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How Can We Make the U.S. Food System Better for People and the Planet?

Recommendations for making the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health inclusive and effective.

The second-ever White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health is a moment more than 50 years in the making. It’s a historic opportunity to bring together policymakers, non-profit leaders, food and agriculture system stakeholders, and those with lived experiences to tackle some of the most persistent, intersecting, and growing challenges affecting low-income Americans, particularly BIPOC and other marginalized communities.

This Summit is taking place as our nation is facing a hunger and nutrition crisis. More than 40 million Americans are food insecure, including children, families, and veterans. Diet-related diseases are a leading factor in healthcare spending, impacting people, the economy, and national security. Agriculture-related emissions are fueling climate change.

Immediate action is needed to reform this system to produce food that is good for people and the planet. The Rockefeller Foundation is committed to making opportunity universal and sustainable. We have a long history of working in food systems, such as spurring research, generating data, and organizing coalitions that build systems that are more nutritious, regenerative, and equitable. That’s why earlier this year, we recommitted to helping the U.S. achieve a ‘good food’ system – a system that nourishes people and the planet.

To make good food accessible and affordable, leaders must implement policies and make purchasing decisions that are driven by a complete understanding of the costs and benefits of what we eat. The White House Conference is a good place to commit to and start taking action.

What does this look like in practice? Drawing on listening sessions with hundreds of stakeholders across food and agriculture sectors, learnings from our grantee network, and decades of research, we shared policy recommendations with the White House in advance of the coming Conference to help inform the national strategy. We proposed three key areas for significant impact across the food system:

  • Improving healthy food access and affordability by strengthening federal nutrition programs, including school meals, and supporting efforts focused on food and nutrition security.
  • Integrating nutrition and health through the broad adoption of “Food is Medicine” interventions into healthcare delivery, investment in nutrition research, and expansion of programs such as medically tailored meals and The Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program (GusNIP) produce prescription programs.
  • Empowering all consumers to make and have access to healthy choices by maximizing the return on public investment through the adoption and implementation of purchasing standards that support healthier, more resilient, equitable food systems across the U.S.

These three areas can drive systemic change across our food system, increase access to healthy food, reduce diet-related diseases, improve health outcomes, and reduce hunger and nutrition insecurity in the country. The Rockefeller Foundation’s full letter to President Biden is available here:

See Full Letter

Looking Beyond this Moment

While important, the upcoming Conference is only one moment to create change in our food system. Real change will stem from how we come together to deliver on ideas and solutions that surfaced leading up to and at the Conference. Here are three outcomes that could begin to drive the transformation we need to see:

  • Cross-government collaboration. Implementing a national strategy on these issues will require significant cross-government collaboration. The federal interagency task force that has been working tirelessly on planning the Conference and developing the strategy is a huge step forward. We need a similar cross-cutting mechanism in place going forward to enable more coordinated and informed policymaking across all agencies involved in food and nutrition. This body could also better coordinate with private and philanthropic actors to implement and fund solutions.
  • Apply True Cost Accounting. We cannot hope to create a more equitable system unless we are considering the direct and indirect costs of the food system. Policies and programs coming out of the Conference should be designed and evaluated using a True Cost lens.
  • Broaden the scope. Globally, unhealthy diets account for one in five deaths and two-thirds of people living in extreme poverty are agricultural workers and their families. The food system also generates over a quarter of all greenhouse gases and is placing extreme pressure on our environment, which will only exacerbate our ability to produce good food in the future. While we understand that the scope of the conference is strategically focused on nutrition, health, and hunger, we hope that it will spur conversation on the other impacts of our global food system.

Just the Beginning

The White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health is an opportunity to discuss the challenges of the food system and to advance real solutions to our urgent problems. But this will only be the beginning, and we are ready to tackle the work to come alongside of affected communities and other stakeholders – together, we can build a nourishing, equitable, and sustainable food system in the United States.