When you hear “James Beard awards,” you likely imagine an Oscars-esque ceremony saluting restaurants. But the James Beard Foundation doesn’t only honor chefs. At a Leadership Award ceremony, which takes place as part of the JBF Food Conference Oct. 17-18 in New York, the foundation will recognize Representative James P. McGovern of the 2nd Congressional District of Massachusetts for his work toward ending hunger.
“If you ever see a child who is hungry, it breaks your heart, and there isn’t a single city or town in Massachusetts — or anywhere in this country — that is free of it,” says the representative. “I remember my first week as a member of Congress, January 1997, having people come into my office who didn’t have enough to eat and no place to go.”
Since then, McGovern has made ending hunger one of his top priorities. In July he led his third annual “Summer Meals Tour” to highlight USDA summer food programs for low-income children. He also spotlights local farms, promoting fresh food and stressing the importance of “not just filling bellies” but providing nutritional food for people in need. Referring to the obesity epidemic, he says, “We don’t want to solve one problem and create another problem.”
McGovern also gives regular speeches about food insecurity on the House floor, which he shares on social media with the hashtag #endhungernow. “I tell people all the time that hunger is a political condition. We have the resources, we have the knowledge, we have the infrastructure to end it, but we don’t have the political will.”
McGovern has been frustrated at the lack of political progress, which he attributes mostly to misconceptions about the issue. “What’s happened here is that poor people have become demonized. The perception of those who are struggling and those who are hungry doesn’t reflect the reality.”
The congressman says he continually hears on the floor that SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — today’s version of food stamps) is filled with waste and abuse. His response: “Well, that’s just not true. It’s one of the most efficiently run programs, if not the most efficiently run program. They say, ‘Well, people are getting this overly generous benefit.’ Well that’s not true either. A SNAP benefit is about $1.40 per person, per meal, per day. You can’t even buy a Dunkin’ Donuts coffee on that.”
McGovern says a big part of the hunger problem has to do with consumption habits and distribution. “Forty percent of what we produce and grow in this country, we throw away. We discard. And a lot of this is perfectly good food that can be given to people who are in need. Whether they be homeless, or be it to food banks, or senior centers, or schools, we ought not to be wasting food.”