I have the great honor of serving on the Board of Directors for MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger. MAZON is a leading national voice on hunger advocacy issues, inspired by Jewish values and ideals of “tikkun olam,” meaning to repair the world; to pursue justice. But we are fighting to end hunger for people of all faiths and backgrounds in the United States. Hunger is not just an economic problem, but a political one. Ending hunger requires systemic change to address systemic issues.
At MAZON, we advance policy solutions that confront hunger’s root causes, particularly for populations and problems that have been previously overlooked or ignored, including hunger among military families, veterans, LGBTQ older adults, single mothers, Native American populations, and protecting SNAP benefits.
For the last decade, MAZON has made addressing military hunger a priority. (Our most recent report, “Hungry in the Military,” is available in its entirety on our website, mazon.org.) The gist is this: Military service members and their families make significant sacrifices for our country, yet many regularly struggle to put food on the table.
This is nothing new; hunger among military families has persisted over decades. While food pantries and other local organizations provide critical services to military families and others, we at MAZON feel strongly that military families should not need to visit food pantries on a regular basis. Long-term structural solutions are required.
The COVID-19 Pandemic has greatly exacerbated food insecurity nationwide. The number of food-insecure American citizens has doubled from 40 million people pre-pandemic to an unconscionable 80 million today. Military families, who face unique barriers to gaining sustainable access to nutrition, are not exempt from this toll. It is a gross injustice.
In addition to the Jewish values that lead us to speak truth to power, we see the need to address military hunger as a matter of mission readiness, future recruitment, and troop retention. How can our troops be expected to be present in the moment when they and their families are hungry? How can we expect to retain troops?
Did you know that currently, food pantries operate on or near every military installation in the U.S.? One third of children in schools on military bases are eligible for free or reduced meals. Base salaries have not been adequately adjusted to reflect the reality of our modern military force, which now includes women, BIPOC, and parents of young children. This is a systemic problem, and a shameful one.
We need to reset the narrative around hunger and address the persistent shame and stigma that prevents so many Americans — especially members of the military and military families — from seeking the nutrition assistance they need and deserve.
As part of our “You Said It” Op-Ed series, we invite contributors to submit their opinion pieces. Have a submission? Contact us.
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Julie Chernoff, Better’s dining editor since its inception in 2007, graduated from Yale University with a degree in English — which she speaks fluently — and added a professional chef’s degree from the California Culinary Academy. She has worked for Boz Scaggs, Rick Bayless, and Wolfgang Puck (not all at the same time); and counts Northlight Theatre and Les Dames d’Escoffier International as two of her favorite nonprofits. She currently serves on the national board of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, an advocacy group addressing hunger issues in the U.S. and Israel for the nearly 46 million people — veterans, children, seniors, tribal nations, and more — who go to bed hungry every night.