For the last five months, C & K Hecht Consulting* has been our eyes and ears on the ground, gathering invaluable information about the activities of our partners, the prevalence of food insecurity in Israel, and the feasibility of promoting solutions through advocacy. Below is a short synopsis of their findings so far and the beginning of our new series: Advocacy in Israel.
In our first month in Israel we visited all eleven MAZON grantees. We are happy to report they are compassionate and committed people who work diligently to help impoverished members of Israeli society.
In addition to those meetings, we have also had in-depth conversations with dozens of experts, from academics to government ministry officers, from members of the needy population to a Talmudic scholar. The information we’ve gathered from this wide range of perspectives has given us a preliminary but relatively robust understanding of the complexities of Israeli society and the outcome of varied efforts to alleviate hunger and improve nutrition within Israel’s borders.
A 2011 survey conducted by the Israeli National Insurance Institute indicated that nearly one in five of Israelis lacks access to an adequate nutritious diet. (By comparison, about 14.5% of the U.S. population – nearly 1 in six – is food insecure). The adult obesity rate in Israel is over 30% (33% of U.S. adults are obese). The data also show a significantly higher rate of overweight and obesity among low-income children as compared to their higher income peers.
In the early decades of the State of Israel, the government operated a school lunch program that included nutrition and food preparation studies. By the mid-seventies families could afford to provide lunches from home, and in 1977 the school lunch program ended. Starting in the nineties, however, food insecurity has been steadily growing, yet the government and many Israeli citizens have been disinclined to recognize the magnitude of the problem. Instead, a huge number of charitable food assistance agencies, guided by the Jewish imperative of tzedakah, have been formed to respond to the growing need for food.
Unfortunately, the scope of the food insecurity problem is now larger than can be solved by charity alone. In recent years, and thanks to the work of committed advocates, there is growing acceptance that State-sponsored solutions are required. The government has authorized and is now rapidly expanding a program that provides subsidized school lunch to children in low-income communities. And last year the Ministries of Health and Education began a “healthy living” campaign aimed at preventing obesity. Still, much remains to be done.
We see tremendous opportunity and untapped potential for MAZON to enhance and enrich the work that’s already being done in Israel. And the recent elections show that Israelis, too, are looking for change in the socio-economic sector. In the coming months we will be working to build the advocacy capacity of MAZON’s grantees, to identify key issues on which to focus such advocacy, and to create stronger relationships between and among the many partners who are concerned about food insecurity in Israel.
More to come soon! Learn more about our Advocacy in Israel work.
* C & K Hecht Consulting is headed by Ken Hecht, former Executive Director of California Food Policy Advocates for 20 years.