From the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum
This is a transcription of this speech made for the convenience of readers and researchers. A reading copy and a press release of the speech exist in the John F. Kennedy Pre-Presidential Papers at the John F. Kennedy Library. The texts are essentially identical.
There is no more shameful, tangible monument to the failures of the last eight, Republican years in Washington than the Administration's failure to provide millions of Americans with an adequate supply of food - and a decent, balanced diet. Nowhere has this failure been more evident than in West Virginia. Thousands of your citizens - almost 14,000 here in Mercer County alone - are forced to struggle for subsistence on a diet which consists primarily of flour, rice and corn-meal - a diet which does not permit a healthy, decent existence - a diet which is causing malnutrition, chronic diseases and physical handicaps - a diet which is a disgrace to a country which has the most abundant and richest food supply in the history of the world.
Of course, the people of West Virginia are not contented with handouts from the government. They would like to see the entire food distribution program come to an end. They would like to see it come to an end because men were back at work, earning decent wages, and producing a decent diet for themselves and for their families.
But until that day comes - and - I promise you - that day is coming - in 1961 with a Democrat in the White House - until that day the people of West Virginia need, and must have, a diet which will permit them to live in decency and dignity - a diet which will maintain the strength of your men - and a diet which will assure the health of your children. And those of you who depend on surplus food distributions are not getting such a diet today.
It is not that we lack supplies of food. For America has - in great abundance - all the food which is needed to provide a decent diet for all Americans. But that food is not going to West Virginia.
In recent years Secretary Benson has sent overseas under our surplus food disposal program, beef, chicken, 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. I believe in helping our friends abroad - but I also believe we must help our own.
Yet Secretary Benson refuses to put into practice the food stamp program - which a Democratic Congress passed 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. His department refuses to recognize that any problem exists. The entire Republican Administration won't recognize that a problem exists. 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 in 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 - and that those drawing surplus food receive a diet of real substance and variety.
"Give me men to match my mountains," says an old children's song. West Virginia already has the men to match her mountains - men of vigor and courage and determination - men who have contributed to America's strength in the past and who will contribute again in the future. This great human resource - a vital asset for the entire nation - must be kept strong and well if America herself is to remain strong and well.
And in 1961 - under a Democratic Administration which has banished indifference and neglect from our government forever - all the people of America will have the varied and abundant diet on which that strength depends. A proud and a free nation can afford to do no less.
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