U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans: Why a strong, robust food policy is crucial

June 6, 2017
In The News

Think about it. Food unites families, friends and neighbors as they join together to experience a delicious meal, often filled with lively conversation.

Food is at the center of our daily lives. Food is nourishment. Food is sustenance. But more than this, food is the cement that sets a foundation for strong neighborhoods within our communities.

For years I have said, "Our food policy is our foreign policy." In times of peace and in times of war our soldiers must always have a food source in order to provide the necessary safety and security our democracies depend on for survival.

Implementing a strategic approach to tackle the issue of food insecurity will allow us to make a real, tangible impact in the daily lives of those most in need.

The desire to make all of our communities and nations food secure is an issue that bridges the partisan divide.

In the 1970’s Senator Bob Dole (R-Kansas) and Senator George McGovern (D-South Dakota) were trailblazers in their mission to address food insecurity on the national level. Their efforts to increase the effectiveness of food aid programs and advance farm economies still influences our nation and worldview today.

Four decades ago, when the Senators served on the Senate Hunger and Human Needs Committee, Senator Dole and Senator McGovern restructured the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), expanded the National School Lunch Program and helped to create the Special Supplemental Food Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC).

Today these three programs have changed the way we fight hunger.

One in seven Americans use SNAP to put food on the table each and every day and one in four children use SNAP each month to get the nutritious foods they need.

In my District alone, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), SNAP helped 71,182 households in the Second Congressional District of Pennsylvania become more food secure in 2016.

Nationally, SNAP has lifted 8.4 million Americans out of poverty, 3.8 million of them being children.

Additionally within the last year, the USDA reported that 1,028,825 children in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania received healthy, nutritious meals through the National School Lunch Program and 237,205 families benefited from WIC.

Senator Dole and Senator McGovern showed us how food policy transcends not only partisanship but more broadly, food policy transcends politics.

I always say we need more tools in our toolbox. We need to retool how we address hunger and food insecurity in our neighborhoods, in our cities, in our states, nationwide and around the globe.

During the course of my over three-and-a-half decades of public service, I have always looked for ways to expand access to healthy, fresh foods for everyone in the city of Philadelphia and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

During my time in the Pennsylvania State Legislature where I was formerly Chair of the House Appropriations Committee, I championed Pennsylvania’s Fresh Food Financing Initiative, which links public and private funds to expand and build grocery stores in food deserts across our state. Through the initiative, we brought nearly 100 grocery stores to areas in Philadelphia and underserved areas across the Commonwealth that previously had very limited access to fresh fruits and vegetables.

In order to build stronger neighborhoods block by block, we need to lay the framework for a strategy that provides the resources needed to overcome food insecurity in our communities.

When we expand and broaden access to fresh, healthy foods for each and every person, we strengthen the framework of our democracies.

As we head down the path of drafting a new Farm Bill and as a member of the House Agriculture Committee, specifically a member on the Subcommittee on Nutrition, I always look for ways to make sure our critically important food aid programs are accessible to those that need them most. We must give the most vulnerable members of our communities a chance to get ahead and ensure such vital programs are adequately funded and supported.

Food is happiness. Food is friendship. Food is togetherness. Food is a joyous celebration of who our neighborhoods are.

We need a strong, robust food policy to build stable neighborhoods that will thrive and prosper.

Just as Senator Dole and Senator McGovern put their partisan differences aside to fight against hunger, we can see how all it takes is a small action, a small change in our thinking to make a real impact in the lives and well-being of millions.

Food is the glue that keeps neighborhoods and nations united. Together, we will retool the way we fight hunger both in our nation and around our globe.

Our Food Policy not only informs our Foreign Policy, but truly is our Foreign Policy.

Dwight Evans, a Democrat, represents Pennsylvania's second district in the U.S. House of Representatives.