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JBF Impact News: A Global Fight for Sensible Food Policy

Katherine Miller

March 21, 2018

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In her latest dispatch, our senior director of food policy advocacy Katherine Miller zooms out to look at how chefs tackle food system issues globally, and how changes in U.S. foreign policy can affect who goes hungry, both at home and abroad.

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We at the James Beard Foundation spend most of our time focused on domestic policy, our country’s culinary traditions, and food’s economic impact on U.S. cities and states. It is impossible, however, to ignore the influence of American chefs and consumers across the world, or the way that our foreign policy shapes food politics internationally.

One of our earliest efforts in the global arena involved collaborating with the U.S. State Department to create the Diplomatic Culinary Partnership and the American Chef Corps. This partnership included sending hundreds of chefs—including Rick Bayless, Dan Barber, Mary Sue Milliken, Emily Luchetti, Cathy Whims, William Dissen, and Naomi Pomeroy—to dozens of countries to talk about economic empowerment, food aid, and the role of food in building strong local economies.

This deep immersion into the world’s food economies led us to work with international non-profits such as OxFam and CARE to raise awareness and support for continuing food aid programs. For nearly 70 years, U.S. farmers and food businesses have worked with the State Department to help save hundreds of millions of people from malnutrition and starvation. This investment, which is just around $1.7 billion each year (or .05 percent of the federal budget), addresses urgent need in some of the most conflict-fraught countries such as Syria and Sudan.

It was these early programs and initiatives that helped us learn more about our global food system, and allowed chefs to form working relationships with key members of Congress and leaders from dozens of nations. Congress is currently considering proposals to eliminate these food aid programs. If the U.S. commitment to foreign aid ends, it is possible that millions of people would go hungry and that the global humanitarian crises could actually get worse.

This is one of the reasons why, over the last several months, we’ve been working with the SDG2 Global Advocacy Hub (the Hub) to encourage chefs to participate in the creation of a “Chef’s Manifesto” laying out eight themes to help guide our food system and ensure that everyone has access to nourishing meals. The Hub is designed to promote collaboration on Sustainable Development Goal 2: the United Nation’s stated goal to end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture by 2030. 

Hundreds of chefs in 36 countries have already contributed to the creation of the manifesto, established that “food is life,” and have helped promote its eight core ideas, which include biodiversity, reducing food waste, investing in local economies and promoting nutritious alternatives. Together, these chefs will build a global conversation about the ways we can ensure that no human goes hungry, especially at a time when overall global food production is up.

This international work also brings into focus ongoing efforts here in the U.S. that could leave even more Americans food insecure, including the upcoming Farm Bill and proposed changes to SNAP. SNAP provides food assistance to over 40 million individuals per month at an annual cost of $70 billion, which comes out to only about $125 per person per month. Nutrition advocates will push hard to limit what can be purchased with these benefits, including preventing the purchase of sugary sodas, and reform advocates will push for administrative changes. Together these shifts could shape how the program delivers aid to families, and potentially push 4 million people from the SNAP program.

At a time of growing food insecurity both here and abroad, we need programs such as Global Food Aid and SNAP to continue. These initiatives not only feed people, but they help return dignity back to our most vulnerable people: American children, families, and veterans, and refugees and victims of violence abroad. It’s not only an easy and an inexpensive investment by the U.S., it’s a positive contribution to our global food community.

You can follow @JBFChefAction for updates, and subscribe to our newsletter. For more information about our work, we can also be reached via email at Impact@jamesbeard.org.  

Learn more about JBF Impact programs.

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Katherine Miller is JBF’s senior director of food policy advocacy. Find her on Twitter.