At National Action Network Convention, Booker Raises Alarm on America’s Broken Food System and the Nutrition Crisis Endangering Communities of Color
“In addition to a hunger crisis, we face a second great crisis, one of nutrition insecurity, where too many Americans are overfed, but undernourished, and we continue to pour massive federal subsidies into a system that is literally making us sick.”
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) spoke at the annual National Action Network’s (NAN) National Convention. The speech focused on America’s broken food systems and agriculture industry that favors consolidated multinational corporations and hurts communities of color. As family farmers struggle and tens of millions of families face food insecurity and a lack of access to affordable, nutritious food, massive agriculture conglomerates get bigger and richer.
“The American food system is broken, and it is killing us,” said Senator Booker. “The American food system is working against nearly everyone it touches – it is hurting urban communities and rural communities; farmers and farm workers. And it is deeply dangerous to our most vulnerable communities. The only winners in this system are the massive, consolidated multinational corporations that dominate our food industry and too often dictate food policy.”
The COVID-19 public health and economic crisis has exacerbated these systemic injustices and demonstrated how the interconnected challenges of our food system are a matter of racial justice, economic justice, and health justice.
Earlier this week, Senator Booker reintroduced the Climate Stewardship Act, a climate change bill focused on voluntary farm and ranch conservation practices, massive reforestation, and wetlands restoration. Last year, Booker introduced the Food and Nutrition Education in Schools Act to allocate federal funding for projects that educate students while connecting them to healthy food practices, with a priority given to schools in neighborhoods with high rates of childhood diet-related illnesses and those in which 40 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-priced meals.
Below is a copy of the speech as prepared for delivery and linked here is a video of the speech:
I’m glad to be yet again joining the National Action Network today for this annual gathering of civil rights leaders, faith leaders, advocates, and activists.
This coalition is a reflection of what it looks like to be actively doing the work of building a more beloved community. And that really is the work that NAN does that Reverend AL does, working to provide information and substantive help; helping black owned businesses have the information they need to get assistance; to working distribute meals across the country, including 10,000 meals in my home state of New Jersey, and even now amidst another incident of unjustifiable police violence, NAN is rising in a dark time to provide much needed light for path toward justice.
Thank you for your leadership, your service. But I also know that your work extends beyond the crisis of today, to the larger continuing crisis of a country that falls short of its precious national ideals of justice, equality, and freedom–freedom from fear, freedom from violence, freedom from discrimination, and avoidable illness, and death.
And that’s why today, even though we are still in a time of pain and mourning, challenge and difficulty, I want to take a moment to recognize and celebrate what groups of people like this one made possible through your struggle.
Last year, at a time when the President of the United States was actively trying to undermine our democracy, to suppress the votes of people of color and steal an election in the middle of a pandemic, NAN didn’t curse the darkness, you lit a fire. You didn’t agonize, you organized, strategized and mobilized. And because of that activism and engagement, we’re in a position in the Senate, the House and the White House where we not only have the chance to make a real change for our communities, someday, we are making it today.
Here at NAN, we’ve talked about the moral urgency of addressing poverty in America and in particular child poverty. Poverty is violence. Kids in poverty have worse health outcomes, worse educational outcomes, and are more likely to become entrapped by our savagely broken criminal justice system. Kids in poverty literally show physical distress to parts of their brain and brain development. Poverty is a moral crisis and clearly a solvable national health crisis. And thus, under the American rescue plan, we’re doing something about it. The expanded child tax credit and the earned income tax credit was signed into law by President Biden, it’s going to lift nearly 10 million kids out of poverty and put money in the pockets of seventeen million workers across the country. And it’s going to cut the child poverty rate for all children by nearly 50% and Black children by about over 50%. These are some of the most transformative economic policies since the creation of social security and I will fight alongside others to make these expansions permanent. So our moral obligation. And there are other victories in the rescue plan so many, but one is that Senator Warnock and I were able to include a provision that will get billions of dollars of historic loan forgiveness, and other assistance to black farmers and farmers of color who have suffered enormous losses, not just because of COVID-19. But because of decades long, documented discrimination by the US Department of Agriculture. So much of what we have mobilized for, organized for, struggled for, the things we have been talking about for years.
That’s what President Biden, and Democrats in the senate are working on and acting on and getting some of it done. Yes, we have a lot more work to do. But please, please, mark these victories with others talk about them. When we vote, we win. When we vote. We make progress, folks, you gotta know that. And yes, although we aren’t where we want to be. Thank God, we aren’t where we were. Voting makes a difference. We are moving the ball down the field. We are climbing up the rough side of the mountain. But
Because we’re still a nation plagued by gun violence. We still got work to do. Because we are a nation where in too many states, the right to vote is under assault, we have work to do. Because we are still a nation where pharmaceutical prices are too high and medical care is too far out of reach for too many. We have work to do. Because we are a nation still where too many of our children have led in their water but no internet in their homes. And too many corporations are getting unjust welfare. But too few people are able to get access to even the most basics that families should get, like childcare. We are a nation that unfortunately, we are seeing that while many rich are getting richer through the stock market. Too many families don’t have access to healthy food, or even access to a quality supermarket.
