Hunger Free America CEO
Labeled “Mister Frowny Pants” by The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (on which I once appeared), I am CEO of Hunger Free America, which the Nation called “one of the leading direct service and advocacy organizations on hunger and poverty in the nation...” I’m also a radio talk show producer/host and author.
Hunger Free America TM (formerly known as the New York City Coalition Against Hunger) is a national nonprofit group building a nonpartisan, grass-roots movement to enact the policies and programs needed to end domestic hunger and ensure that all Americans have sufficient access to nutritious food.
I wrote one of the decade’s definitive book’s on US hunger, All You Can Eat: How Hungry Is America? (Seven Stories Press, 2008). Playboy.com called the book “refreshing” for its “optimism … rationality and passion.”
More recently, Seven Stories Press published my second book, America We Need to Talk: a Self Help Book for the Nation. Written as both a humorous parody of relationship and self-help books and a dead serious analysis of the nation’s political and economic dysfunction, the book dissects how conservatives won over white, working-class voters and includes a concrete plan for progressives to win them back as well as a broader roadmap for reducing poverty, bolstering the middle class, and powering an overall progressive resurgence. Nobel Prize-winner Toni Morrison called the book “important and entertaining.”
I have also been published widely in op-eds and scholarly papers, including reports on solutions to overall hunger, childhood hunger, poverty, and obesity as Senior Fellow for the Center for American Progress. Additionally, I have published reports on creating food jobs and reinventing the social safety net for the Progressive Policy Institute.
I also co-host the City Watch public affairs radio show on WBAI Radio in New York City, which is also simulcast and archived online.
I have delivered hundreds of keynote speeches on four continents and in 37 states, from Maine to Alaska, while surviving moose attacks and volcanic eruptions. One audience member wrote, “Seeing Joel Berg speak in person is like watching the History Channel, C-Span, and Comedy Central all at once.”
Noted by City Limits magazine for my “trademark good-natured snarkiness,” I have been covered extensively by national and international media, appearing on Hardball with Chris Matthews, Fox News, CNN, National Public Radio, The Kudlow Report, All In with Chris Hayes, and the NBC Evening News, and quoted by the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and tons of obscure blogs. You can see some of my top TV moments . I have also been featured in three documentary films.
Prior to joining Hunger Free America, I worked for eight years in senior executive service positions in Bill Clinton’s presidential administration, served on the Clinton/Gore Presidential Transition Team, and staffed the 1992 Bill Clinton for President campaign. While working for 13 years as a political campaign professional, I lived in Kansas, Alaska, New Jersey, Maine, Arkansas, and New York.
I now reside in Brooklyn, New York but have yet to overdose on local, artisanal kale chips.
I simple can’t tolerate that the United States – the wealthiest nation in the history of the world – allows 40 million Americans, including 12 million children, to struggle against hunger. That reality offends me to my core.
That’s why I have dedicated most of my adult life to building the movement to end hunger in America. I seek to achieve that historic, but achievable, goal – or die trying!
In 1993, I was appointed by President Clinton to a senior executive service post at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, where I helped launch the AmeriCorps national service program that implemented projects to boost rural economic development, protect the environment, and fight hunger. From that work, I transitioned into fighting hunger full-time, which I have now been doing for more than twenty years.
More and more people in the nonprofit sector are accepting the truism that we can’t end hunger by increasing private charitable efforts – we can only do so by creating more jobs, ensuring those jobs pay a living wage, and ensuring an adequate government anti-hunger safety net.
The United States almost ended hunger entirely in the 1970s, and we did it by having a more inclusive economy, higher wages, and a more robust antipoverty safety net. So we, in fact, know exactly what works. The problem is that the country is doing the opposite, and it’s not because the programs don’t work — it’s that our politics are fundamentally broken. We need a national fix to this problem, led by a president, Congress, and the national business community.
I’ve proposed innovative HOPE (Health, Opportunity, and Personal Empowerment) accounts and action plans. HOPE accounts would combine improved technology, streamlined case management, and coordinated access to multiple federal, state, city, and nonprofit programs that already exist. The accounts would enable families to use any smart device or computer to learn about the public and philanthropic programs for which they are eligible—including aid to improve health, nutrition, job training and placement, housing, income, etc.—and then apply for all of these programs at once from the convenience of their device, drastically reducing the opportunity costs of low-income Americans seeking social services. Such accounts would also be able to include any private savings that people are able to accrue.
The proposal includes the option of allowing low-income families to partner more in depth with government and nonprofit organizations by voluntarily agreeing to long-term HOPE action plans that will provide more aid and then specify exactly how all parties will work together to help the families earn, learn, and save better to ensure greater economic opportunity.
