McGovern rallies against world hunger

Elizabeth Nieto

To commemorate the 30th anniversary of Hunger and Homelessness Awareness week, former U.S. Sen. George McGovern spoke to the University community this past Tuesday. McGovern was the first United Nations ambassador to work to eliminate the worldwide problem of hunger, which affects millions of people around the globe.

Throughout his lecture, McGovern drew upon his personal experiences with people around the world. He discussed how he lived through and served in World War II, when he first became enlightened to the presence of hunger existing in the world.

“I was on an American crew ship … and as we pulled into Naples Harbor … we could see children lined up on either side of the docking area shouting at us in broken English ‘Baby Ruth,’ ‘Wrigley’s gum’ and ‘Hershey bars,'” McGovern said. He also said soldiers were warned by ship captains not to throw food at the hungry children. Perplexed by this lack of sympathy, the crew questioned the captain, who explained that on the previous day, 25 children drowned as they struggled for scraps of food that had fallen off the boat.

Since then, McGovern has made hunger awareness a top priority. He has worked with many volunteer organizations in an attempt to promote the well-being of those less fortunate. During the war, he delivered food to places being bombed in Northern Europe. McGovern also served as the “Food for Peace” director under President John F. Kennedy.

Later in his lecture, McGovern recalled the opportunity he had to work on his first real out-of-country mission, when then President Bill Clinton asked him to be an American ambassador to Rome.

Though initially reluctant, McGovern agreed to take part in the mission in 1997. He dealt with the hunger problem by helping farmers produce food and provide relief for those in immediate need.

According to McGovern, as his time in Italy continued, he knew he made the right decision.

“I wasn’t there two weeks when I knew that that job [of providing food] was tailor-made for me,” he said.

Since his work in Rome, McGovern has pledged to bring the number of people suffering from hunger from 800 million down to 400 million by the year 2015. He also stated the importance of impacting the world for the sake of moral obligation, not public recognition.

In 1961, McGovern set up the first school lunch program in Peru, under the Maryknoll Fathers. He viewed this program as not only a means for more students to go to school for the sake of education, but also to improve academic performances and the future lives of children.

He remarked, “American people believe in feeding the hungry, but I’ve seen countless schools around the world where I could just see the lethargy … a good meal makes a big difference.”

McGovern also spoke about an organization that he co-sponsored, the WICK program, which gives nutritious supplements to needy mothers, pregnant women and children up to five years old.

He obtained congressional approval for the United States to start programs in 38 other countries.

Statistically, McGovern claimed that 17 percent of people in world suffer from chronic hunger, which is significantly less than it has been in the past. However, McGovern also indicated that while it would cost $8 to $10 billion dollars to end hunger in the world, treating hunger currently costs 46 million man hours, or $16 billion a year, double the amount it would cost to end it entirely.

McGovern closed his lecture by connecting hunger and homelessness to the events of Sept. 11. He said the tragedy garnered more attention in the United States than anything else, as the government has enlisted $50 billion in funds related to terrorism. He posed that, in the long run, people also need to give some time and consideration to understanding why the United States is the target.

“The president says it is because [terrorist countries] hate our freedom,” he said. “I happen to think he is wrong … I think that if we could use government services and the U.N. to deal with hunger and malnutrition, I have a feeling some of those people in those villages … who feel demoralized and worthless … may be more resistant to the Osama bin Ladens of this world.”

McGovern was the democratic candidate for president in 1972. He lost to Richard Nixon.