Iowa Public Television


Political Veterans Join Forces to Fight World Hunger

posted on December 26, 2008

Optimism aside, the economy has a long ways to go.

New claims for unemployment benefits rose by 30,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted rate of 586,000. That's the highest level in 26 years.

While the outlook appears grim, it's important to keep things in perspective. Though millions of Americans are coping with significant economic hardship this holiday season, most will not go hungry.

But that's not the case everywhere in the world. Battered by severe poverty, disease, and war, hundreds of millions of people go hungry every day. For that reason, the anti-hunger soldiers carry on.

Last October though, the war on hunger paused briefly to honor two of its veterans, who put their political ideas aside to serve a higher cause. Andrew Batt explains.

Throughout the world, particularly in developing countries, 300 million children are hungry. The cycle of hunger and poverty in school children has disastrous affects on education and literacy. World hunger experts proclaim a hungry child's mind cannot fill with knowledge until their stomachs are filled with nutritious food.

Inspired by what they deem a "silent killer," two Midwestern politicians have devoted much of their careers to stomping out child hunger.

Sen. George McGovern, D-South Dakota: "There is no better way to promote education and get children to show up for school than the promise of a warm meal."

Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kansas: "The road to peace is through someone's stomach. How can you expect these people that have nothing to eat and hardly anything to wear or place to live, be happy and content?"

Democratic Senator George McGovern of South Dakota and Republican Senator Bob Dole of Kansas, first joined forces in the 1970's. Together, the bipartisan team helped expand the successful domestic nutrition program for women, infants, and children or WIC.

Two decades later, the unlikely political bedfellows would turn their legislative hunger efforts abroad and bring new meaning to bipartisanship. But despite their obvious political divide, Dole and McGovern have strikingly similar backgrounds.

Both men grew up in the Midwestern "Grain Belt" and served America in World War II. Rampant hunger in the European theater had a lasting affect on both men and would later shape their views on global nutrition programs.

After the war, their separate political careers brought them to the U.S. Senate and eventually to the pinnacle of presidential politics – only to fall short in decisive general elections. McGovern's 1972 landslide loss to President Richard Nixon and Dole's 1996 setback against President Bill Clinton.

In the 1990s, both men worked to revive school nutrition and education programs across the globe and in 2000 a pilot program was launched. With support from President Bill Clinton, the US Department of Agriculture began providing meals to children in 38 countries. Successful lobbying by Dole and McGovern led to congressional support for a permanent international school lunch program…And in 2002, President George W. Bush officially signed into law the George McGovern-Bob Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program.

The McGovern-Dole program already has fed 22 million children in more than 40 different countries. The improved nutrition levels have proven world hunger theories correct by boosting school attendance and academic performance.

The results have had a profound impact on the longtime Washington lawmakers and the tens of millions of children benefiting from a warm meal…

Joesette Sheeran, Executive Director of the World Food Programme: "And all of these children who look so healthy, thank you Senator McGovern and Senator Dole. You are an inspiration to children all over the world with your passion and commitment to ensure that at least every child on earth has a cup of porage every day. It makes all the difference in the world and these children's lives are transformed."

Senator McGovern sees modern world hunger successes as important breakthroughs but hopes to keep the school lunch programs in perspective.

Sen. George McGovern, D-South Dakota: "It's probably an overstatement to say that we can eradicate hunger. It would be equally radical to say we can eradicate crime. Some of these problems are very stubborn."

His own bipartisan work on hunger issues aside, Dole emphasizes individuals and private industry must play a larger role.

Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kansas: "Sen. McGovern and I are sort of a fading generation and we need to stimulate students, companies, and others."

The world hunger and school lunch efforts of former Senators Dole and McGovern have caught the attention of the World Food Prize. The annual World Food Prize, deemed the Nobel prize for agriculture, was awarded to the longtime public servants from rural America.

For Market to Market, I'm Andrew Batt


Tags: awards Bob Dole hunger news politics poverty World Food Prize