Our next big step is getting states and counties to implement our ground-breaking HOPE proposal.
Our most difficult moments have been over the last few years, when federal government engaged in constant a war against the people we represent.
Our best experiences are when we empower hungry Americans to speak out for themselves, helping them testify before hearings, lobby elected officials, and tell their life stories in the media.
When I suggest to fellow Americans, as I am doing now, that they have a responsibility to help build the movement necessary to end U.S. hunger, they often demur, saying that it’s just too much work, that it’s just too futile, that it’s just too hard to influence elected officials. This is how I respond: Give me a friggin’ break. Whoever says that just doesn’t know hard.
Hard is landing at a Normandy Beach under ferocious machine gun and mortar fire. Hard is marching for civil rights over the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma while being viciously clubbed. Hard is looking into your daughter’s eyes and having to tell her you don’t have any food that night for dinner.
Get over yourself, America, and get to work fixing our country and world. Taking five minutes to contact your elected officials isn’t hard and/or to donate to Hunger Free America isn’t hard—it’s damn easy … and necessary.
Balance changing the world with enjoying your life – or you will burn out. To be effective, you must be in it for the long haul.
Motive people to join us in fighting for social progress.
Idealism combined with realism.
Ending hunger in the U.S, as a down payment on ending hunger worldwide. It’s that simple.
Increasing the national focus and urgency on the need to dramatically increase the percentage of low-income U.S. kids that get nutritious school breakfasts every school day.
As a young man, I turned down a job offer to earn a lot more money than I had ever earned before to manage a re-election campaign for a “shoe-in” incumbent Congressman so that I could instead be one of the earliest staffers of Bill Clinton’s long-shot Presidential campaign. It turns out the shoe-in Congressman lost, and we know what happened to Clinton – working for his administration transformed my career for the better.
“To make public education work, we must first end child hunger. To be schooled, you must be fueled. To be well read, you must be well fed.”
Frances Perkins – First female U.S. Cabinet Secretary, and creator of Social Security, worker safety laws, minimum wages, etc.
Frederick Douglas – Because he fought for both the rights of African-Americans and (way, way ahead of his time) for the rights of women
Gandhi, MLK, and Mandela, because, of course
Allard Lowenstein, an incredibly effective advocate for social progress, working both in, and outside of, government
My father, who volunteered to fight in WWII even though he was against war — because he did what he needed to do
Every borough of New York City
New Orleans (everywhere except Bourbon Street)
Mali, West Africa
Red’s Juke Joint, Clarksdale, Mississippi
Album: “The Stax/Volt Revue, Vol. 2: Live in Paris” – if your spine doesn’t tingle after hearing Otis Redding’s live version of “Try a Little Tenderness,” you don’t have a pulse.
Hearing music live music and eating street food from around the world.
My Daily Thoughts:
Goal of the Day: Move U.S. policy just one step closer to ending hunger each day.
Thought of the Day: “Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity, it is an act of justice. Like slavery and Apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings.” — Nelson Mandela
Action of the Day: Take five minutes to call or write your two members of the Senate and your one U.S. House Representative to call on them, in the new Congress, to pass a Child Nutrition Reauthorization Bill with large overall increases in funding, to ensure universal access to school lunches and breakfasts, summer meals, and WIC.
Deed of the Day: Advocate. Volunteer. Donate. – Or all three
Tip of the Day: Know that every human can make a difference
A Day in My Life:
What do you love most about Your City?
New York is the best city on the planet because it has the most diverse people on the planet.
Favorite breakfast meal & restaurant?
East Harbor Seafood Palace, dim sum in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park Chinatown
What are you doing at:
6:00 AM – reading newspapers, tweeting, then going for a jog or to the gym
10:00 AM – Fundraising for Hunger Free America, organizing citizens to fight to end hunger
12:00 PM – Favorite Lunch spot/meal? My desk (sigh)
7:00 PM – If I’m home by then watching cable TV, eating dinner, and yelling at the screen
11:00 PM – During the week, sleep. On weekends or while travelling, dancing to world music.
What drink do you need to get through the day and at the end (and how many)?
Flavored Seltzer — Too many
Most used App/Favorite Instagram Account?
What should everyone try at least once?
Seeing African pop music live — If you can afford to do so, try to get to Africa to see it live there.
Where do you enjoy getting lost?
Why would a control freak like me enjoy getting lost? Ha. But I love “planned wandering” in city back streets whenever I travel to other places.
What Else to Know?