White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health

We’ve dedicated today’s newsletter to providing highlights from this important, if relatively haphazard, four-hour conference.

On September 28, the White House hosted this confluence of government, corporate and celebrity leaders, and generated policy announcements and criticism in equal measure.

Much-anticipated yet sparingly planned, Wednesday’s conference showcased many important figures in U.S. food policy. The event featured speeches from President Biden, leaders from the USDA, HHS, members of Congress and chef José Andrés. The administration announced a commitment to ending U.S. hunger (which the USDA estimates at 10%) and boosting nutrition by 2030, with support from corporate and organizational donations, amid high food prices and uncertain times.

  • For a quick summary, check out Food Politics blogger Marion Nestle’s summary; it breaks out common themes and outlines speeches.
  • On her FoodFix blog, Helena Bottemiller Evich filed a detailed report this morning, saying: “Food gets its moment in Washington.”
  • Politico outlined the Biden administration’s biggest obstacles: high food prices, a lingering infant formula debacle and uncertainty about which party will be driving Congress next year.
  • NPR posted a synopsis of the strategy: “The strategy put forward by the administration includes expanding nutrition assistance programs and launching more healthcare programs to cover medically tailored meals.”
  • Haphazard coordination of the event undermined otherwise bipartisan support. Rep. Glenn “GT” Thompson (R-Penn.) commented: “From unanswered inquiries to the exclusion of many Republican and Democrat policymakers and relevant stakeholders, it’s unfortunate today’s conference has seemingly deteriorated into a handpicked political gathering whose sole purpose is to perpetuate partisan ideologies.”
  • One group that the White House clearly included was the food industry. FMI, the Food Industry Association, led a group of 17 industry groups that committed to support the goals of the conference.
  • You can watch the conference on the White House’s YouTube channel.

“Our bold goals require a whole-of-government approach and a whole-of-society effort. No child should go to bed hungry, no parent should die of a disease that could be prevented. When we’re at our best, we think big.”

President Biden (The White House)

Hunger: Partnering Up for Food Security

Fighting food insecurity proved to be the most popular topic, drawing numerous partnerships and commitments from corporations, industry organizations and public interest groups.

  • Chef José Andrés offered insights from his work as leader of anti-hunger group World Central Kitchen: “To tackle the issues we have to be forceful [and think] in a new way to make sure that we keep investing in the programs that they’ve shown work. … One plate of food at a time, we can build a better America.”
  • Food Safety News reported on the United States’ slipping rankings in terms of national food security. The U.S. ranked #3 for quality and safety, but slipped to 13th place when measures like affordability and accessibility factored in.
  • The White House announced a total of $8 billion in private-sector commitments to fight hunger. Meatingplace tracked protein leaders Smithfield and Tyson’s contributions while Food Dive kept a running list of all commitments.
  • Agri-Pulse summarized some of the executive actions along with some activity that will require legislative approval. The article also listed organizations making commitments such as FoodCorps, food distributor Sysco and the National Restaurant Association.
  • Individual companies, like Albertsons, established new goals for reducing hunger through donations, easing access to groceries through delivery services and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (aka food stamps).
  • National Grocers Association, which represents independents, emphasized the importance of reaching “underserved rural and urban populations,” promoting the use of food stamps for online purchases.

“Food insecurity is ubiquitous everywhere, in all of our clinics, all of our practices. We’re seeing it in every county around the country. So, it’s important that we do this.”

Kofi Essel, pediatrician, Children’s National Hospital (Civil Eats)

Nutrition: Redefining Healthy

On the nutrition side of things, labeling and school meals stirred the most attention. Regulators, industry groups and individual companies all committed to enacting change.

  • The morning of the event, the FDA proposed an update to which foods can be labeled “healthy,” with Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra explaining it as a move to “help educate more Americans.”
  • The Sustainable Food Policy Alliance — composed of Danone, Mars, Nestlé and Unilever — welcomed the rule’s adherence to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The alliance also cautioned that the label should “extend beyond a single icon or symbol.”
  • Dr. Peter Lurie, president of Center for Science in the Public Interest, cheered plans to implement policies like front-of-package nutrition labeling and sodium-reduction targets for how they will lower barriers to healthier food choices.
  • The International Fresh Produce Association highlighted its Fruit and Vegetable Moonshot as a blueprint for nutrition policy reform.
  • Former NYU nutrition professor Marion Nestle noted that the conference coincides with a need to reauthorize funds for school meals and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC).
  • After President Biden called for an expansion of free school meals, The Wall Street Journal reported that the move faced opposition from Republican members of Congress out of concern for “providing free meals to the children of doctors, lawyers and lobbyists.”
  • National Restaurant Association members committed to the Kids LiveWell initiative, which promotes healthier menu options for children.

“Nutrition is health, and food is medicine.”

Xavier Becerra, HHS Secretary (YouTube)

Health: The End Goal

The health outcomes of food policies was the least-addressed portion of the agenda. Despite this, the topic proved no less important.

  • In The Hill, Harvard professors Frank Hu, Walter Willett and Lilian Cheung examined the link between diet and obesity: “The costs ripple through our health care system, our labor market, our economy and even our national security.”
  • American Heart Association CEO Nancy Brown and Rockefeller Foundation President Rajiv Shah partnered on a $250 million Food is Medicine Research Initiative.
  • Scott Faber of activist organization Environmental Working Group applauded the administration for plans to revise meal plans at federal facilities: “Everyone has a role to play if we want to address diet-related disease, and the federal government should lead by example.”

Worth Reading

Ian, Not a Minor Threat

Food Business News previewed Hurricane Ian’s impact on food production warning that it’s still “early days” as Floridians scramble to regain power, establish cell signals and assess damage. Author Lisa Berry looked at the baking industry, reporting that Campbell’s snacks and Ardent Mills facilities south of Tampa are running somewhat efficiently. Reuters reporter Tom Polansek described how some ranchers are scrambling to find their cattle and orange juice prices are surging. USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack assured, “USDA is ready to deliver all the resources we have available to us to assist those in need.” The agency also laid out food safety guidelines for residents.

Too ‘Woke’ or No Market?

No growth from 2021 to 2022. That’s not a slowdown in alternative protein sales, that’s a dead stop. Food Navigator outlined a Deloitte report that placed the blame for this category’s woes on declining novelty and appeal, the impact of inflation, and questions on the health and environmental benefits. From Deloitte’s summary: “The half (53%) who aren’t buying it may not be easily reachable, partly due to cultural resistance to a product some view as ‘woke.’ Others, many of whom say they want to reduce their red meat consumption, still aren’t interested in [plant-based] meat.”

Showing Other Sandwiches the Way

The Takeout posted an interesting narrative of Jersey Mike’s, the fastest-growing restaurant chain in the U.S. Referencing other summary articles from QSR and Entrepreneur, author Brianna Wellen distilled why Mike’s is tops for subs: “What makes the sandwiches stand out is a crisp freshness, highlighted by ordering a sandwich “Mike’s Way.” We agree, Brianna.

So Nice They Named It Twice

In Modern Farmer, bartender-botanist Danny Childs profiled the pawpaw, a fruit (a berry, to be precise) native to the Garden State of New Jersey. “Once they’ve had their first taste, I see their eyes light up as they try to wrap their heads around how an ingredient that tastes so tropical — with flavors that are like a cross between mango, banana and pineapple — could possibly grow here.”