2016 Leadership Award Honoree: Jim McGovern

Jim McGovern
Congressman from Massachusetts

Jim McGovern grew up in Worcester, Massachusetts, the son of a shopkeeper and a dance teacher. He never worried about his next meal. “When I was elected to Congress in 1996, one of the things that startled me was the number of people who would come to my office looking for food,” he says. “I felt a little embarrassed because I grew up in this community. I knew there were people who were struggling, but I never understood the extent of food insecurity and hunger.”

In the 20 years since, McGovern has never stopped fighting to feed his constituents and other hungry Americans. As co-chair of the House Hunger Caucus and Chairman of the Board of the nonprofit Congressional Hunger Center, he leads the movement to guarantee what he considers to be a fundamental human right: the right to food. Since 2013 he has delivered more than 60 #EndHungerNow speeches on the House floor, each calling attention to a different aspect of the problem and sharing personal stories of misfortune and triumph from across the country.

“He’s the single most dedicated person in Congress who cares about hunger in America,” says Marion Nestle, Paulette Goddard Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University and a 2013 Leadership Award honoree. “He’s willing to speak out and try to hold government to a morally defensible position on matters of food and social equity.”

McGovern regularly champions the nearly 50 million Americans who receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits and don’t have super PACs and powerful lobbyists working on their behalf. Hunger is a political issue, he believes, one we have the knowledge and the food necessary to address.

“We ought to have a new definition of national security,” he says. “Instead of just the number of bombs and troops we have, it ought to include whether or not everybody in this country has enough to eat, adequate housing, access to a job.” McGovern hopes to reframe the discussion by convincing our next President to convene a conference on food, nutrition, and hunger. His vision is to gather key players from agencies and NGOs, chefs, nutritionists, teachers, and advocates, to put together a road map to fight hunger.

“I do believe we can solve this in my lifetime. That’s my goal,” he says. “Before I die, I’d like to see a hunger-free America. And if I live long enough, a hunger-free world.”