The Food Policy of George McGovern

George McGovern’s impact on food policy could have been greater, but not through more effort on his part. The 1972 presidential candidate, now 89, was a bomber pilot at the end of World War II when the decision was made to distribute remaining medicine and food to Europeans before heading home. “We were feeding our former enemies two days after bombing them,” he told me over breakfast last week, two days before falling and being hospitalized. “It was an unprecedented gesture of good will.”

The experience set the tone for an optimistic and straightforward approach to food that lasts to this day. McGovern, of course, is better known for his “socialist” politics and decisive loss to Tricky Dick Nixon than for his food policy. Yet in 1972, in a progressive bi-partisan move the likes of which we may never see again, he joined Hubert Humphrey and Bob Dole (who is starting to look downright sane, for a Republican) in drafting the bill that created WIC, the program that supports women, infants and children and improves the nutrition of about nine million people in the United States.

Which doesn’t stop the Republican-controlled House from insisting on cuts to the program, a move that will likely cost far more than it “saves” in the long run. And McGovern’s take on that is simple: “The Republicans are not for humanitarian programs in general, but WIC is more than humanitarian. If we can keep women and children healthy, it’s a good investment for our society, one that will avoid huge medical bills later.”

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