All children deserve a free lunch
October 8, 2001
Oct. 16 is World Food Day, and even as we focus on the war, we should not neglect children who are hungry around the globe.
These kids deserve a free lunch.
I teach at a public university in one of the country's poorest states, Louisiana. A young man had taken one of my courses, done well and graduated. After the commencement ceremony, I met his father who was proud of his son for being the first in their family of former sharecroppers to go to high school. I asked my student for the secret of his success.
His simple answer came with a smile: "Lunch."
Free lunches, he said, helped keep him in school and helped him graduate, too.
We can now provide the same kind of nourishment and opportunity for the rest of the world. The International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Act of 2001, now pending in the U.S. House and Senate, was inspired by former Sens. Bob Dole and George McGovern. They propose to work with U.S. agricultural interests, food and aid agencies at the United Nations and governments from around the world to buy "a universal school lunch every day for every child in the world."
The United Nations has found that the education of girls is the single most effective way to develop the Third World. For example, a study last year by the International Food Policy Research Institute concluded that educating poor women was crucial in reducing the prevalence of malnutrition in developing countries by more than half between 1970-1995. U.N. research also shows that illiterate girls marry earlier and end up having twice as many children as schooled girls. Free lunches would provide an incentive for parents to keep their daughters in school.
We should support the global lunch proposal because it's the humanitarian thing to do. And it's good politics and public relations. The U.S. war on terrorism, however justifiable in our eyes, could appear like a battle between the haves and have-nots.
We should show the world, through this lunch program, that we care for the have-nots.
"If there was ever a reason for compassionate conservatism, this is a way for it to be expressed," said Dole when he announced the proposal for the program.
McGovern added, "In the long run it will cost us a lot more if we let 300 million children remain hungry and poorly educated."
I hope that some day I will meet a graduating student from Colombia, Upper Volta or Burma who tells me that the main reason she stayed in school was for lunch.
David D. Perlmutter is a senior fellow at Louisiana State University's Reilly Center for Media & Public Affairs and an associate professor of mass communication. He can be reached at email@example.com.