Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Words of Wisdom from Ambassador Tony Hall in Albuquerque

"Hunger and malnutrition have long been issues covered in the media, debated by politicians, and battled by charities and non-profits worldwide. Yet only recently has the strong connection between U.S. hunger and health been brought to the forefront of this pervasive conversation. 

With one in six Americans lacking access to affordable and nutritious food, the immense and devastating consequences of hunger on the long-term health of our citizens can no longer be ignored."  - Tony Hall (a quote from an Op-Ed piece in The Huffington Post, February 2014)

There were flow charts, pie charts, listings, new concepts, old concepts, updates from health providers, and from the USDA, on efforts to promote nutrition and healthy lifestyles, programs to eliminate food deserts and a lot more information. Admittedly, there were some concepts and tidbits of information that peaked my interest: the increasing use of healthy food prescriptions in the medical field and the fact that Presbyterian Health Services in Albuquerque sponsors a growers market on Tuesday mornings. (More on those topics later).

And then there was Tony Hall, director emeritus of the Alliance to End Hunger, former U.S. Representative from the Third District in Ohio, and former ambassador to the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (OAS).  In his role as director emeritus for the alliance, Tony Hall serves on the board of directors of Bread for the World, so I have had the privilege of conversing with him at our meetings. And when we saw each other in Albuquerque, it was like meeting up with an old friend (or at least a long-time acquaintance).

Event included local panel near the end of the summit
For those who are anti-hunger activists/advocates, it helped to have Tony's voice in the middle of all the dizzying (but extremely useful) array of information that was presented to us at the regional summit of Come to the Table, put together by ProMedica, Presbyterian Healh Services, and the Alliance to End Hunger, on June 2 at Los Poblanos Historic Inn and Organic Farm in Albuquerque's North Valley. (Albuquerque was the third city to host the regional conference, following Atlanta and Chicago).

Tony kept it real. He told stories, speaking  about his experiences on the campaign trail while serving in Congress and about his trip to Calcutta to see Mother Teresa. He said Mother Teresa told him, "I want you to always remember the things that are in front of you."

In other words, you don't have to do everything or know everything. Do what is possible and in front of you.

Still, it's also important to remember the bottom line, summarized in a white paper developed by Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease and ProMedica, March 2013. "Without conscious consideration of hunger, particularly in policy discussions about improving health in America, we are missing a critically important factor. Despite the attention given to our obesity crisis and the inter-relationship hunger and!obesity share with!access to nutrition and common socioeconomic demographics, few policy discussions about obesity reference the problem of hunger."

"Meeting in a Box" exercise
The basic message was also reinforced in an interactive exercise described as a "Meeting in a Box," which discussed several aspects of hunger as a health issue.

Other than that--and an unscheduled opportunity for questions and perspectives--there was little input from those in attendance, which I think was a big mistake, given the wealth of knowledge and experience in the room. One issue brought up during the impromptu question-and-answer session was whether poverty should be given greater prominence as as a cause of poor health, and ultimately hunger. Another participant suggested that high subsidies to the large corn producers were a major reason for the prevalence of inexpensive junk food, and that those subsidies should go to growers of fruits and vegetables. Perhaps greater audience input should be considered for future summits, including one coming up in New York in the near future.

A panel comprised of representatives from local community food systems and healthy and organic food advocates also provided a valuable New Mexico-based perspective. This was a nice touch, but this seemed almost like an afterthought. Perhaps the panel should have been scheduled earlier to provide a break from the almost academic-like presentations.

Don't get me wrong. I don't intend to downplay the importance of the content of the presentations. I reiterate that the information is valuable.  It's just that it's hard to wrap my activist (and even journalist) brain around all the flood of facts and figures, theories and outcomes coming to me in a rapid sequence of presentations. Still, I am comforted by the thought that if I need those pie charts, flow charts, and listings, they are available online from ProMedica's Come to the Table site. 
You can compare the information with the topics that were discussed in Atlanta.

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