Guest Columnist William Lambers: Congress should expand global school meals


Published: 09-04-2023 5:56 PM

As Congress works on the new Farm Bill, lawmakers should remember that the simple school meal can make a big difference around the world. It always has.

Just last week, the charity Mary’s Meals announced the restarting of school lunches in the Tigray region of Ethiopia, which has suffered from years of conflict. Partnering with the Daughters of Charity Tigray, Mary’s Meals is working to expand school meals in facilities that were damaged during the years of fighting.

Alex Keay of Mary’s Meals says, “Now, with schools reopening and children turning up to learn after three years without classes, it’s important that we work together to reinstate school feeding at the earliest opportunity. It gives us hope, too, being able to take these first steps and keep our promise to the children — that they will eat when they attend school.”

For Tigray to recover from war, school meals will play a part. This is a timeless tale for helping nations overcome the impact of conflict.

During and after World War I, the American Relief Administration provided school meals to hungry kids in Europe. During World War II, the U.S. National War Fund supported school meals abroad, including milk for children in German-occupied Norway. A report from American Relief for Norway showed 18 million large glasses of good milk were provided to Norwegian kids, helping them overcome malnutrition during the war years.

The famous Marshall Plan that helped Europe recover from World War II was supplemented with school meals for millions of kids in many countries. U.S. Gen. Lucius Clay said that school lunches “saved the health of German youth” after the war. School meals helped bring peace after the war.

After the Korean War, both the Eisenhower administration and later the Kennedy administration supported school meals for kids in that war-torn country.

Overseas school meals don’t make the headlines, but they are silent difference makers. School meals change kids lives for the better, and ultimately a whole nation.

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Every nation needs a national school lunch program for its children. The nutrition from school meals allows kids to be healthy and be able to learn in school. These are the foundations of stability and progress for any country.

As Congress renews the Farm Bill, which is set to expire in this month, legislators should work to expand school meals worldwide.

By supporting the McGovern-Dole global school lunch program, the U.S. can expand these meals for kids at a tiny fraction of the cost of armaments.

The McGovern-Dole program is named after former Sens. George McGovern and Bob Dole, who supported school lunches at home and abroad during their years in the Senate. Run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, McGovern-Dole funds school meals in impoverished countries.

Expanding McGovern-Dole we could help the World Food Program, Catholic Relief Services, Mary’s Meals, CARE, Mercy Corps, Save the Children and others who provide school meals overseas. The need is huge right now for school meals with so many nations impacted by war and drought caused by climate change. Yemen, the D.R. Congo, Haiti, Sudan, Central African Republic and so many other nations are desperate for school meals right now. Many school lunch programs are short on funding.

Congress can also give charities that use McGovern-Dole funding more flexibility in obtaining food from local sources in the developing countries.

If we are looking to change the world in a positive way, it will be done through school meals, not expensive armaments. So let’s encourage global school lunches in the coming Farm Bill legislation to feed hungry kids and give much-needed hope abroad in this time of conflict and climate change.

William Lambers is the author of “The Road to Peace” and partnered with the U.N. World Food Program on the book “Ending World Hunger.” His writings have been published by The New York Times, Newsweek, Cleveland Plain Dealer and many other news outlets.