Blog | Event | March 11, 2021

Mission: Readiness Members Speak at SXSW EDU

Mission: Readiness members join a panel discussion during the prominent SXSW EDU conference.

Today, Mission: Readiness presented a panel discussion during the prominent SXSW EDU conference. The discussion, “School Lunch, Food Insecurity, & National Security” featured three distinguished Mission: Readiness members: Major Generals (Ret.) Malcolm Frost, U.S. Army, Marcia Anderson, U.S. Army, and Juan Ayala, U.S. Marine Corps. Barry Ford, President & CEO of Council for a Strong America, served as the panel’s moderator.

The discussion explored the relationship between school meals and military readiness, and the generals stressed the need to modernize and adapt federal nutrition programs.

“This is a potential existential threat to our nation,” General Frost said, referring to the high rate of ineligibility to serve in the military, with health factors being a leading cause. “Right now, 31 percent of those Americans, ages 17-24, don’t even meet the [military] eligibility due to obesity, and that is a form of malnutrition. That is often caused by food insecurity.”

General Anderson emphasized that this problem is even greater within communities that have continued to face high levels of food insecurity.

“I think from the perspective of diversity and inclusion, it’s important to recognize that the people who are disproportionately impacted by food insecurity in this country and a lack of access to nutrition, are people of color,” Anderson said. “If we want our military to look like our country, we need to make sure people who are eligible to serve come from a broad demographic.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated the problem of food insecurity and has also led to a rise in childhood obesity. General Ayala talked about how this has impacted his home city of San Antonio, where he currently leads the local response to the pandemic.

“We have miles and miles of people showing up at our food banks,” Ayala said. “I’ve volunteered at these food banks … we really emphasize the healthy food we pass out … and some folks don’t realize there is a need but there is a need.”

The generals also discussed potential solutions to adequately address food insecurity and nutrition going forward.

“The bottom line is we need to support policies that support creating community feeding networks,” General Frost said. “We need to look at the successes that have happened during COVID, implement those, and look at public-private partnerships to address food deserts and food swamps that are out there.”

“The National School Lunch Program has worked, but we also need to look at problems like Women Infants and Children (WIC) and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and find ways to strengthen them,” General Ayala said. “The people I see in food lines are not the typical people you’d think you see on those programs.”

Mission: Readiness will release a recording of the complete conversation in the coming months. To learn more about SXSW EDU, click here to visit their website.

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