The truth is that hunger and our health have become political considerations, not medical ones. And we know how to fix our food issues. What we lack is the leadership.
The coming year will give us a chance to cook for and feed America better. At this pivotal moment for our country and the world, we can build a healthier future that is more resilient to global shocks.
For a fraction of the cost of an industry bailout, we can upgrade public school kitchens across the United States and pay the real cost of a free and nutritious school lunch. In times of disaster, our schools can become community kitchens; there are still food deserts in this country, but there are few school deserts. We can dramatically improve the health of our most vulnerable families by improving the food supplies in our corner stores and in our classrooms.
Rather than relying on private donors to fund charities and nonprofits, we can spend federal funds to get our cafes and restaurants back on their feet while the Federal Emergency Management Agency pays for real food programs. We can target our subsidies toward smaller farms and farmers selling healthier foods to their local markets. More than a century after Upton Sinclair’s revelations about the squalid conditions of meatpacking plants in Chicago, we can improve life for our essential workers not only in the fields but in those same plants today.
Above all, we can prioritize and streamline food policy under a new cabinet-level Secretary of Food and Agriculture, with a seat on the National Security Council and a mission to improve our nation’s sustenance. We know that a poor diet leads to poor health, so while we wait for new coronavirus vaccines and therapies, improving the quality of our nourishment is the best way to improve our health. We need to prepare not just for recovery but for the next pandemic and the catastrophic threats represented by the climate crisis. By doing so, we can heal much more than hunger.
In central California, in the middle of the pandemic, my team was preparing meals for some members of the United Farm Workers, who pick America’s crops. “We work so hard so that people can get food on their tables. And yet we are the ones who do not have food for ourselves,” said Carolina Elston, who picks blueberries and table grapes. “Receiving this food is a recognition of how hard we work and contribute to the well-being of the country.”
Food is the fastest way to rebuild our sense of community. We can put people back to work preparing it, and we can put lives back together by fighting hunger. We need to hope for a better world in 2021, and there’s nothing more hopeful than the thought of sharing our food, and feeding a nation.
José Andrés is a chef and the founder of World Central Kitchen.
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