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Thanksgiving for Truman's Cabinet Committee on Food

During Thanksgiving week in 1947, the Truman administration had food very much on their minds. No, not planning a feast at the White House. In fact, the New York Times reported that President Truman and his family denied themselves bread and eggs at their holiday repast. This was an attempt to stress food conservation.

Truman's Cabinet Committee on World Food Programs was hard at work on the problem of how to feed starving people in Europe and Asia. The destruction from World War II had destroyed food supplies and production. That tragedy was topped off by harsh winters and drought in 1946 and 1947.

In June of 1947 Secretary of State George Marshall proposed the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe. But if hunger ravaged Europe, the Marshall Plan did not stand a chance of succeeding.

As winter approached, Italy, France and Austria were three of the more desperate countries. The Truman administration pushed for interim aid to help these countries before the larger Marshall Plan would be implemented.

On November 10th Marshall, a member of the Cabinet Committee on Food, sounded the alarm for Congress to act. He asked for funds"to provide the supplies necessary to permit the people of these three countries to continue to eat, to work, and to survive the winter."

There were decisions to make, such as how much food could the U.S. send overseas to help those in need? How much food should the U.S. hold in reserve in case of a poor crop the following year? During Thanksgiving week Clinton Anderson, Agriculture Secretary, addressed the Senate and detailed the worldwide food shortages.

Anderson, a member of the Cabinet Committee on food, stressed the importance of helping Austria, Italy and France. He said"it is abundantly clear that all three countries need prompt food relief….by acting promptly and adequately we can prevent a great deal of human misery, and by so doing we shall be holding open the world's chance to make a just and lasting peace."

The day before Thanksgiving members of the Senate tried to reduce the interim aid package from 597 million down to 400 million. Interim aid survived the senatorial attack and got passed in December. This was a pre-Marshall Plan of sorts and helped set the foundation for the ultimate success of the European recovery program.

The Truman administration made the fight against hunger a centerpiece of foreign policy. Truman had also appointed Herbert Hoover as a food ambassador during 1946 and he rallied global support for feeding the hungry and preventing famine in war-torn countries. Hunger was the third front of World War II, and the most resilient.

President Obama now is faced with the challenges of fighting hunger and building peace. But like Truman, he needs to put global hunger at the top of his foreign policy agenda. With hunger and poverty rampant in Afghanistan, Haiti, Ethiopia, Sudan, Pakistan and so many other countries, it is clear bold action must be taken. At the G-8 meeting this summer, Obama called for a global food security plan which would focus on increasing agricultural production. But this plan has yet to start.

The Roadmap to End Global Hunger legislation also sits in Congress, not yet acted upon. This bill, inspired by recommendations from over 20 food aid charities, would create a White House office on global hunger. This top-level position would be essential for coordinating not only the U.S. response to hunger, but also improving international efforts.

Over sixty years ago, the U.S. did not forget about hunger overseas, when it would have been easy to just concentrate on domestic problems. Had Truman not put hunger at the top of his administration's agenda, it would have been much more difficult to help the starving in post-war Europe. The Marshall Plan would have been doomed. Who knows what chaos might have ensued. All those meetings Truman held with his Cabinet Committee on World Food Programs paid off in huge peace dividends.

"The Buck stops here."