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Food Czar

I have had three heroes for most of my life. There are others but these have stuck with me and I try to follow their example. My grandfather, Harry Beer, who came to this country, became a citizen, and demonstrated his love of his adopted country every day. Willie Mays, one of the best ball players I ever saw and one who struggled against adversity, discrimination and prevailed with a love for game and life. The third is Harry Chapin. I loved his music but more importantly, his dedication to helping his fellow man. Harry used to say that he played one day for himself, and the next for the “other guy”. In 1975, Harry, along with radio’s Bill Ayers, founded World Hunger Year (WHY) whose mission is to provide critical resources to support grassroots movements and fuel community solutions rooted in social, environmental, racial, and economic justice. Harry died in 1981. However, the work of World Hunger Year lives on. To date they have fed people but more importantly have spread agricultural means to thousands of people. They save lives and helped the human condition by assisting people to help themselves. On one of Harry’s live albums (yes, albums), he tells a story about being in grammar school. He relates that they had, as still happens, a food drive before Thanksgiving. Harry said that the Principal would tell the students that there are people less fortunate and that they should bring cans of food to school to help those in need. He goes on to say that he always waited for that assembly the week after Thanksgiving where the Principal would tell those assembled that they had done a great job bringing in cans and that they fed more families than ever. And he would then say, “Now, let’s talk about what they are going to eat this week.” That has stuck with me since I heard this. I was lucky enough to hear Chapin in concert and afterward was even more lucky to run into him in a local restaurant at the bar where he invited myself and my friends Mark Halloran and Vic Trembley to sit, have a drink and talk. His kindness and words resonated with many, and his work continues to feed people and demand social and economic justice worldwide. We grow enough food in this country to feed the US many times over and yet there are people who go to bed hungry. We have farmers who are impoverished by our economic system. This is ridiculous and needs attention. For most of us who have more than enough to eat this seems absurd. Yet according to the USDA, 35 million of us are experiencing food insecurity, a sanitized way of saying they have not the food they need. And that statistic was pre-Covid! Estimates since place that figure at 50 million and growing. In November, after the Biden administration names John Kerry as the “Energy Czar”, I tweeted that they should name a hunger czar. It makes sense. Our use of water and the impact of climate change make someone directing policy essential. But more than that, we need one person to work with farmers and social agencies and their sole purpose should be to ensure no one goes to bed hungry. I thought it made eminent sense. I found out yesterday that I was not alone. A few days ago, our own Massachusetts Congressman Jim McGovern sent a letter urging the incoming administration to appoint a Hunger Czar to fight food insecurity. In part, his release states, “Congressman James P. McGovern (D-MA), Chairman of the House Rules Committee and Co-Chair of the House Hunger Caucus, is urging President-elect Joseph R. Biden to appoint a “hunger czar” to develop, coordinate, and implement a national strategy to reduce food insecurity in America. McGovern also called for a rollback of Trump-era regulatory changes that make it harder to qualify for nutrition assistance programs. The proposals are part of a list of recommendations McGovern has made to the incoming administration to address alarming levels of hunger caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.” He goes on to write, “I have long maintained that hunger is a political condition, and the choices our leaders make have a profound and direct impact on whether or not Americans families will live in fear of not knowing where their next meal will come from. Ending hunger is not only a moral obligation; there is also a tremendous cost to our country for our indifference. Students who are hungry do not learn. Workers who are hungry are less productive. Senior citizens who are hungry have poorer outcomes and frequently require costly emergency room visits. As you make your Cabinet picks, I believe it is critically important that our next Secretary of Agriculture be someone who has a demonstrated understanding of our anti-hunger programs and who is committed to thinking holistically about ending hunger.” Harry would have been proud. I know that I am. I like McGovern. He is smart and more than that, he cares for our people and understands their struggles. If you get a chance, thank him for his advocacy. Here is hoping the incoming President heeds his call and we start to address poverty in a systemic manner in the US.