In March, several staff at BFN joined the virtual 2022 National Anti-Hunger Policy Conference. The conference was co-sponsored by the Food Research and Action Center and Feeding America, with support from the National CACFP Forum. We tuned in to numerous panel sessions on a variety of topics, touching overlapping themes such as equity, the circular food economy, and advocacy. Here I share some of our takeaways.
Equity remains an important theme in larger discussions of food and nutrition insecurity. A number of panels featured firsthand perspectives from people who have experienced hunger. We heard from organizations, including the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano, who incorporate people with lived experience in decisionmaking through community councils, stakeholders committees, and advocacy cohorts.
The circular food economy is a newer topic in anti-hunger conversations (though one BFN participates in at the local level through the ALL IN Eats coalition). Speakers from Pennsylvania and Wisconsin described partnerships with state departments of agriculture and tribal organizations to source culturally relevant food from local producers for underserved communities. This is an active area of interest for BFN as we seek to grow our procurement of fresh fruits and vegetables–the products our clients value most.
Regarding advocacy, the conference discussed numerous challenges and opportunities facing SNAP, the flagship food and nutrition program of the USDA. Swift federal action through the American Rescue Plan resulted in lower rates of food insecurity compared to the Great Recession, but a looming benefits cliff (the first round of which was discussed in this August 2021 blog post) threatens to erase this progress. Robust data was also presented to illustrate how charitable pantry use increases as SNAP enrollments decline, which reminds us that direct service organizations fill an ongoing, long-term need in nutrition access.
The conference closed out with a Lobby Day in which anti-hunger advocates spoke with members of Congress and their staff on top legislative priorities. Several of our asks focused on reducing barriers to SNAP enrollment as well as bolstering child and school nutrition. We wish to acknowledge and applaud Representative Barbara Lee for sponsoring the Improving Access to Nutrition Act (HR 1753). This bill would eliminate SNAP’s three-month time limit for able-bodied adults without dependents, a restriction that is ultimately counterproductive to supporting low-income individuals re-entering the workforce.
We at BFN were glad to participate in the 2022 National Anti-Hunger Policy Conference. Equity and the circular food economy will continue to be areas of focus in our programs. On the advocacy front, we look forward to Hunger Action Week in May to engage the California state legislature.