Building a stronger and more equitable food system requires the fresh thinking, talents, and skills of our youth. We have the potential to feed everyone, including the millions of people globally who are most vulnerable to hunger and its serious consequences. Having worked for one of the world’s largest food and beverage companies for more than a decade, I know that the next generation of farmers, business managers, NGOs, public advocates, and students can together help us reach the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goal aimed at ending hunger (SDG 2).
Many bright young minds all over the world, including those at the recent Youth Assembly at the United Nations, have taken bold steps to improve the food system and reach those in need. In the U.S., for example, 18-year-old Brittany Amano is helping the nearly one in five American youth struggling with hunger by leading The Future Isn’t Hungry, an organization of more than 450 young volunteers across three different states that collects and distributes food. Brittany, who herself struggled to stay full and healthy as she grew up, founded the organization in her hometown in Hawaii when she was only twelve. Then there’s 12-year-old Braeden Mannering, a recent attendee at the White House Kids State Dinner who launched 3B Brae’s Brown Bags to help homeless and low-income individuals in in his home state of Delaware access healthy snacks and water.
Entrepreneurial spirit and drive to make a local change for the better are also found within big companies. It’s how Food for Good, a PepsiCo initiative that tackles child hunger, came to be. Young employees at PepsiCo — myself included — advocated within the organization that we could make a difference — and our executives and colleagues listened. They too understood that healthy food wasn’t reaching hungry people and PepsiCo had the ability to tap its resources to develop sustainable and tailored solutions. In 2009, we launched Food for Good to give children in low-income urban areas in a few states healthy breakfasts, lunches and snacks when school wasn’t in session and when they wouldn’t otherwise have access to nutritious foods. This simple idea has now become a financially self-sustaining nationwide initiative that helps children and families in low-income communities get the nutrition they need.
Having worked for years to grow the positive impact of this program to reach more than 30 million servings, I’ve discovered three major lessons that youth leaders can apply to the global fight against hunger. My experience working with youth leaders involved in Food for Good makes me believe that they are best equipped to use and act upon these lessons.
First, we must understand the gaps within local and regional food systems — in order to fill them. For example, out of the 22 million American children who receive subsidized meals during the year, only 2.7 million receive meals during the summer. When we started Food for Good, we realized that this gap could be addressed by improving the logistics and distribution of food to communities in cities such as Dallas, TX. We tapped the resources of PepsiCo — owners of the country’s largest “food moving fleet” — to help bring healthy food to kids in a community where we worked and lived. What started as a small pilot summer program in Dallas has now grown to support 11 underserved U.S. communities during times well beyond the summer months.
Second, always be looking for ways to maximize community impact through innovation and out-of-the-box thinking. I’ll give you an example. Gleaners Community Food Bank of Southeastern Michigan helped meet the need for healthy meals among children and their families by designing “My Neighborhood Mobile Grocery,” a local traveling pantry that enables low-income families to purchase nutritious food at subsidized prices. It’s a new solution to food access and distribution that has the potential to impact tens of thousands of people.
In Food for Good, we had to develop some kind of solution to keep fresh food at safe temperatures in extreme heat and in communities that lack necessary infrastructure to do so. So PepsiCo engineers developed cold boxes, a low-cost solution for the transportation and short-term storage of refrigerated food and beverages. These cold boxes are now used in this community outreach program as well as to deliver temperature-sensitive products for the company’s sales team across the Southwest.
Third, none of us can do this alone. Effective, sustained cross-sector partnerships will help address hunger — both locally and globally. AmeriCorps VISTA, for example, works with partners in government, non-profit, and business to best meet the unique needs of low-income families in each market so solutions can be customized for greater effectiveness and ultimately, greater positive impact.
Together, we can continue the momentum of the Youth Assembly at the United Nations and encourage more young people like Brittany Amano and Braeden Mannering to use their passion, energy, knowledge, and skills to feed hungry people all over the world. If today’s young people apply these lessons and develop their own, together we can end hunger and ensure nutritious food is accessible to all people by 2030.
Produced by the Friendship Ambassadors Foundation, the 2016 Youth Assembly at the United Nations was held on February 17-18, 2016. The winter session tackled the role of youth in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.