Speeches by John F. Kennedy

From the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum

Remarks of Senator John F. Kennedy at Mount Hope, West Virginia, April 20, 1960

This is a transcription of this speech made for the convenience of readers and researchers. One draft of the speech exists in the John F. Kennedy Pre-Presidential Papers at the John F. Kennedy Library.

I want to talk with you today about the most fundamental subject in life - food.

Most of the nation takes food for granted. When I spoke recently about the millions of Americans who go to bed hungry each night, my speech was criticized by the Wall Street Journal. Impossible, they said. Not in America. Not with all our prosperity and all our food surpluses and all our welfare programs.

But the Wall Street Journal ought to come to West Virginia, to this county and to other counties like it. Because people are hungry here - prosperity has passed them by - food surpluses are rotting in warehouses - and welfare programs are not enough. There are some surplus foods distributed by the Department of Agriculture. Some four million Americans depend on that food - but what kind of food is it? Flour, rice and corn-meal - sometimes some butter, cheese and dry skim milk - and more flour, rice and corn-meal. Perhaps they'll soon be receiving lard - sometimes there is a small amount of dry egg solid or dried beans - but it is mostly flour, rice and corn-meal.

That diet is not the basis of a decent existence - a healthful home - a hopeful outlook for the child in school, the father seeking work, the mother at home. That diet can lead only to malnutrition, chronic disease and physical handicaps. That diet is the cause of rotten teeth and shattered hopes. That diet is a disgrace in a country that calls itself the land of opportunity, the richest country on earth, the arsenal of the Free World.

I believe in helping our friends abroad - but I also believe we must help our own at home. In recent years Secretary Benson has sent overseas under our surplus food disposal program, beef, chickens, turkeys, ducks, pork, sausage, potatoes, milk, orange juice, peaches, cherries and other fruits and vegetables. He has not sent only flour, rice and corn-meal. He has not expected our friends overseas to get by on such a subsistence diet, without variety. And he should not expect our people here at home to get by on such a diet either.

Yet Secretary Benson refuses to put into practice the food stamp program passed by the Democratic Congress as a way of getting more and better food to those unemployed or otherwise in need. He refuses to recognize that any serious problem exists. Your Congressmen and Senators have tried to tell him - your school health nurses could tell him - we have all tried to tell him. But he won't listen. The entire Republican Administration won't listen. Because I don't think they care.

But Democrats do care. So long as there is one hungry child - so long as there is one family without a decent diet - so long as any American is forced to get by on flour, rice and corn-meal - the Democrats care. And we will do something about it.

I tried last year to take this whole program away from Mr. Benson and put it into the hands of someone who cared. That effort failed. But a Democratic President will not fail. We will see to it that every American is fed and fed right. We will see to it that those drawing surplus food receive a diet of real substance and variety. And we will see to it that the Benson era in food surplus - the Republican era - the era of flour, rice and corn-meal - is banished from this land forever.

We cannot - as a free and proud nation - afford to do any less.

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