And so speaking of supermarkets, I want to end my remarks by talking to you about something we don’t talk about enough. Something Reverend Al and I have talked a lot about and I want to state it plain: the American food system is broken.
And it is killing us. The American food system is working against nearly everyone it touches. It’s hurting urban communities and rural communities, farmers and farm workers. And it is deeply dangerous to our most vulnerable communities. The only winners in the system seem to be the massive, consolidated multinational corporations that dominate our food industry, and too often dictate food policy. Ron Finley, the great African American activist talked about how in South Central Los Angeles, there are drive throughs and drive bys. And the drive throughs are killing more people than the drive bys. When you go through a drive thru and get a cheap value meal, so- called dollar meals. The reason why that meal is so cheap, is because of the subsidizing of our tax dollars. We are subsidizing easy access to the foods that are truly high in calories that have minimal nutritional value, and that are literally killing us. While at the same time communities of color lack access to foods that are healthy, as are rural communities and low-income communities around the country.
Those of us in communities like mine know what it’s like to go to a bodega and find a Twinkie-like product cheaper than a piece of fruit because of our ag subsidies.
In fact, only 2% of our federal ag subsidies go to the things our government tells us to eat, that most of us the things we should be eating the fruits and vegetables to only get about 2% of those subsidies.
Think about that. Think about that for a second. So now, in addition to a hunger crisis, we face a second great crisis, one of nutrition insecurity, where too many Americans are overfed, but undernourished, and we continue to pour massive federal subsidies into a system that is literally making us sick, causing us to spend stratospherically increasing amounts of taxpayer dollars every year on increased health care costs to treat chronic diseases as pharmaceutical companies are making booming profits off of pain and suffering that can be prevented.
And let’s be clear about something really important. These big companies want us to believe in many ways that obesity is a moral failing, that type two diabetes is a moral failing, that chronic heart disease is a moral failing– that is a lie. It is a policy failure. Our rates of disease have been skyrocketing in America, and there’s no relation between that and the moral standing of America. T
These companies are designing foods to be addictive, and our government is aiding and abetting them to the tune of billion dollars a year, while telling us we could solve our problems if we exercise more.
We know the risk of diabetes is 77% higher for black folks in America, and we are twice as likely to die from the disease. Black Americans are 40% more likely to have high blood pressure, which we know is a risk factor even for developing severe COVID complications. black folks are 30% more likely to die of heart disease than their white peers. And what does this mean? When you have people who suffer from diabetes, high blood pressure? Does it mean not just higher medical costs, not just seeing us lose out in productivity. It doesn’t just erode your ability to earn a living. It erodes every aspect of your life and wellbeing, it hurts your family and community. The kind of disease rate we have now was unimaginable, just two or three generations ago. In fact, listen to this type two diabetes rates have tripled for Native American children doubled for black kids and increased 50% for Hispanic youth in the last decade alone.
If we don’t do something about this, what will happen to our children? As these rates increase in the next 10 years? What will the state of America be, the state of Black America be? We must end this wretched nightmare that is growing worse by the day.
And not enough people are talking about this crisis. I know people want to have the important conversations. A lot of people say we should be talking more about health care delivery in America– well, I for one believe access to high quality, affordable health care is a human right that must be accessible to everyone in our nation. But let’s be clear, our healthcare system right now as it stands is a disease management system.
The demand for pharmaceutical drugs, severe invasive surgeries, and emergency care should not be so high. It is driven by our broken food system. We must talk about that as well.
We need to talk more about the truth about the corruption in the system and what it’s doing to us.
And we need to build a new coalition to change it.
We are in a state of emergency in our food system, and our lives are depending on addressing it.
We need a new coalition with the independent family farmers who are being driven out of business and squashed by big corporations.
We need a new coalition with environmental justice advocates who understand the impact of the poisons that these agricultural conglomerates use.
We need a new coalition with climate change activists who know that this broken food system is a major contributor to climate change.
We need a new coalition with food and farm workers who are too often being not protected on the job not being paid a minimum wage.
We need a new coalition with those in both the urban and rural communities, as well as our suburban towns, who often see food deserts and not an abundance of access to healthy, affordable food.
We need a new coalition.
And I want you all to know, I personally this Congress because of this crisis switched on to the agricultural committee. Because as a former mayor, and a Senator, I know that every issue of justice, environmental justice, economic justice, health, justice, educational justice, even the criminal justice system, intersects with our savagely broken food system.
And now I’m the chairman of the Subcommittee on Nutrition and Specialty Crops, where I will be focusing on food justice, and this epidemic in our community that is literally killing us, sending generations of our elders to an early death, and robbing our children of too much of their potential. This must be a major component of our agenda; we need a new coalition.
And so I asked everyone here to join in this effort, center this effort in your focus and activism. Work with me to expose the lies being fed to us every single day, and to point out and speak out about the reality, the true reality of this crisis and what we need to do about it. In my faith tradition, we talk about God wanting us to have life and have it more abundantly. We are not sheep. We are shepherds. We as activists must help lead. Faith without works is dead. We need to plot a pathway to the true freedom that comes from abundant and vibrant health. Food is essential, food is justice. Together with a broader coalition. We can overcome these challenges and build a more beloved country. But we know love is work. Love is struggle. Love is telling the truth and the truth, I promise you, will set us free. Thank you.