January 20, 2013 by waboyd
Our first day of talks started on Capitol Hill where we were warmed up with a brief overview of the textbook version of how a bill becomes a law, followed abruptly by the statement that legislation is rarely, if ever, created in this manner today. Our first example of this exception came immediately via the Farm Bill. This comprehensive piece of legislation shapes many aspects of the nation’s food and farming policies and was due for renewal in 2012. Two versions of the Farm Bill swiftly passed through the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee and then the House Ag Committee in the summer of 2012 with both proposing deep cuts to SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program formerly known as food stamps. However, despite months of work, the Farm Bill was never brought to the House floor for a vote, and was finally extended until next September as the Fiscal Cliff approached at the beginning of 2013. To follow the continuing drama of the Farm Bill legislative process, be sure to stay tuned to the House and Senate Ag Committee’s webpages.
While many politicians were forced to focus on finding ways to make cuts to the federal budget, we were reminded that these cuts were proposed at a time when almost 50 million people reported being at risk for hunger and over half of those people received assistance from government programs including SNAP. Two of the speakers who work for different hunger relief organizations in DC described how programs like SNAP, WIC, and School Lunch and Breakfast programs provide safety nets for people, including over 16 million children, who otherwise would not know where they would get food for their next meal.
On the last morning in DC, we had the opportunity to hear a panel discuss the status of Child and School Nutrition programs including changes made by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, a reauthorization of the funding for previous versions of the Child Nutrition Act. Although this legislation has caused controversy over whether portion sizes were decreased too much, at least what kids are eating at school is now being talked about by kids and their parents, as well as government officials who set the requirements for food sold at schools across the country including federally-subsidized meal programs. Once again, I was reminded of how many children depend on these meals provided by federal funds to fill their empty stomachs and fuel their growing bodies and brains.
Although I heard many other interesting talks and learned a great deal about why people make the food choices that they do (think behavior rather than nutrition science), my most profound realization came while listening to these two panel discussions. Although I enjoy many aspects of food and nutrition, what drew me back to school was my desire to make a difference in people’s lives in a more direct way than I had as a basic scientist. As I go forward, I hope my future career path will focus on addressing hunger and poverty. Based on what I had heard during the DC trip, I did a great deal of thinking on the drive home. I thought about where I might intern next fall to learn more about approaches used to fight poverty. I also considered the type of project I might choose for my master’s paper to learn more about ending hunger. In the meantime, I will draw inspiration from a quote offered by one of the speaker’s on the first day who advised us to “be advocates all the time, every place”.