American Hunger Heroes: John F. Kennedy

World Food Program USA
Published February 21, 2022

In honor of Presidents’ Day, we’re shedding a spotlight on the hunger relief work and activism of #35: John F. Kennedy. 

In his earliest days in the White House, President John F. Kennedy recognized the importance of solving hunger abroad as well as at home.

“This vast world-wide shortage of food is one of the major obstacles to world peace,” Kennedy proclaimed in 1960, during his presidential campaign. He also stated that, “Only America has too much food in a hungry world.”

From the beginning of his presidency, John F. Kennedy prioritized hunger relief efforts.
Photo: U. S. Army Signal Corps in the John Fitzgerald Kennedy Library, Boston

From the beginning of his presidency, John F. Kennedy prioritized hunger relief efforts.

Hunger Relief Activism in Office

Sure enough, as soon as he assumed office as president in January, 1961, he got to work. Kennedy expanded the Agricultural Trade Development and Assistance Act, a 1954 law that “laid the basis for a permanent expansion of our exports of agricultural products with lasting benefits to ourselves and peoples of other lands.”

Five days after his inauguration, Kennedy also gave the first ever televised press conference in which he announced the United States would be significantly increasing contributions towards averting famine in the Republic of Congo.

“This will be done by increasing the supply of corn meal and dry milk, by adding contributions of rice, and by airlifting 1,000 tons of food supplies, seeds, and hospital supplies from a number of African nations to the Congo.”

Kennedy also termed the law “Food for Peace,” which it’s known as today.

“Food is strength, and food is peace, and food is freedom,” Kennedy said, “and food is a helping hand to people around the world whose good will and friendship we want.”

That same year, under his leadership, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) was founded to feed the most vulnerable families across the globe. Decades later, it’s still feeding millions of people in desperate need.

Address to the United Nations

On June 4, 1963, five months before he died, Kennedy addressed the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization’s World Food Congress.

“For the first time in the history of the world we do know how to produce enough food now to feed every man, woman, and child in the world…” Kennedy said. “We have the ability, we have the means, and we have the capacity to eliminate hunger from the face of the earth in our lifetime. We only need the will.”

Read about other American Hunger Heroes.