Speech at the University of Notre Dame

April 4, 1968


South Bend, IN

This is the most affluent nation the world has ever known. This nation—our nation—has a food—producing capacity unrivaled in this history of the world. Yet in the midst of our great affluence, children—American children—are hungry, some to the point where their minds and bodies are damaged beyond repair. I have seen, in the Mississippi Delta and in Indian reservations, children who eat only one meal a day—one meal of bread and gravy, or grits, or rice and beans. A distinguished Citizens’ Board of Inquiry which has been studying the problem for nearly a year is reported to have found there are, conservatively, at least 10 million Americans suffering from hunger and malnutrition. This need not be the case. It must not be the case. If we cannot feed the children of our nation, there is very little we will be able to succeed in doing to live up to the principles which our founders set out nearly two hundred years ago.

The fundamental action we must take to feed the children of America is to see that their fathers have jobs—meaningful work so they can support their families with dignity and pride and buy the food that children need. If this is to be done in adequate measure, I believe the private enterprise system will have to play a major role, and I have introduced legislation which would make it possible for this to occur. I believe too that government should stand ready, on an immediate emergency basis, to employ or fund the employment of men who cannot find work. I have co-sponsored and long supported legislation to accomplish that end, and it should be enacted now…

Action in adequate measure can wait no longer. There are children in the United States of America with bloated bellies and sores of disease on their bodies. They have cuts and bruises that will not heal correctly in a timely fashion, and chronically runny noses. There are children in the United States who eat so little that they fall asleep in school and do not learn. We must act, and we must act now. And much of the action which must be taken needs no further authorization of Congress…

Beyond all this, it is time we designed a comprehensive program to feed our nation’s hungry. The dominant purpose of the surplus commodities program is to dispose of surplus commodities so as to support farm prices. The dominant purpose of the food stamps program is to supplement what people normally spend for food. These purposes are sound in themselves, but there is no program whose avowed public purpose is to ensure that the hungry of our nation are fed and fed adequately. That is the purpose which must now be translated into concrete legislation…

These are our responsibilities. If we cannot meet them, we must ask ourselves what kind of a country we really are; we must ask ourselves what we really stand for. We must act—and we must act now.