About 1,200 anti-hunger and anti-poverty advocates descended upon Washington, D.C. February 25 – 27, 2018 for the National Anti-Hunger Policy Conference sponsored by Feeding America and the Food Research & Action Center. While it was my first time attending this annual event, several regular attendees noted the markedly different energy in the air. A significantly more vocal audience punctuated the plenary sessions with cheers, shouts and standing ovations. The drive to build a more just and sustainable food system was contagious, particularly as anti-hunger groups brace for potentially substantial changes to nutrition assistance programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
The conference sessions were wide-ranging and featured experts on hot-button food policy issues, child nutrition, senior hunger, rural communities, immigration, homelessness and more. Although hunger was explored through multiple, diverse lenses, key themes appeared across each session. These themes – and what they could mean for broader anti-hunger efforts – are noted below:
- Take advantage of open doors. Brandon Lipps, Acting Deputy Under Secretary of Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) emphasized the agency’s commitment to ensuring that Americans are fed and equipped for greater self-sufficiency. He insisted that the USDA needs public input on a range of matters saying, “We have never refused a meeting. Our door is always open.” Attendees seized the opportunity to deliver real-time feedback during his remarks and a lively Q&A demonstrated attendees’ eagerness to weigh in.
- Insight: Given the volume of landmark nutrition policies and regulations currently in development – such as the Farm Bill, a new Dietary Guidelines for Americans process and SNAP proposals in the Trump Administration’s budget request – there will be plenty of occasions to provide input. Individuals and organizations should take advantage of these opportunities.
- Seek out imaginative, unlikely partners. Session after session underscored the need for diverse sectors working together to make anti-hunger efforts more inclusive, intersectional and efficient. Panels on disaster relief, immigration, tax reform and homelessness reiterated how nutrition underpins human health and dignity.
- Insight: Consider evaluating current partnerships and identifying new “unlikely bedfellows” to spark creative thinking and fresh perspective when engaging in hunger relief efforts.
- Separate fact from fiction. Several speakers emphasized that public misperceptions pervade SNAP and impact policy responses. While panelists could easily rattle off the latest data that dispelled these misperceptions, they insisted that personal stories may speak louder than fact sheets.
- Insight: Understand the latest facts and figures on anti-hunger programs, but evaluate where it could be more powerful to feature personal stories that humanize how and why nutrition assistance programs work.
- “Don’t ‘give voice to’ the voiceless, pass the mic.” This was perhaps the most powerful sentiment I took away from the conference, and it came from SNAP recipients themselves. Stakeholders are constantly doing innovative things to shine a light on hunger, but nothing is more powerful than personal experience (e.g., The Food Bank of the Southern Tier’s Speakers Bureau).
- Insight: Explore how those directly impacted by the issues your organization is investing in (e.g., hunger relief) can be given a megaphone – be it as ambassadors, employees or board members.
Curious as to how FoodMinds can help support your organization’s nutrition and anti-hunger efforts? Let’s get in touch – I can be reached at [email protected].
Elizabeth Stoltz is an account supervisor at FoodMinds in Washington, DC.