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From left to right, Todd Wilkinson (South Dakota Cattlemen's Foundation), Christina Oey (Feeding South Dakota), Matt Gassen (Feeding South Dakota) and Ryan Eichler (South Dakota Cattlemen's Foundation) stand with the donation check given to Feeding South Dakota before the Jake Owen concert at the 2019 South Dakota Prime Time Gala. (Photo courtesy of South Dakota Cattlemen’s Foundation)

Protein is powerful for food insecure

Twelve years ago, I was a college freshman spending the summer as an intern for the USDA in Washington, D.C.

I'll never forget my first weekend in the nation's most powerful city. It was Memorial Day, and my roommate, Meredith (a vegetarian from New Jersey), and I were exploring the parades and celebrations together when we happened upon a homeless woman sitting on a park bench.

As we approached the woman, a group of pigeons landed at the woman's feet. The lady kicked her foot up to "shoo" the birds away, and Meredith stopped in horror, appalled at the woman's disregard for the birds.

I was shocked. Sure, kicking at birds probably isn't the greatest thing to do, but to me, what stood out in the scene wasn't the pesky pigeons, but a woman, who had no roof over her head and no hot meal to eat that day.

At that moment, I didn't care about the birds; I cared about the person. And perhaps that difference in perspective highlights my upbringing in agriculture, where of course, ranchers serve as stewards of the land and caretakers of the animals, but we ultimately work to provide nourishment to people here in the United States and around the world.

So for me, I wanted to buy that woman a cheeseburger because as a rancher, that is what I'm truly called to do — to feed a hungry planet.

The old adage, "A well fed man has many problems, but a hungry man has one," rings true for this story, and it's one I think about as I try to dismantle the many misconceptions about modern agriculture that producers face in the media today.

Yet, even as the elite, affluent consumer can pay a premium to purchase any type of food that strikes his/her fancy, for the food insecure and those who live in poverty, price is the ultimate selling point.

It's truly a shame that in the land of plenty, where food is abundant and relatively affordable, the United States still has 40 million residents (and 12 million children) who struggle with hunger. That's according to Feeding America, an organization that has responded to the hunger crisis by providing food to people in need through a nationwide network of food banks.

And while communities do a great job of donating to these food banks, one area that comes up short is high-quality animal proteins like meat and dairy products. Yet, it's these nutrient-dense foods that our food insecure need the most.

That's why I'm so proud of what's happening in my home state with the South Dakota Cattlemen's Foundation (SDCF).

Six years ago, the SDCF launched the Prime Time Gala, held in Sioux Falls. Each year, the event includes a steak supper, live and silent auction and a country music concert, with proceeds raised to purchase beef for Feeding South Dakota, our state's food bank, which provides 11.3 million meals to the state's 66 counties.

Last weekend, the SDCF's Prime Time Gala attracted 1,600 guests and raised $263,250 for the food bank, bringing the grand total to $1.2 million since the organization first began its charitable work.

"The Sixth Annual Prime Time Gala was unforgettable thanks to all of the volunteers, sponsors and attendees," said Ryan Eichler, SDCF president. "Despite challenges in 2019, the beef industry in South Dakota is full of the most compassionate people on the planet. Because of their generosity, we'll help Feeding South Dakota procure the most nutritious protein available. In the year 2020, this donation will likely yield the one millionth pound of beef purchased as a result of the Prime Time Gala, and that's something everyone should be proud of."

For more information about the 2020 Prime Time Gala that will be held on June 27, 2020, visit " target="_blank">