Leading up to Putting Food on the Table we are shining a spotlight on some of the people driving change within the food security sector. This week, we take our focus to the US experience, and the work of prominent anti-hunger leader, Joel Berg.

Food insecurity, hunger, and poverty are significant issues facing America. But like Australia, the response is primarily driven by the charity and non-profit sector, and the debate often slips off the political radar. Working against this trend, Joel Berg has fought to get hunger, poverty and inequality on the US agenda, lobbying for greater government action and policy development.

Approximately 50 million people in the US experience hunger or food insecurity, with a recent report estimating 1 in 7 Americans rely on charitable food relief to survive[i].

Poverty and inequality are also key issues, with poverty experienced by approximately 14.5% of the population[ii], and US wealth inequality remaining at a high levels.

Despite these figures, Berg contends politicians remain inactive, the media silent, and the food industry impervious to the damage caused by cheap and readily available junk foods.

Spearheading America’s anti-hunger movement, Berg has been vocal in criticising the current approach. And just as vocal in drawing attention to hunger solutions. These include moving “beyond the soup kitchen” to build community capacity, creating state led strategies, tackling poverty and inequality through sustainable job creation, and supporting effective government programs, such as the US food stamp system.

Berg’s 2008 book “All you can eat: How hungry is America” served as a call to action for both communities and policy makers, providing an overview of the issues and the upstream solutions related to hunger, inequality, and obesity in the US.

But is the government now paying attention?

With increased social spending cuts, Berg is concerned the US government is not currently doing enough for America’s food insecure citizens, and is warning of the long terms costs in terms of health care spending and productivity loss. As in Australia, charities and non-profits are unable to provide all the solutions to food insecurity, and Berg is urging Australia not to follow America’s lead on food security policy.

In a weak policy context, the New York City Coalition Against Hunger represents one response to inadequate government leadership on food security. Berg has led the Coalition since 2001 as its Executive Director. The Coalition represents over 1,100 food banks and non-profit food relief organisations in New York City alone, and advocates for the 1.5 million New York residents who are unable to afford or access nutritionally adequate food.  It has also helped steer national policy with its lobbying efforts, managing to integrate food security needs with National Service programs, and debunk popular beliefs about the government food stamp program..

The NYC Coalition’s work is just one example of the positive changes made possible by combining community based initiative with political advocacy.

Berg is determined hunger solutions can be achieved in Australia, and will share his rich experience with us at the upcoming Putting Food on the Table conference.

Lila Kennelly

You can find more about Joel Berg here, register for the conference here, or ask a question here.

For a list of Joel’s public lectures go here Joel public lectures

[i]Hunger in America 2014

[ii]Hunger & Poverty Statistics

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