Last week, the Biden administration hosted a conference focused on nutrition, health, and hunger in America. The White House said the conference was intended to help develop a national strategy to “identify the actions the government will take and catalyze public and private sectors to address the intersections between food, hunger, nutrition and health. The conference goals included improving food access and affordability, integrating nutrition and health, and empowering consumers to make healthy food choices.
The Hourly of the conference – a weak point of which included Biden wondering out loud why a recently deceased member of Congress was not present – was coincidental. He stood in the middle of the double whammy of a record Food prices and obesity rate in this country.
Looking ahead to the conference, the Biden administration announcement billions of dollars in public and private contributions – the latter including cash and other resources provided by companies such as Doordash, Chobani, Google and the National Grocers Association – as part of a “transformational vision” for help eliminate hunger and reduce diseases such as diabetes by 2030.
It certainly sounds good. But what has a conference like this achieved or can achieve? As always, the devil is in the details. And those details seem in many cases to simply involve warming up soggy leftover ideas. Indeed, a long strategy document published by the White House suggests that his so-called “transformational vision” is largely neither.
The administration’s plans to improve food access and affordability include “increasing access to free, nutritious school meals.” School meals may be free for many children, but these meals are neither nutritious nor, often, healthy or edible. As I detail in my book, Biting the hands that feed us: How fewer and smarter laws would make our food system more sustainablethe so-called “affordability” of meals comes from the fact that the foods they contain are usually subsidized from farm to fork.
Worse still, proposed plans to empower consumers to make healthy choices may include yet another revised mandatory labeling requirements for packaged foods. As the conference document notes, Biden served as vice president the last time such changes to food labels (which the document absurdly calls “iconic”) were meant to accomplish something big. .
Perhaps the most troubling element of the document is a proposal to “assess additional measures to reduce added sugar consumption, including potential voluntary targets. “While I agree that Americans should eat far less sugar than they do, the Obama administration has already gone down this path, and obesity and other diet-related diseases have only increased. Additionally, the words “including potential voluntary goals” strongly suggest mandatory goals for sugar consumption. Noted Following the conference, activists “hope the conference will serve as a first step toward future…policy changes.”
Instead of all the conference hype, a simpler solution, as I have suggested before, would be for the federal government to send money to people who cannot afford to buy enough food for themselves and their families. A New York Times report on last week’s conference pointed to a recent USDA report which showed that 10 percent of US households – 13.5 million – are food insecure. The White House could direct the entirety of the aforementioned $8 billion to those same households (which practice at approximately $600 per household per year) and other larger cash payments as needed. For this relatively small investment, the federal government could have an immediate positive impact on the lives of many starving Americans without imposing even more ineffective or counterproductive policies on the American public. The results could then be what the Biden administration says it wants.