 50 years (longer than my entire professional life) since these deep-rooted issues have received this level of attention. It’s the first time we’ve been given a comprehensive strategy outlining a “whole-of-government and whole-of-America” approach to addressing the challenges we face.
There were many aspects of the plan that I will follow, like expanding federal food, nutrition and poverty reduction programs across the board. The USDA is likely to do much more connecting with these programs to enhance food access, especially at farmers markets and by assisting small farmers to become vendors for school meals (I shared 10 Cents a Meal for Michigan’s Kids & Farms during one of the pre-conference regional input sessions.) Discussions included needs around housing and transportation, too, which researchers know affect food access.
It was good to see real discussions on better access to nutrition services and more direct federal support for locally grown foods, prescriptions for produce programs, and meals that meet health requirements to treat diseases. It’s not a surprise to the readers of this column that “by increasing access to local food we can better connect people to nutritious foods.”
The prospect of universal free school meals, and summer meals when school is not in session is a good one. FoodCorps will “invest $250 million to increase access to free and nourishing school meals and to expand hands-on nutrition education in schools.” I’m happy FoodCorps was featured prominently—Groundwork currently has three service members working in the Emmet/Charlevoix region.
Many commitments were announced, to the tune of more than $8 billion, as part of the “Call to Action.” I’ll be following the rollout of online food shopping and other healthy eating incentives at major food retailers. The National Grocers Association states they will “double the number of retailers offering SNAP (food stamps) online, prioritizing rural areas and areas with low food access, such as agricultural communities.”
And, Meijer, will “offer a set of automatic dollar-off and percentage-off discounts—from $5 to $10 and 5% to 10%, respectively—on SNAP purchases of qualifying fruits and vegetables” consistent with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
It’s a common lament in dietitian circles about misalignment between the priorities in our Farm Bill and the government’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans. This might be the first time I heard the Farm Bill discussed in such a public way and made clear that the connections between what we do with farming policy directly affects our nutrition and health policy.
The Farm Bill process is starting up again and I’m cautiously optimistic we might see more clear advancement in connecting the dots between our farms, the food they produce, and our health. It was an exciting and reaffirming event. I’m proud to be in a farming community that is tuned in and ready to build a more resilient and healthy future where no family member is going to bed hungry and unwell.
Paula Martin, Community Nutrition Specialist. firstname.lastname@example.org