Generation Zero Hunger: 400 Students and Educators Convene to Tackle Global Hunger

“Your generation is the one that can end hunger.” And with that, Catherine Bertini, the former executive director of the World Food Programme and professor at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, kicked off the 2016 Universities Fighting World Hunger Summit.

Over 250 students from 40 universities across the U.S. and Canada sat jam packed in an auditorium at the University of Missouri, the host for the Feb. 25-26 summit, as Bertini described the collective power of the generation that sat before her.

“As human beings, we each have a responsibility to make sure others aren’t suffering.”

“You are the hunger fighters,” Bertini said, firing up the crowd and encouraging the largely student audience to set big goals in their undergraduate and graduate opportunities.

In addition to the students, the summit convened educators, anti-hunger activists and industry leaders all committed to the task at hand – how to work together across generations and boundaries to tackle global hunger. The Universities Fighting World Hunger summit, organized by the Hunger Solutions Institute at Auburn University in Alabama, takes place at a different university each year.

Over the course of two days, students and experts alike formed working groups and presented on panels to address policy issues and solutions, innovation and public-private partnerships, applied research and media trends in covering hunger. It was the students who stole the spotlight.

At a poster presentation held between two panel sessions on day two of the conference, students gathered to showcase their work in combating hunger and poverty in their communities and beyond.

Jessie Stewart, University of Kentucky

Jessie Stewart, a senior at the University of Kentucky, co-founded SSTOP Hunger: Sustainable Solutions to Overcome Poverty, an organization that engages the school’s faculty, staff and students in developing an on-campus action agenda to fight hunger and poverty. The group has raised funds for local food banks and homeless shelters. “As human beings, we each have a responsibility to make sure others aren’t suffering,” Jessie said.

“Food insecurity is a big hurdle, but we just each need to take on our piece of it.”

Naomi Taylor, a junior at Mississippi State University, spent three months in Malawi working with farmers and conducting research on irrigation systems to help develop a plan to mitigate the impact of drought in the country. “We’ve all come here with different mindsets, but the same end goal. Food insecurity is a big hurdle, but we just each need to take on our piece of it,” Naomi said.

Students from the University of Guelph in Canada spoke passionately about helping to resettle Somali refugees while respecting their cultural food practices and values. Several students had helped to establish on-campus food pantries that benefit local food banks. Student after student spoke enthusiastically about their academic and volunteer work around hunger.

Students from the Universities Fighting World Hunger Summit packing meals at University of Missouri’s Tiger Pantry

But the conference wasn’t all work. Students who had traveled from far and near to attend were able to share stories and connect with each other while still lending a hand in fighting hunger. After wrapping up one of the two full conference days, students rolled up their sleeves to package more than 10,000 meals at the University of Missouri’s Tiger Pantry. The Tiger Pantry was founded by University of Missouri alum Nick Droege after he realized there was a serious need not only in the community, but among students and staff.    

In his keynote address, Roger Thurow, an author and journalist whose work covering hunger has spanned more than 30 years, commented on the palpable passion and sense of social justice he felt from the young people attending the conference.

Thurow described hunger as “an ancient injustice” that must be met with the outrage and passion exemplified by the crowd he was addressing.

This strong sense of social justice permeated the conference. It is what moved some students to take 16-hour road trips to attend a hunger conference. It is what moves them to tackle hunger in their studies, their volunteer work, their communities and around the world.

As Catherine Bertini said, “this is the generation tasked with ending hunger.”